The Upside of Forced Frugality

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

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Has the pandemic and now inflation forced you into frugality to make ends meet? The transition may be tough, but consider the upside. You’re developing frugal habits that can help you survive these tough times and thrive when your financial situation improves.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

You’ve probably heard some version of this quote. I believe this to be true not only of greatness but of frugality as well.

Some of us are natural-born penny pinchers, others choose to transform our free-spending ways, and for some, frugality was thrust upon us by the pandemic and now inflation. Stay-at-home orders, job loss, product shortages, and increased prices had many of us scrambling to trim our budgets and wondering if we could cut enough to get us by.

A similar thing happened during the 2008 recession. Many were forced into frugality. And a few carried their newly honed frugal habits with them into better economic times, but many of us abandoned frugality at the first glimpse of an economic upturn. I’m sure more than a few of us are now thinking, “if only I had stayed on the road less costly”.

During these inflationary times, let’s take a hard look at the frugal habits we’ve had to develop over the past few years. Because these new habits are the upside of forced frugality. A commitment to sticking with them will not only help us get through these current tough times but also help us stay prepared for any future financial crisis we may face.

We Made Things Last Longer

During the pandemic, with the need to limit trips to the store, plan around product shortages and wait two weeks rather than two days for shipments of online purchases, we had to make many things last longer.

Whether teaching kids to be aware of the amount of toilet paper they are using or feeding the family simpler meals using up whatever food we have in the pantry, we’ve learned that we can get by on less and cut costs without feeling too deprived.

We’ve seen the money-saving advantage of making fewer trips to the store, and subsequently the gas station. And quicker trips at the store, too. Our need to quickly get in and out has us becoming more strategic with our planning and shopping and has left us little time to fill our baskets with impulse buys and non-essentials.

Let’s continue to incorporate these penny-pinching habits into our lives as we move forward. We can just pinch a little less hard as our finances improve.

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We Made Do Without While Still Having Fun

The list is long of services and entertainment options we had to forgo. We went without movie theaters, gyms, restaurants, libraries and theme parks for a stretch. Sure, our travel plans, date nights, and family outings were squashed, but not our ability to create less costly at-home alternatives.

Parents shared the joy of family game nights, sans electronics, with children who had never felt the thrill of putting a hotel on Park Place or being the first to yell Uno! or Yatzhee!. After being shut indoors for so long, we were ecstatic to revisit local outdoor destinations that brought us almost as much joy as a visit to a far-off locale. We found a new appreciation for the simple pleasures that we tend to overlook when we have the luxury of going out and about every single day.

Let’s not forget too quickly that fun does not always have to come with a price tag.

We Became More Self-Sufficient

Millions of us had to start making coffee at home again and lost no time learning to concoct our favorite specialty drinks at a fraction of the coffeehouse prices. We missed our hair stylists dearly, but when the going got tough and looking rough, we learned to tame our own out-of-control manes.

Unable to invite a handyman into our homes, we went online and taught ourselves how to do home repairs and improvements. And while we still might be eagerly awaiting someone to come fix the oven we couldn’t fix ourselves, we now know we can replace torn porch screens or a hot water heater element without paying a professional.

Let’s not let go of our self-sufficiency. Instead, let’s save money on those things we can successfully do on our own so we can better afford to pay for those services we simply cannot do without.

We Created Additional Income Streams

During the pandemic, many of us saw firsthand why we shouldn’t depend on just one income source. Whether we lost a job or just lost hours, or are now fearful our job is no longer secure in this economy, a lot of us are in need of and creating additional sources of income.

We learned new job skills so we’d have more opportunities available to us. We took steps to increase our income any way that we could, steps many of us wish we had been taking all along.

There is no reason our new income streams need to dry up as financial situations improve. (See Side Gigs That Can Make You Extra Cash.)

We Got a Very Real Lesson on the Importance of Putting Money Away for a Rainy Day…or a Pandemic

Whether relieved by the fact that we have an emergency fund to fall back on right now or regretful that we never started one, few of us can dispute the importance of building savings and the sense of security an emergency fund can provide.

A well-known Chinese proverb states “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Are you wishing you had started your emergency fund 20 years ago? Even a few years ago?

Let’s not let the next financial crisis find us without one.

Build an Emergency Fund

With these simple tips and tools, you can build an emergency fund, even while living paycheck to paycheck.

Let’s Retain These Frugal Lessons Learned During Tough Times

At some point the economy will improve and we’ll get our finances back on track, too. Hopefully, though, we’ll continue practicing our new habits learned during this time of forced frugality so we’re better prepared for the next financial hurdle that we face.

Maybe the next time a pandemic changes our world overnight or the economy takes a turn for the worse, more of us will be in a better financial position to not only weather the financial storm, but to help others who need it.

Reviewed July 2022

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