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Illustration for Money by Ping Zhu

Frugal living is often misconstrued as living a life of deprivation.

But I've actually found that frugal living affords you a life of simplicity and freedom.

It’s just hard to see at first. I’ve been there. I wasn’t always frugal. In fact, I was a natural spender who loved collecting things.

Before converting to frugality, I lived by the motto, “I work hard for my money, I deserve to spend it.” This motto had us living paycheck to paycheck for years.

Long before I became The Frugal Convert, my family and I lived a “normal” life crippled by financed cars, a mortgage, and a pile of consumer debt.

My thought process shifted once we were in the process of buying our dream home.

We quickly realized that while on paper we could afford the house, our spending would inevitably have us on the brink of foreclosure every month. Not exactly ideal.

I reluctantly turned to the "B word" (budget) and tried to incorporate it into my life.

But the budget was just the beginning. Without the "F word" (frugality), our budget would not work well.

They go hand in hand.

As a natural spender, it was hard for me to identify with the word frugal, let alone adapt it to my lifestyle. It’s a word that made me feel shameful. I was taught that being frugal was equivalent to being cheap.

Ultimately, if we wanted to live in our dream home, a budget was going to be necessary and I had to learn how to curb my spending.

Illustration for Money by Ping Zhu

I decided to start small with our food budget.

I clipped coupons, checked out the local ads, and stocked up on deals. I also started cooking at home more often so that we could reduce our take-out bill.

We started saving a ton of money. I learned how to feed my family on half of what I used to spend.

Within a couple of months, I became obsessed with the idea that I could save money on my everyday spending without feeling like I was deprived.

Suddenly this frugality thing started to click — and my motto began to evolve.

It changed from “I work hard for my money, I deserve to spend it” to “I work hard for my money, I deserve to keep it."

Then I started applying my food budget strategy to other areas of our budget.

We reduced spending on clothes, shoes, school supplies, even vacations. I looked for savings anywhere and everywhere.

We started using more of what we had on hand. We reorganized closets, rotated our wardrobes, and decluttered our home.

This helped simplify our systems, which helped us realize how much we already owned.

But reducing our expenses was only the first step toward frugal living.

The second step was a bit harder. We looked over our budget for any categories that we felt could be removed altogether.

We started with cutting our cable.

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how I could live without my favorite shows. But having Netflix and network television provided enough entertainment that I really didn’t miss them much.

Even our kids quickly adapted to watching Netflix shows. They love the fact that they could watch what they want on demand.

It’s been over eight years since we’ve cut the cable. This translates into saving over $120 per month ($1,440 per year), for eight years now. That’s a whopping $11,520 we have saved simply by cutting the cable.

Early on, I decided to talk to our kids about our frugal journey.

I explained why we were on a budget, what a budget was, and how we needed to control our spending.

It was so successful that when I started to get off track a little, my now 12-year-old would give me a gentle reminder by saying “that’s not part of our budget."

Keeping our kids in the loop and making them feel like they’re a part of our frugal journey gave us the motivation we needed to keep going.

We couldn’t mess up with our kids watching us. So, we kept it up. And before we knew it, our frugal journey became our new normal.

How to get started on your own frugal journey.

What I discovered is that frugal living is not a restrictive lifestyle. It’s essentially a tool to help you simplify your life and recognize the things you value most.

It helps you align your spending with your goals and dreams.

1. Write down your “why”

Identifying your goals and understanding why you want to start frugal living is incredibly important.

At your weakest times, your “why” will motivate you to keep going.

Our “why” was our kids — and it worked like a charm. Of course there were times where we failed, but ultimately, our “why” helped us refocus and continue with our journey.

2. Don’t cut out everything from your life all at once.

Instead, examine your spending and eliminate the purchases that are not aligned with your goals.

It’s all about maximizing things that bring you joy and cutting out unnecessary spending that doesn’t.

3. Remember that failing is part of the process.

As a recovering natural spender, I can tell you that converting to frugality takes time. There will be times that you’ll face failure.

The highs and lows are equal parts of learning. Adapt and adjust as you go. Make this frugal living thing a part of your world. Let it be uniquely yours.

Frugal living is a pathway to freedom, so let it guide you to wealth.