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The same way we can start a diet with good intentions only to be eating a Snickers bar by lunchtime, stresses and pressures can wear away at our resolve to stick to our budgets. But easing up on frugal efforts can have unhappy consequences, especially in this economy.
Here, 10 tips for staying motivated to watch your pennies over the long term.
1. Don’t set goals too high.
Instead, start with a series of smaller goals. Ellie Kay, the author of “Living Rich for Less,” says, “Instead of saying you’re going to pay off all your consumer debt, start with your Visa that has a $1,500 balance.”
2. Know why you’re doing it.
Gary Foreman, editor of The Dollar Stretcher e-newsletter and Web site, says, “The idea behind frugality is that we can live better if we’re not in debt. If all you see is deprivation, it’s going to be hard to reach your goal.” By prioritizing what’s important to you, you can cut the things that don’t matter to you and spend money on the things that do.
3. Acknowledge the mile markers.
Celebrate when you achieve a milestone. “I call it a ‘yay, me!’ moment,” Foreman says. Keep an accomplishment list as a reminder.
4. Know your motivational style.
“Some people are motivated by a pat on the back. All they need is an encouraging word,” Foreman says. “Other people need something more tangible. They may need that dinner out or an outfit they wanted to buy.” Reward yourself with whatever motivates you best.
5. Have a built-in splurge.
“People fall off the wagon because it’s just too hard,” says Kay. “They don’t see a payback. Rather than feeling deprived, build in a splurge to your budget.
For example, budget $100 per month to do whatever you want. You can save it for six months and buy Jimmy Choo shoes you don’t really need, but that’s far better than to fall off the wagon and charge those shoes.”
6. Make a plan for the hardest challenges.
Leah Ingram, the author of “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less,” says the key to her success in changing her spending habits is “having the systems in place.” One of her biggest budget-busters was eating out, so she developed a system of meal planning that made it almost as easy to cook at home as to go out.
7. Find a money buddy.
Sharing your goals, problems and fears with someone can help you succeed in reaching your financial goals, Kay says. “You can get together and share all the latest savings tips and techniques. This can help keep you motivated.” You can find an accountability partner at your workplace, school, church — even your gym.
8. Make your goals visual.
“If someone is saving for a new automobile, it doesn’t hurt to have picture of that car on the refrigerator or clipped to the visor of their current car,” says Foreman. You can make a chart to track how your debt is going down while your savings is going up, or create a collage that expresses what you want your life to look like.
9. Go public.
When Ingram and her family first started belt tightening, she started a blog for accountability. “Even though I could have been writing to an empty room, I decided I would blog five days a week,” she says. “I had to come up with story ideas and live them to provide relevant and truthful content.”
That helped her stay on track. It also helped her win a book deal for “Suddenly Frugal.” If a blog isn’t your cup of tea, try joining one of the many online communities devoted to personal finance and/or frugal living. For example, you can sign up for Bankrate’s Frugal News. Or join face-to-face meetings sponsored by Debtors Anonymous.
10. Avoid traps that prolong the agony.
“Any time you’re promised something that seems too good to be true, it is,” says Kay. “Beware of credit consolidation companies — they can cost more than they seem to. Beware of transferring credit card balances from one card to another. This can cause your credit score to deteriorate. Beware of the trap of refinancing, which can also cost more than you think. Beware of the tax credits for upgrading. Crunch the numbers first to make sure any of these things are really worth it.”