Poor you. You’ve decided you need to cut your spending, but you’re already having nightmares of not being able to buy your usual products from Prada and having to eat at, ugh, food courts (let’s hope nobody sees you).
If you’re going to feel like you’re torturing yourself just to save money, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because you’ll always be struggling to endure the deprivation for just one more month. Much better to cut your spending in sustainable ways, building new habits that will become second nature.
If you want to survive on tap water and Gardenia bread, by all means, go ahead until you crack and start killing people. But for those who are looking for sustainable ways to reduce your spending, here are a few guidelines that will stop you from going nuts.
1. Make sure your basic needs are taken care of
No matter how hard you might think it is to start wearing clothes from Giordano instead of Gucci, it’s something you can get used to more easily than you think, after the initial cringe-fest.
But if you deprive yourself of your basic needs, you risk damaging your health and your sanity. So make sure the bare necessities are always taken care of. That means you should have enough to eat, get enough rest, and have some semblance of a social life (because yes, you can go nuts without social interaction).
It doesn’t mean you get to spend as much as you desire, though. Find an affordable way to fulfill your needs—getting enough to eat means you start cooking at home or eating at places within your new budget, rather than giving yourself a free pass to dine at Waku Ghin, all in the name of nutrition.
2. Spend your money where you get the most value
No matter how much of a cheapskate you are, you’ve still got to spend a bit of money to stay alive. That’s part and parcel of living in a capitalist society, so unless you’re about to set up your tent in the middle of the MacRitchie rainforest and kill monkeys using a slingshot, get used to it.
Since you’ve got to spend money on certain things anyway, focus on getting the most value out of your spending, rather than simply trying not to spend on anything, because we all know how well that’s going to work out.
For instance, when organising an outing with friends, ask yourself what’s the cheapest way you can spend quality time with them and have fun. Sure, checking out a new five star restaurant or opening a bottle at that new club might be fun, but they’re probably not the most cost-effective solutions.
A cheaper alternative—playing board games or mahjong at someone’s place, drinking Tiger Beer at a kopitiam somewhere or having a picnic at the Botanic Gardens will give you more bang for your buck. Not only do you escape feeling deprived, you also get to feel satisfied that you managed to have just as much fun at a fraction of the price, kind of like how aunties at FairPrice get all triumphant when they manage to snag discounts on their favourite household cleaning products.
3. Involve others in your money saving quest
One of the most painful things about making drastic cuts to your spending is that you feel so alone. While your friends continue partying at Kyo twice a week and head to Catalunya for dinner after work, you’re stuck with unappetising nights of Channel 8 dramas.
But believe it or not, there are actually a ton of Singaporeans who want to save more money. According to a 2014 report, 4 out of 5 Singaporeans aged 20 to 35 have no savings. I’m not sure if the situation is quite so dire as that—at least I hope it isn’t. But based on my experience, there’s a whole lot of Singaporeans who want to spend less—many of them working in fancy CBD offices themselves.
If you don’t believe me, be open about the fact that you’re trying to spend less, and see how many people tell you that they want to do the same. You’ll be surprised that a lot of people are actually grateful when you suggest cheap stuff to do, because they’ve also been wanting to save money but just haven’t had the guts to bow out of expensive activities suggested by others, for fear of looking cheap.
At one of my previous jobs years ago, I told my colleagues I would not be able to lunch with them because I had decided to spend not more than $5 at lunch each day. And to my surprise, several colleagues actually decided to join the $5 lunch club, saying that they’d wanted to cut their lunch spending too.
Not having to go it alone really makes a huge difference when you’re trying to achieve your savings goals. When there are other people suffering along with you, suddenly things don’t seem so bad.
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