What is frugal fatigue?
A lot of people, like myself, started being frugal because of illness or burnout, and they find themselves in debt, or their income or circumstances suddenly change, or, like now, things out of their control like world events suddenly impact on their finances. It is not easy going from being able to spend without much thought to having to think about every penny. Often, we don’t have a choice and there is a lot of pressure to reduce outgoings. There can be a lot riding on it like feeding your family, keeping your home, or staying afloat.
However, being frugal can be exhausting emotionally and physically. It takes constant planning, a lot of hard work (cooking from scratch, mending things, growing food, foraging etc), a lot of creativity, and organisational skills, and research. It can feel all-encompassing and overwhelming. It also takes a lot of self-control to reduce instant gratification and think of the bigger picture. It does get easier as your mindset and habits change, but even then, there are times when you just get fed up with being frugal. This is frugal fatigue and is normal. It is no different from healthy eating and just wanting a pie or a piece of cake sometimes. I have felt it sometimes when I have saved hard and then a disaster happens which uses all my savings. It just feels like another mountain I have to climb.
Signs of frugal fatigue and how to cope with it
When you are feeling frugal fatigue, it is important that you listen to how you are feeling, and don’t just ignore it, otherwise it can lead to impulse spending, depression, or lead to you sabotaging your budget, which could lead to you jeopardising your financial stability. Some of the signs of frugal fatigue are that you are feeling really stressed about your finances, you stop caring about your bills and blow your budget, you feel really down and like there is no way out of this black hole, you are constantly arguing with family about money, or you feel like you are missing out on fun times with family and friends. When I feel like that, which happens rarely now, I look for small ways to change my budget so that I can have a treat, or I look at my financial goals and relax one of them temporarily. I then treat myself to something that I really want, will get lots of enjoyment from, and not just a token thing like an ice cream or a chocolate bar. Things l have bought when I have felt like that in the past were a fire pit, a top from a charity shop, and a ticket to an amateur production at a theatre so that I could go with a friend. Sometimes you might be lucky and get this treat for free on free-cycle, or cheap from a charity shop, but it is important that it feels ‘special’ to stop that feeling of deprivation.
Strategies I use to avoid frugal fatigue
- I factor into my budget some kind of entertainment, treat or fun. It doesn’t need to be a lot. When my children were young most of our fun was free like going to the park, picnics, or local free events, but once a month we would go to the cinema on a Tuesday which was the cheap night. We would go to McDonald’s for a ‘happy meal’ (they never got take aways or meals out usually) and I would take a drink and a sweet treat or popcorn in my bag. At the time that night out would cost about £15 which seemed a lot of money to me, but it stopped us feeling deprived, was quality time, and was something that my children really looked forward to. They also didn’t feel different from their friends. They still remember some of those nights out 25 years later. Now I factor in my trips away as my fun treat.
- I make a game out of saving money. Examples of games you could play are:- How cheap can I make a meal? How many days can I go without spending? How much more can I pay off my debt this month compared to last month? How much money can I make this month through decluttering and selling things?
- I celebrate my WINS. When I achieved things like paying off my mortgage, getting rid of my debts, saved enough money for a car, I was proud of myself and acknowledged how far I had come.
- I remind myself why I am living frugally. For some it might be to get out of debt, to travel, to buy a house, to afford a holiday. It might even just be to get through this rough patch before you get back on your feet. For me it is so that I don’t have to go back to a stressful job, and so that I can tick some things off my bucket list.
- I have a realistic budget and flexible financial goals. There is no point in setting a budget that is too tight and you can’t stick to it or having too ambitious goals. I know for a lot of people money is really tight and it is important that you prioritise the essentials and pay off debts, but it is ok to have a month off from putting something in your emergency fund now and again, or that you pay the minimum on your credit card for just one month if you have a large debt. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. It is also OK that if you make a saving elsewhere that, as long as you stay within your means, you spend that saving where you want. It might be a treat for you or family, or it might be paying a bit more off your credit card or mortgage.
- I look for free ways to have fun. Especially during the summer there are lots of free local events, and I have taken up free hobbies like foraging and photography (with my mobile).
- I am honest and open about my frugality with my family and friends. They know that when they are with me that we are going to do free or cheap activities, and that there is no point in inviting me to a £70 concert or on a shopping spree. It would be the same if you were on a diet. Hopefully friends would encourage you rather than take you to the ice cream shop.
- I take a break from being frugal for a day now and again. I will buy a meal out on holiday or do an activity that I really want to do, I just save or budget for it.
- I hang out and connect with like-minded people so that I feel normal (even if it is just online) 😊.
- I practice gratitude and contentment. If you look for what is positive in your life you don’t notice the negatives.
Living within your means, getting out of debt and being financially stable are all important, but so is your mental health, and it is vital that you are compassionate with yourself and find ways to give yourself joy sometimes, even if that does mean tweaking your budget now and again. Frugal fatigue is normal and doesn’t mean that you are failing. Budget burn out happens to us all. How do you cope with it or try to avoid it?