Perhaps you know a sensation when being on a market for a new place, you find a house or an apartment that instantly feels like home, but after an initial euphoria you realise that buying the property means you have to stretch financially, getting a mortgage and putting in all the money you have saved, leaving the balance at zero.
That is where a found myself a year ago, buying the perfect apartment I had envisioned in my dreams and getting myself into a financial rock bottom, getting indebted even beyond the mortgage. The first reaction was “don’t panic”, it will be all right if you live frugally over the next months. And take my word for it, frugality was never my middle name. Even after I became a newly converted minimalist and “qualitist”, I still enjoyed finer things in life that came in the form of travels, books, beauty products, gourmet food, cashmere and merino wool, niche perfumes, Diptyque candles, lifestyle magazines, etc. In my new reality something had to give and I decided to prioritise regaining financial stability by having more than one zero on my savings account rather than spending money on short term gratifications. With best intentions and a much limited budget, I started my year of frugal thinking.
I won’t say it was easy, because it wasn’t really. I was tempted to keep on buying my old time favourites, but I knew this was a short sighted solution and at the end of a month would lead to more stress and even more financial pressure that I didn’t wish for. So I was very strict with myself and thought twice (or more) before I used my card on things that were my wants, not needs. But not to deprive myself of all small joys and occasional gratifications, I engaged in different ways of making it work.
The first big undertaking was selling clothes and accessories on the internet, rather than donating them to charity. It proved to be a great way of getting some extra cash that I could chose to save, put away for holiday fund or use to buy something that I wanted to have. If I decided to buy something with the money, I would start searching on the second hand market first. To my great surprise, there are so many fantastic pieces in great condition that you can buy for a fraction of an original price. It is good for the wallet and the environment alike, you save some cash and reuse a garment that will last for a long time, providing you choose quality and something that was well taken care of. I also started to swap clothes with friends, giving away some of the things I didn’t wear any more and in return getting nice garments that would bring some more variety to my wardrobe. On several occasions I was astonished by how many new pieces still bearing labels my friends were able to produce when going through their closets. The usual comment was “I have no idea why did I buy it, it is totally not my style/size/colour”. As proved, one woman’s mistake can be another’s treasure.
Maintaining beauty routines I was used to proved to be the biggest challenge, because I didn’t want to compromise on the quality, as I knew my face wouldn’t face it very well. I decided not to cut cost on face care, but try to reduce expenses on body care, searching for cheaper yet still reliable replacements to products I was using before. I was attentive to special offers and price reductions in pharmacies, using discount codes shopping online, buying duty free or abroad and for more expensive items (can’t live without my Aesop), asked for them in connection with celebrations and anniversaries.
As a keen reader, I often spend money on books and magazines, but this infatuation with a written word can prove to be a costly hobby, so I would either ask my husband to bring my favourite magazines from London for a fraction of an imported press price (thank you!) or not buy them at all. I made an exception for two magazines I really like, all others I simply stopped buying. When it comes to books, I made a commitment that I will not buy more until I read each and every book that I have in my own library. Even a keen reader has some lectures sitting on bookshelves forever, so now came the time to read them. I am almost done and believe me, they were fantastic, after all I bought them for a reason in the first place.
Socialising and entertaining can pose a challenge when being on a budget, but on the other side, if your friends cannot understand, who else will? On several occasions I made no secret that the money is tight right now and I cannot join for a round of drinks in town, so we took a coffee instead or met at home. More than once the honesty was received with a similar confession, and this is how I found my new favourite Thai food restaurant where the food is amazing and so budget friendly, that even a limited budget can take it once in a while. Other than spending time with friends, I set of for some solo excursions into city areas that I hardly ever went to before. I took some nice long walks and enjoyed coffee breaks, feeling a little bit like a tourist in my own town.
Today, more than a year after we bought the apartment, my budget is in much better condition, the emergency loan was paid off and the saving account shows growing numbers. I love the apartment that we live in and in hindsight am happy with the decision of going beyond limits to buy it, especially that it proved to be a good investment. In the process I learned some important lessons that will resonate with me for a long time.
It is not necessary to keep on spending money and you can control the urge even if something seems to be a great deal and in line with your taste. Not getting a new coat is no tragedy if you already own two (or more). Every saving matters even if alone it seems insignificant, but if you multiply by 10, it is not so trivial any more. Going for quality is really the best way, and quality also comes in second hand forms, not every piece has to be off the shelf and from the shop. Sales and discounts are a great way to buy things and spend less, buy only if you buy what you really need and what you would pay for even if it wasn’t discounted. Finally, being honest about your financial situation with friends and family is no shame, for there are so many ways to spend the time together and being more creative is never a bad idea.