I wish that more people could learn how to enjoy being cheap.
I have been listening to the Dave Ramsey Show quite a bit lately, and I agree with his financial advice in general. If you are unfamiliar with Ramsey, he explains how “debt is dumb” and tells people that they should “live like no one else so that later they can live like no one else.” In other words, struggle in misery to pay off your debts so that you can be fabulously wealthy.
Living cheap doesn’t have to be miserable.
I agree with Ramsey that financial peace greatly improves your quality of life, and I am not concerned with the specific strategies of his approach (as many are). I do not want to address his order for paying off debts, his budgeting guidelines, or his investment strategies. My objection is to the underlying assumption that living cheap should feel like suffering.
In reaching your financial goals, Ramsey envisions you going through a few years of misery to pay off your debts. He explains that your menu will consist of “beans and rice and rice and beans” and that you will have “no fun.” However, you can reach your goals and love life if you can learn how to enjoy being cheap.
15 ways to enjoy being cheap
Many believe that enjoying life is dependent on spending a lot of money. The equation seems to be high income + high spending = joy. But the truth is that many wealthy people are miserable. When you learn how to enjoy being cheap, you can escape the “treadmill effect” and find happiness that lasts.
1) Revel in your free time.
Being cheap allowed me to work less. As a teacher, I was able to take summers off when others could not. After paying off my debts, I am now able to work part-time. What do I do with all of this free time? Work. However, I am able to focus on my energy on my passion projects.
Maybe you cannot afford to leave your job and work part-time. Perhaps you do not even have any passion projects in mind. This does not mean that being cheap will not enable you to have more free time. For you, being cheap might mean turning down overtime or dropping your side-hustle to spend more time with your family.
If you spend your Saturday reading trashy novels with cup of tea, think of it as a victory rather than a missed opportunity.
Related post: Before Starting a Side Hustle
2) Give of yourself.
One way to enjoy being cheap is to change your definition of generosity. Consider volunteering in lieu of charitable donations. There is more satisfaction in the service than in the cutting of a check.
Do you feel like a loser when you give someone a modest gift? Stop it! Gift giving is not a competition and price tags are not points. Spendy gifts are not always the best way to show that you care. Challenge yourself to give of yourself. Accumulate memories and sentiments rather than debt.
Related post: Best Homemade Gifts for Adults
3) View jealousy as a defeated enemy.
Recognize that Facebook brag posts, advertisements, and your neighbor’s driveway are all traps. Don’t be manipulated. See through the game. Take pride in the fact that you are beyond the petty jockeying.
Take my car (please). It is beat-up, put-down, and shabby all-around. However, it is paid-off and reliable. I can congratulate a neighbor on their sweet, new ride without feeling any pangs of envy. I can laugh at hyperbolic car commercials and recognize that no number of Buicks will make me Matthew Mcconaughey. I view jealousy as a defeated enemy.
4) Remember that your career (of itself) does not give your life meaning.
If you feel strongly about the value of your job in society, that’s wonderful, but remember that the job is not the value. Your contribution is the value. Its value is not your title or your salary. You perform a needed service for society and do it well; take pride in it.
If your job has dubious societal value, remember that your life has meaning in other ways. Getting too caught up in the importance of career might be a trap to keep you on the treadmill and make you miserable. Being cheap enables you to see past sales quotas, promotions, and the rest.
5) Think about the intrinsic value of experiences.
I am certainly guilty of yearning for extravagant trips, expensive events, and the rest. I remind myself to focus on the intrinsic value of the experiences rather than the joy of attainment.
If I am thinking about a trip, I stop and think about the intrinsic value. In other words, am I enjoying the Jamaican beach for the right reasons? Does the cost of the trip alone make me feel better about myself? Am I really looking for great photos that will show everyone that I am a big-shot? Would I enjoy myself just as much on a tube in a local river?
Learning how to enjoy being cheap means evaluating your reasons for spending.
Related post: Insights into Willpower and Spending
6) Change your definition of wealth.
It is true that some people really do not have enough. There are creditors banging on the door, unexpected emergencies lurking, and difficult, unhappy choices to be made.
Once you are living within your means and have an emergency fund, the question becomes how much is enough? It is natural to want more, but maybe the more you desire is not financial.
Stop thinking about wealth only in terms of income and net worth and start thinking about other forms of wealth. Time with family, friendships, self-esteem, creative fulfillment, faith, and health are all forms of wealth.
7) Get philosophical / spiritual to enjoy being cheap.
If the way of productivity, competition, and consumerism is not bringing you happiness, perhaps you should find another way.
I am not saying that you need to shave your head, donate your possessions, and join a cult, but philosophical or spiritual wisdom might help you as you learn how to enjoy being cheap.
Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money
8) Practice gratitude.
Your mom’s advice on manners is important, but I am talking about practicing gratitude in your own mind. Take the time view your life with a grateful spirit.
We spend so much time thinking about those who have more than us and very little time thinking about those who have so little. We spend too much time thinking about what we lack instead of counting our blessings.
9) Live in the moment.
I am certainly not an expert in meditation, but I have found it beneficial. For me, the challenge of meditation is striving to stop asking, “What’s next?” Stop asking “What’s next?” and start asking “What’s now?” When you are living in the moment, you enjoy what you have.
How many people start thinking about their next vacation while they are on a vacation? If this was you, it was a vacation fail. Stop focusing on your next experience or acquisition. This leads to perpetual wanting and a dearth of having.
10) Enjoy being cheap by replacing an expensive hobby.
Now some practical advice on how to enjoy being cheap. If you enjoy a hobby that you really cannot afford, it might be causing you more stress than enjoyment in the long run.
Concentrate on what you enjoy about the hobby. Are enjoying solitude, communing with nature, seeing new things, camaraderie, or challenge? Perhaps you can get the same sensations with a cheaper substitute.
Related post: Reducing the Costs of Fun
11) Express yourself.
Self-expression is cheap and can lead to great fulfillment. Whether your jam is fine arts, wood-working, performing, dancing, or writing, try to spend more time doing it.
One reason why we enjoy spending is because it is so easy. Creative expression is more challenging than going out and spending money, but it is also more meaningful.
12) Develop an environmental superiority complex.
Consumerism takes a heavy tole on our natural world. Big houses, new cars, shopping trips, cruises, and airplane flights have a costly environmental price tag. Learning how to enjoy being cheap means that you can save your money and save the world at the same time.
Being environmentally responsible can help your budget in many ways, but there are notable exceptions. Environmentally friendly groceries will certainly cost more. The cheapest new electric car at this time is the Smart EQ FORTWO with an MSRP of $24,650 (not including any tax incentives). You must decide how superior you want to be.
Overall, developing an eco-conscious state of mind will help you feel good about being cheap.
13) Learn to love cooking.
Everybody loves eating out. For many, making dinner is pure drudgery. If you want to learn how to enjoy being cheap, you should learn to love cooking.
Many people love to cook, so what makes you hate it? Is it the pile of dishes that you create? Is it the poor results? Is it too boring? Challenge yourself to find a way to like it. Maybe you should try better recipes, splurging on ingredients, adding some fun music, sprucing up your kitchen, or even getting a better dishwasher.
Even if you have to invest a bit a money in your kitchen to make it pleasant, your savings from eating in will add up quickly. Imagine how much you save in hosting a fancy dinner party instead of treating friends to your favorite steakhouse.
14) Enjoy the challenge of being cheap.
I love to beat the system. Finding a cheaper alternative is a game to me, like fantasy football or playing the stock market. Anyone who knows me has had to suffer through my cheapist victory recaps (often after I finish a project or return from a thrift store).
My wife cannot best me in most cheapist behaviors, but there is one aspect in which she excels: finding discounts online. I do not know how she does it. If we need a new piece of furniture or an appliance, she is a Jedi master of flash sales and promo codes. She too enjoys the challenge of being cheap.
Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale
15) Celebrate your milestones.
Bob Wells (shown above) is an interesting guy. He advocates leaving the financial rat race and beating the system by living as a nomad. He is pleased as punch with living in a van and traveling the American West. Being cheap makes him free.
I am not ready to live in a van down by the river, but being cheap has improved my life. I do not have to work that much and am a pretty happy guy. Along the way I have experienced the milestones of paying off student loans, living without a car payment, cash-flowing big expenses, etc.
This is one aspect that Dave Ramsey gets right. He encourages people to pay off smaller debts first in order to establish a celebratory view. He recommends walking around the yard with your toes in the grass after paying off the mortgage and explains that, “the grass feels different when you own it.”
Think about what being cheap will enable you to do and feel. Do not throw an obnoxious party to celebrate financial achievement, but take the time to reflect on the results of your cheapist ways.
How to Enjoy Being Cheap Conclusion
Very few in this society want to be told that they need to learn how to enjoy being cheap. The fact that you are reading this shows that you are exceptional.
I can see why Ramsey does not make the case that you can enjoy life long-term on a tiny budget. It is simply too hard a sell. Ramsey’s system is about playing the game of consumerism and coming out ahead. His game is ultimately how to have more in the end. My advice is to question the game itself. Spending less is not a means to an end but the end itself.
Perhaps Ramsey is using his wealth fantasy rhetorically. Maybe he expects that after years of paying off debt, many of his disciples will realize naturally that they do not need as much as they thought to be happy and secure.
If you have some thoughts to share, I would love to hear from you. Please comment below.