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How to Live on a Tight Budget

How to Live on a Tight Budget

Do you go out to eat at least once a week? Do you frequent the movie theater? Are you are Starbucks addict? If so, you are spending thousands of dollars a year on the little things. Just think of the money you would save if you just cut a few corners each day. Now think about what your savings account would look like if you put that money in a high-interest bank account.

How much you save actually has very little to do with the income you receive. In fact, the amount in your savings account actually has much more to do with how you spend your money. Here are just a few “small” ways that will allow you to save a lot of money in the long run.

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Entertainment is the first expense that seems to be talked about when it comes to living on a budget. We like to do things in our free time and we like to go out to eat or to concerts on the weekends. But when money is tight, we need to be a bit more creative in how we entertain ourselves.

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  • Look at your city’s newspaper or entertainment guide regularly to see what free events are in town. You will be surprised at how many free things there are to do when you take the time to look for them.
  • Head to your local museum or library. These are free places to relax and spend some time away from your house. And they often offer a number of free programs and events.
  • Go for a walk in a park. Many local public parks offer walking trails, tennis courts, and other equipment free of charge. The whole family is sure to love a day at the park.
  • Have a movie night at home. Instead of spending money on going to the movies, why not take out some of your favorite movies that you own and watch them at home? You can pop some popcorn and have all night movies marathons.
  • No Cable TV. According to research performed by Nielsen Co, the average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. That’s 2 months in front of the television every year! Trade in the TV for quality activities like spending time with family and reading and you will save about $50 per month.

Gas prices have gone through the roof. Here are some simply ways you can save on gas.

  • Search for the lowest gas prices online at GasBuddy.
  • Save up to $100 a year on gas by keeping your engine tuned and your tires inflated to their proper pressure.
  • Avoid driving as much as possible. When traveling short distances, you can walk or even ride a bike. This will save you hundreds of dollars and probably get you in the best shape of your life.

Gifts and holidays are another source of worry for those living on a tight budget, but they don’t have to be. Though it may seem like you need money in order to show someone you love them at the holidays or on their birthday, this isn’t the case.

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  • Create freebie coupons. Mark some index cards with free help or favors that you will provide whenever they need it, whether it’s a backrub or mowing their lawn, your time and your help is more valuable than anything that comes with a bow.
  • Look at online auction sites or garage sales for gifts. While it can be tricky to find nice gifts that are cheap, these two places are often a lot more helpful than you might think.

Grocery costs are another major expense for many families. Fortunately, there are also a number of ways to save on food and groceries.

  • First, you should always pack your lunch for work. Not only will you save a ton of money, but it’s also a lot healthier.
  • Skip the Starbucks. Many people don’t realize how their coffee expenses can add up. A single latte can cost up to $4. This means that a Starbucks addict ends up spending about $1,000 just in coffee. Start making your coffee at home and your wallet will thank you for it.
  • Buy in bulk. There are a number of stores that allow you to save by buying in bulk. Sam’s Club is one of the most well-known examples.
  • Look for coupons. Coupons can save you a ton of money. However, you have to be careful. Even with coupons, you might not be getting the best buy. Comparison shopping is key.
  • Look for generic products. Often times, the only difference is the packaging.

Living on a tighter budget simply requires you to add a bit of creativity to your financial planning and daily expenses. There are plenty of ways to live life on the ‘cheap’ without feeling like you’re pinching every penny.

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If you know of any other frugal tips, please feel free to add them in the comments.

Kim Roach is a productivity junkie who blogs regularly at The Optimized Life. Read her articles on 50 EssentialGTD Resources, How to Have a 46 Hour Day, Do You Need a Braindump, What They Don’t Teach You in School, and Free Yourself From the Inbox.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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