If you're anything like me, the easiest part of saving money is when you first decide to save for a big, important goal. You're all excited about your plans, and so it is easy to cut the expenses to the bone. But as time goes on, you start to lose that clear picture of the goal. You start to focus more on what you are giving up now, and that makes it all too easy to justify outrageous splurges. For example, in saving for a down payment on a house, you feel like it will be forever until you finally get that home, but tonight you could really use a nice meal out. You've been working so hard. Then, feelings of guilt kick in, and you start to concentrate on how you slipped up on your savings goal, and that bums you out, so you get a little sometime to cheer yourself up. Vicious little cycle.
Plan ahead to avoid this. Frugal burnout happens to the best of us, but doesn't have to set you back in saving for your goals.
First, break that big goal down into manageable little goals. Rather than setting a savings goal of $18,000 towards buying a house, break that down. You have $3k in closing cost, then break the down payment amount into smaller chunks. When I was saving for my house, I broke it down into goals closing costs, then closing costs plus 5% of the down payment, then 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%. I drew a simple chart that I would mark each time I made a deposit into my savings account. Every time a goal was met, there was great celebration. I hung the chart up on the refrigerator so we could see it every day and stay excited as we inched closer to the main goal.
No one wants to feel deprived. It's hard to keep focused on some future benefit if you don't enjoy anything now. Rather than trying to do away with all splurges, and then pay for it with unplanned excessive splurges, plan to treat yourself. Enjoy small things on a regular basis. For example, I love good cheese, so every payday (every other week), I allow myself to go to the cheese counter at the grocery store and pick out a small chunk of good (we're talking that $25/lb stuff) cheese. I only spend around $4 each time, so this doesn't derail my savings goals. However, I really enjoy that cheese. I add a tiny bit to my salad or sandwich, or eat a small piece with a cracker. It lasts around a week, and enriches many meals. If by spending that $4 (annual total of $104/yr), I don't need to go out to a nice restaurant once a month at $50 a pop, I save around $500 a year. Plus, I get several special meals each month.
It doesn't even have to be money out of your pocket. Maybe it's just time. Rather than buying yourself something, give yourself permission to spend the entire day in bed reading a great novel. Eat a good dessert. Blow off the housework for one afternoon and go for a hike. Enjoy these moments, and look forward to them. Since they are a regular part of your life, you can enjoy the now while saving for the future.
Look for different ways to save money. If you feel like it's just the same-ol-same-ol, look for ways to switch it up a bit. Read some good books on frugality and find a few new ways to save money just so there's some change in your routine. Maybe try line drying clothes as an excuse to be outside on a warm, breezy day or bake bread from scratch. You'll save a little money, and it's fun.
When most people decide to save money/be more frugal, they make a grave error. They slash the entertainment budget. Sure, entertainment isn't absolutely necessary, and it's usually costly for dinners out, movies, concert tickets, lift tickets, takeout, etc. However, I feel that this is the surest way to frugal burnout. If all you do is sit at home thinking about how much fun you used to have when you were spending money, you'll be miserable. Instead, increase your entertainment carefully. Spend an afternoon googling free or cheap things to do in your area. Maybe there's a concert/play/movie in the park series that you can go to every weekend. Many a coffee house has a free jazz band on Tuesday nights. Maybe a museum is free on Sundays. Start doing these things more often than you used to go out when you were paying. You'll find that your life is more rich and full and you're saving money.
What are your favorite ways to prevent frugal burnout?