Living Below Our Means, Part 1.

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For some reason in our society money is a taboo subject or even not chic. Afterall, the chic-est, trendiest thing is usually the latest greatest gadget, fashion, makeup, .... (fill in the blank here). Money seems to be a means to an end.

Most of us are familiar with the common adage of living within our means, but seldom said or popular is living below our means. I'm not talking poverty, or living off garbage can, or wearing shabby clothes and so on. The true meaning about living below our means is about lifestyle choice.

Before ToddlerLorp came into our lives, we were both working professionals. We have comfortable savings, maxed out our 401k yearly, and our debts are the mortgage of our tiny duplex and a small student loan. The car that I owned is more than 15 years old now and PapaLorp would often take public transport to work. Sure, we could have afford a newer car or a bigger house, for example, we'll just put less into our savings. But we realized there's an advantage to living below our means. Smaller house means minimal upkeep, hardly needs any hired help to clean and maintain. My old car is still up and running, requires very low maintenance and with great fuel efficiency. Most importantly, we choose to use our money to build asset and wealth instead of spending it on things.

With ToddlerLorp's arrival, we practically loose one income since I decided to stay at home part-time with him. Although we've been living below our means, things are even tighter than we imagined. Here are some of our practical strategies on living below our means. These are by no means a complete list, but some that we visit again and again.

Nip the small things.
Everyone knows that little spendings add up, yet we often are not mindful and continue to spend. For example, eating out is our biggest culprit. I'm not talking about fancy dinners. I'm talking about the $4 latte for a snack, the $5 locally-made niche ice cream, or that $7 smoothie (wow, this cost as much as a plate of meal in some places!). Now, I try to pack snacks for our outings so we won't have to buy them. I put some non-perishable items such as crackers, water, raisins in the car so we have some "back up." 
Same thing applies with other purchases such as clothing, makeup, etc. Do you have a habit of purchasing things because you don't think it cost that much? Maybe a shirt/accessories from H&M? Drugstore makeup? As often as you do these things, think about whether or not you really need to spend the money.
When you are ready to move on, think a little bigger things: do we need both landlines and cell phone lines? how much TV channel do we actually watch? how many cars do we really need? Gym membership? magazine subscription? 
Small spendings add up. You get the idea, you just need to stop doing it

Think about why we spend and substitute.
I understand why some people love shopping/got addicted to it. I get a rush from purchasing/buying that new stuff, and that rush disappear almost as instantly as I wear/use the item, prompting me to anticipate my next purchase. It takes a while for me to realize that what I'm after is that anticipation and the rush, more of then than the items themselves. So I learn to substitute action that produces the same feeling. For example, working out gives me that feel of a good rush, so whenever I have time for myself, I go workout instead of shopping.
  • If I spend because I need an outlet for personal expression, rather than buying trendy clothes, shoes or makeup, I dabble into my hobbies of crafting.
  • If I spend out of lure of the biggest, newest things, I unsubscribe to the promo emails. I also turn off my twitter from companies, and stop reading beauty/style/lifestyle magazines (online or print). I keep a reading list of blogs that I can turn to about other subjects besides consumption.
You can always think of the reason behind your spending, and substitute it with different action. The more you do it, just like muscle, the stronger your sense of awareness that you do have a choice. You don't have to fall prey to your own impulse or behavior.

Cultivate relationship in place of consumerism.
This is somewhat related to the point above. Sometimes when I consume/impulse buy, I try to fill a hole inside; whether it be boredom, seeking for thrill or just feeling sad and depressed and want something new. Whenever I feel this, I go out the door and head to the nearest park, or pick up the phone to meet up with a friend for a playdate (meeting on the internet via twitter/facebook does not count). There's a life outside consumption: the simple enjoyment of meeting new people, or connecting with old, familiar friends. When you feel like consuming, drop your device and head out for real connection instead.

In the next installment, I'll share you some of my more philosophical strategy to live below our means. Keep in mind, I'm far from perfect, and slip-ups are bound to happen (esp. right after I publish this post, eh?), but you can only do your best, and if you don't start now, when? 

Are you living within or below your means? Or within your means in certain areas of your live but above your means in other areas? What are the things you wish you can change in your life in terms of spending/consumption?


  1. How I love your posts, Claire! I love your "thankful" posts and I love ones like this that make me examine the parts of myself that are difficult to look at.
    I was just listening to a public radio post about the cost of college tuition and how they keep on going up. There is a theory (can't remember the name - old & grumpy) that says as tuition goes up, the services rendered by the school keeps up going up along with it. Which is to say costs can (could) keep on going up and the services will just go up right along with it. When I heard this, I was thinking: FACK! I have two kids to put through schools. SAVE MORE! and then 2) made me this how my lifestyle just seems to keep on expanding and getting cummulatively more expensive as income grows. (Yeah yeah, so declasse to talk about income) At the end of the day, are all the afterschool activities for kids, classes, housing, the 2nd car, allllll the makeup, the etc etc etc really making us happy? I recall growing up as a kid with none of those things and being happy.

    Sorry, such a rambler I am today!

    I'm very struck by what you wrote on cultivating relationships rather than consumerism. I have a blog on consuming (mostly beauty), but at the end of the day, the most rewarding part is the interaction and the v. limited relationships I get to enjoy due to the blog. I'm kind of sure that's what got me hooked on actual blogging. Hmm... makes me think uncomfortable things about putting more effort into off-line, "irl" people relationships.

    Thanks for your wonderful post and looking forward to your strategies.

    1. My dear Belly, thanks for sharing your thoughtful insights. I totally agree, the cost of education really scares the HECK out of me. The Toddler is not there yet, but I'm sure he will be, sooner than we want. Even right now we are debating whether we should move to a better school district or put him in private school, if so, how are we going to fork up the $$ plus all the extras that we need to put out on top of education -- partially because I grew up with a lot less (yep, no extracurricular activities after school when I grew up), and partially because I want to provide those for my children now that I'm able to do so. And we can all totally relate to getting use to a certain kind of lifestyle after earning a comfortable income. We used to travel and eat out -- every month and every weekend. In fact, we "loose" almost all of our adult friends because we no longer able to eat out (and hanging out with them used to be happy hours, then movies, then nice dinner, all the fun, grown-up stuffs we used to do).
      This is why I post something like this, because we rarely talk about it (so declasse, v. true!) but also via blog, you don't have to reveal much about yourself OR reveal as much as you want for the sake of good discussion and personal improvement. Win win!
      My hats off to you raising two children AND working at the same time. It is so much harder to work, then come home to hungry, tired, crying kids when you are also hungry and tired. You should pat yourself on the back, you and DH, go pat each other's back!! :-D

  2. thank you for your tips - i look forward to reading more of them! how timely such an awakening should arrive :) somewhere, now i need to start curbing unnecesary spending.

    1. Hello Jenni, thanks for stopping by. We all live in the world of consumerism and we need a bit of reminder every now and then.