Each year my first feature in February generally finds me feeling a bit burned out. The materialistic spend-fest that is Christmas followed by the penny pinching weeks in January when anything that's spare in the way of cash is spent snapping up the basics in the sales. Like next year's winter's coat for the children.
By the time February 1st rolls around I've pretty much had it. Sick to the back teeth with counting pennies, doing a shop that's made up entirely of economy brands, and trying to make it all last. And to top it off, it's winter. The days are short, and dark, and cold. And there's nothing nice to look forward to. When it snows it feels like Narnia. Always winter, without Christmas.
So what can you do to brighten things up a bit, and introduce a little bit of cheer into your life, without actually spending anything. Or spending very little. Just what do you do when you find yourself awash with frugal fatigue? Here's a few tips.
Have a little (very little) splurge
Feeling that itch that only retail therapy can scratch? Try soothing it with some small, but immensely pleasurable, splurges. You could go for a cut-price deal on a spa treatment. Groupon often has these deals on offer, although you'll find they come with lots of restrictions and it may be hard to actually book the spa treatment. Worth trying though if you can make a weekday, off peak slot.
My favourite small splurge though is to go to our local independent book store and buy a new book. I know I can get it for a third less or more if I buy online. But it feels so good to browse amongst the shelves, to flick through those lush, printed pages as I make my choice.
The other way I indulge myself is to buy a small bag of freshly ground speciality coffee from our local delicatessen. I love the whole process - the warmth and smell of the shop, the friendly chatter. Watching them grind up the beans. It costs three times as much as the bog standard stuff from the supermarket, but it tastes so so so very much nicer. I have a special coffee break every other day, and it lasts a while. It almost feels like my birthday when I can combine it with my new book, and a slice of freshly baked banana bread.
Keeping your goal in mind
Being frugal isn't about not spending, ever. That's being miserly! No, frugality is about living within your means, reducing debt or keeping out of it, and still managing to get what you want.
Set some goals, and make your savings count towards something. Kerry, mum to two boys and two girls, likes to do a check now and again. "It helps by giving me those little boosts of satisfaction now and again when my resolve is flagging. Basically I put my info in there, and set my goal, and when I add a bit more to my savings it is really satisfying to work out that I've just cut a few more days off achieving whatever it is that I'm saving for."
Or give yourself a 'goal' holiday
What if you take a month off each year? There's not much chance of doing that with debt you're trying to cut down on, but there might be other areas where you can give yourself a breather. Like taking a break from savings.
Plan for the long haul
Time to spring clean your finances. There isn't going to be some magic moment when you can just snap back into not thinking about what you're spending. Well, not unless you win the lottery. But you can't count on that.
Living within your means pretty much means doing this in the long term. So automate and make easy as much as you can. Get things on direct debits, and spend some time making filling in your diary for the year ahead with all those little dates. Like when your insurance is due to run out, or times of the year when particular sales or promotions tend to happen.
Even if you don't shop online, use a supermarket to build up a shopping list so you don't have to write out the same things all over again, month after month and week after week.
What can you get for free?
Take the things that you miss the most and see what you can replace them with that is free, or low cost. For me, it was going to the library instead of buying a book. There's Freecycle of course. My friend Sandy loves to have art on her walls, and has found a new hobby. Buying cheap framed prints from second hand and charity shops.
Identify weak points
What is it about living within a budget that you find the hardest? For me it is not going out for meals. I like the ease of just leaving the house, sitting somewhere different, having it all cooked for me, then just getting up from the table and leaving all the mess behind.
I can't re-create all of this at home, but I do recognise that what I need the most is a break from the routine and monotony of the whole cooking routine. I build that into my meal planner, and I've spent time seeking out meals and food options that allow me to minimise this and have a night off now and again.
This involves cooking as many meals as I can that I can freeze and also keeping a stock of ready prepared stuff in the freezer. Like a container of grated carrot that I an just throw into my stir fries. And all sorts of chopped vegetables, so all I have to do is throw them in hot water. Slow cookers are another life saver for people like me. Put it all together in the morning, and you come home to a cooked meal.
What are your weak points, and do you have any tips for me? It's your turn now, leave a comment!