Getting Real With Sara Haley

There are a million and one articles out there on the internet that promise to give you the tricks of the trade to saving money. From couponing to cutting your expenses, I’ve read it all. And I’m sure you have, too. But when it comes down to it, there is only one secret, and it’s not even a secret at all. It all comes down to living within your means. But what exactly does this mean?

Too many families and individuals live in an “instant gratification” world. If you want it, get it. Regardless of price, regardless of if you truly need it, just buy it. Don’t have the money in your bank account? No worries, there’s always the credit card or long-term financing! These days, you can get a personal loan for just about anything. From redecorating your home to cosmetic surgery, you can get money for pretty much everything. The problem? Each of these finance options come with monthly payments. And interest. And months, sometimes years, of paying them off.

You know what some of our parents, and grandparents, did when they wanted something? They saved their money. And if they didn’t have the money, you know what they did?  They didn’t buy it. That’s right. They went without.

I think a lot of Americans need to understand that their financial situations are likely a result of their own selfishness. I’m reading some of these “frugal living” articles and I’m baffled. To save money each month, they’re telling me I should lower my extra cable television channels.  To save money each month, they’re telling me I should cut the number of days I eat out at restaurants. To save money each month, they’re telling me I should shorten my vacation or consider a stay-cation instead.  You know what I say to all this?


You know how I have saved money? I don’t even have cable. I don’t eat out much at all unless I can get a great deal on it or someone is treating me. And vacation?! I wish!!!

The problem with today’s families is they think that they are entitled to all of these things. Take cable TV, for example. Really? For most families who have parents that work outside of the home for 40 hours a week, and then spend the evenings hauling their kids to extracurricular activities after school and running through a drive-thru for dinner, the idea of even having cable is absurd.  Someone please explain to me when these people have time to even watch television enough to justify the hundred-something dollars a month just to have.

The key to living frugally is this: live like you’re poor. You heard me. Instead of trying to cut back on extravagant things you have become accustomed to, eliminate them altogether. Let me explain this idea further.

I was married. I was a stay-at-home mom to my daughter and step-son. I left my husband for a number of reasons, and when I did so, I took my daughter and rented an apartment. I was a stay-at-home mom that did minimal freelance work, and the idea of figuring out how to make it financially on my own was, well, intimidating. But I did it. I was dirt poor and knew it, and my purchases and bills reflected this accordingly. I kept everything to a bare minimum. Rent and utilities I couldn’t get around, nor could I get around my car payment. But everything else was adjusted accordingly. I didn’t get cable. I didn’t even get the standard channels that “everyone” gets. TV did not exist in my home. I got bottom-of-the-line internet service because I needed that to work. I borrowed a twin bed for my room, ate at a card table for months, and went without a lot of your common “luxuries.”  Why?

Because I had no choice.

That’s the difference. When it comes down to it, I didn’t need a TV.  I didn’t need new clothes–I literally wore mine out.  I didn’t need XM Radio, Hulu Plus, McDonald’s, or any of those other things that most families just couldn’t live without in their lives.  My life was pretty bare bones, and I was okay with that.

As I built my clientele and was able to start supporting myself a little better, I slowly started adding in things that I knew my daughter and I would not only enjoy, but benefit from. One month I started paying for Rhapsody music streaming, because it’s nice to be able to listen to some music while I work. A few months ago, I finally rented out a garage at my apartment complex to store my daughter’s outside toys and to protect my car from the weather. I found a gorgeous wooden dollhouse for my daughter at a fraction of the retail price from a Craigslist poster–and gave it to her for Christmas. She plays with it every single day. I started saving up for the things I needed. Over time, I was able to buy a bed. A kitchen table. A computer desk to work on. And I wasn’t afraid to buy used, either. Why? Again–because I had no choice. I couldn’t afford to do it otherwise.

Things are going okay, a year and a half later. I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my cupboard, and clothing in my closet. And for that, I’m grateful. I don’t rely on credit cards. If I don’t have the money for it, I don’t buy it. If it is not of value, I don’t get it. If it is not something I will use regularly, I consider buying it used. In fact, I rarely buy anything new. I always use coupons when I shop for groceries, typically saving about 70% off of my grocery bill. I have completely changed the way I look at most everything I purchase. I ask myself one question when I’m considering buying something: do I really need it? Unless it’s groceries, the answer is likely “no.”

This, my friends, is the secret to living a frugal lifestyle. It’s a different take on the whole “minimalist” attitude. As long as you have everything that you need, you shall not want.  Everything else in life is unnecessary clutter, and likely a waste of your money.

And you know what?

I still don’t have television in my house, and I sincerely do not miss it at all!