Getting Back on Track

Sometimes even the most frugal person feels like money is going out faster than it’s coming in. I’ve always been frugal. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always preferred to save my money instead of spend it. I love the feeling I get when I see a lower mortgage balance and a higher emergency fund balance each month. But even the most motivated savers go through times when it feels like money is going out faster than it’s coming in.

For the last couple months, my husband and I have been doing some remodeling. We’ve done the whole thing on a relative shoestring, spending about $3500 total (thanks to a lot of hours of working on it ourselves and help from my family, all we’ve had to pay for is supplies, and we managed to get a lot of stuff used). But now there are lots of other things that we’re tempted to buy for the house. Lots of little things, and used whenever possible, but still – it all adds up.

We’re getting a pretty big tax refund this year, and our incomes have gone up a bit over the last few months. We paid off all of our non-mortgage debt last year, and we’ve been feeling pretty comfortable with our finances. But right now I’m starting to feel like we’re leaking money all over the place.

We spent a lot more than usual on food over the last couple months, since we were eating out a lot more while we worked on our kitchen. And all the little trips to Home Depot are adding up. I love all the home improvements we’ve done, and I know we’ve done all the remodeling as frugally as possible. But $3500 is still a lot of money.

So how do we get back on track? First we need to sit down and reconcile our current financial situation. Our tax refund will help, but we’ve already earmarked that for IRA contributions, so it wouldn’t feel right to spend it on rugs and lights.

Then we need to make a complete list of the stuff we still need for the house. I think that the key to getting back to our frugal lifestyle is going to be organizing and prioritizing our extra spending over the next few weeks. If I can get everything written down with price tags attached and budget implications clear in my mind, I won’t feel so frustrated by how much money we’re spending.

Then we just need to stick to our list and make sure that we’re not being too spendy in other areas besides the home improvement projects that we’ve already begun.

I guess every frugalite has times when they spend more than usual. Whether it’s an emergency (hopefully with a well-stocked emergency fund in place) or a vacation or a new baby or a home remodel, there will always be months here and there when the normal budgeting rules don’t apply. For those of us who prefer to save than to spend, it can be frustrating to feel like we’re losing control of our finances.

But it’s good to take a step back and remember that sometimes money needs to be spent – that is what it’s there for after all – it’s just a matter of whether we want to spend it now or later. As long as we’re not going into debt to finance a vacation or home remodel, and as long as we’re still saving for the future, it’s ok to spend a little extra now and then. I know that we’ll be back to our normal frugal lifestyle within a few weeks, and it will feel good. But it will also feel good to have all these projects done, and I know that the money was well-spent.

How do you get back on track when you’ve fallen of the frugal-wagon?

Photo by exfordy.


  1. You just bite the bullet… ask each other for accountability… and beat yourself with a whip until while staring at your account statement (it’s a psychological deal).

    Actually, just laugh at your own human frailty, forgive yourself, and move on.

  2. PT:

    It’s hard to get back going b/c it seems like there is always something…and I don’t even have kids yet.

    I just have learned to say enough is enough.

  3. Michelle H:

    I certainly can sympathize with your house remodeling – we’ve been remodeling an older home for the last two years and it’s so expensive! We’ve done quite a bit ourselves but had to hire a carpenter for some of the harder jobs. I sat down and figured out how much we were spending and nearly passed out! We had to just quit for a while and get back on tract with our budget. It helps that we don’t live in the house.(We live in a parsonage and we bought the house to fix up for our retirement years.) It would be hard to stop in the middle of the renovation if you lived there. I think what helped me the most, was just to prioritze what needed to be done when and not get in a hurry and put it all in the budget and not spend until we had enough saved up. Looking back, I wish we had just saved up enough to buy a house outright that was already in good enough shape. Houses are very reasonable in our area but building supplies are expensive everywhere.

  4. marci357:

    I keep a “want” list. Anything I am thinking about buying goes on that list. It’s a physical list – inside a kitchen cabinet door. If I still want the item in a year (for major purchases over $100) then I buy it when it comes on sale. For lesser amounts (under $100) my waiting time is 6 months.

    This gives me time to think about the purchase, it’s necessity, and if I still NEED it after a year, I’ll buy it without guilt.

    The exception is garage sales – my main shopping. If I find the item at a price of 10% of new, I’ll buy it before the time is up. Last weekend I found a $149 video/dvd storage cabinet at a rummage sale for $5 in like new condition. Of course, I grabbed it :)

    The physical list shows me just how much I have on it at any one time – and whether my needs are really just wants that I can live without.

    I would also suggest going to a cash basis – if you don’t have the paper currency in your wallet, don’t buy it. Works for me. I have $300 cash each month for groceries and gas and garage sales. I can’t go too far off course sticking to cash. Good Luck!

  5. Frugal Babe, I think another motivator is to write a list of goals, and put them in a place you will see them on a daily basis. One of my goals is to reduce my spending. I have a chart posted on my closet that shows both my monthly income and my monthly expenses. I just recently added a line that shows the increase in my savings!

    It feels great to watch the lines diverge as my income either stays the same or increases and my spending decreases.

    Best of luck with the renovations! That’s hard work, but sweat equity is the best!

  6. I find that there is momentum in a lot of things in life:

    Sleep begets sleep. Eating begets eating. Spending begets spending.

    Once you start doing something, you have removed the barriers to continuing to do it, or doing it again. I think you’ve got the right approach to stepping back, assessing where you are, and then planning to move forward in the most prudent manner.

    All of these things require applying the brakes from time to time, but it’s our self awareness that allows us to recognize when things are getting out of control and to apply the brake.

    Good luck!

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