secret to budgeting
Saving Money

The Secret to Sticking to A Budget

The secret to sticking to a budget is… to enjoy the experimentation process as you figure out which cost-saving measures work and which doesn’t.

That’s it. That’s the secret.

But of course, let me elaborate.

Why Enjoying the Process is the Secret and Restrictive Budgeting Won’t Work

For many people, budgeting is synonymous with restrictive budgeting. The plan is to CUT OUT as many expenses as possible, so one can save as much money as possible.

This strategy will absolutely work, but if you hate your new lifestyle, then you’re not going to save as much money as you’d hope.

Think of the last time you forced yourself to follow a restrictive budget. Have you tried to live on a super-minimal groceries budget, or rented a room with housemates, and/or saved on transportation cost by ditching your car?

Did you end up making unplanned, ‘blowout’ purchases?

If yes, you’re not alone. We buy shit we don’t plan when we accumulate stress and just want to feel better, even temporarily. No matter how strong-willed you think you are, one of those marketing effort will catch you at your weakest moment and BAM you made the order without thinking.

If you’re lucky, you made small purchases, bought small luxuries. If not, your splurges might have cancelled out your savings, or even put in you in additional debt!

Important: It’s important to be kind to yourself and not take all the blame – stress can mess with your head like that. In this sense, excessive budgeting is very similar to excessive dieting. You’ll try to restrict, but may end up binging!

Related: Why We Can’t Stop Spending Money

It’s still worth trying out a restrictive budget

Hold on a sec, Suraya. It’s still worth trying out a restrictive budget? Didn’t you just say a restrictive budget may backfire?

Yes, it might.

BUT I’d argue that some money-saving initiatives – especially those that make the top 3 expenses: Accommodation, Food and Transportation – are still worth trying out at least once.

Why? Because you wouldn’t know how you could adapt to the new lifestyle changes until you try it out. This is the chance for you to figure out the edge of your comfort zone.

For example, I did the whole housemates thing. For about 3 years, I saved money on rent by living with up to 4 other people in the same apartment.

(Related: How I rent a master bedroom in Kuala Lumpur for RM150 a month (not including bills)

I had some great times, but I also know that it wasn’t my preferred living arrangement. So once my savings account got to a comfortable level, I got my own place. From there on, I knew Accommodation is one category that I am willing to splurge on (within limits of course).

(But it’s good to know that I *can* live with housemates, if I ever have to)

(Actually the experience did come in handy lol. When my husband moved into my place, I felt okay with sharing my space, even though I’ve lived alone for years)

By trying out and experimenting with different lifestyle changes, you will uncover so many aspects of your personality that you wouldn’t know before. It may even turn into better opportunities and outcomes.

One example where my life changed for the better – in my early 20s, I tested my limits with Transportation and ditched my (family) car. While it was absolutely frustrating to use public transportation at times (I used to take the bus from Ipoh-Shah Alam every few months and it took me 8-10 hours per way!!), the new lifestyle also led me to focus on work-from-home opportunities, which turned out amazing for me!

Related: The Exact Steps I Use to Earn Online in Malaysia

The Jackpot: Finding that you absolutely LOVE the new lifestyle change

Never try, never know. The more things you try, the more likely it is for you to find a money-saving lifestyle that you can live with. And sometimes, if you get lucky, you’ll hit jackpot and find one that you LOVE.

Personally, my absolute favourite lifestyle change is grocery shopping, which I picked up after trying to cook all my meals from home. Every time someone post how much they hate it (for whatever reason), I get confused, because for me grocery shopping is genuinely fun. I take so much pleasure out of this ‘mundane’ activity.

I love everything about it. It lets me enjoy delicious, healthy food at a cheaper price. It satisfies my shopping mood and serves as a great outlet to seek novelty (I love checking out new food products that recently enter the market!).

Additionally, grocery shopping gives me an excuse to get out of the house (I work from home so this is important!) and makes an awesome date activity (we pick out ingredients together and make an evening out of it). It even helps me exercise my creativity – I love figuring out what to make with random ingredients:

Which sometimes come from the reduce-to-clear section (makes them even cheaper!)

I even look forward to grocery-shopping when I go travelling, and daydream plans like this:

I’ve written so much about grocery-shopping here in Ringgit Oh Ringgit as well:

Finding joy while budgeting

I completely understand and acknowledge that not everyone can be in the same headspace while attempting cost-saving lifestyle changes. After all, you can’t budget your way out of poverty, so it would be tone-deaf of me to suggest to ‘just have fun with it!’ while you cut out something that provides you safety and health (rather than convenience and/or comfort).

(But I do maintain it is absolutely the government’s job to provide welfare and create jobs with living wages and ensure everyone’s health and safety is NEVER compromised, so let’s continue to make those demands until it happens)

But if figuring out your budgeting style and attempting money challenges is something every adult have to do anyway to have a better financial life, then might as well enjoy the process, no? That’s my take on it anyway.

Tell me how you view budgeting – do you have a positive or negative view on it? Have you found activities that you absolutely enjoy through experimenting with different cost-saving measures?

Let me know in the comments!

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