What Can We Learn from Cheapskates on the Internet?

The internet is a place of extremes. Extreme weight loss, out of control Pokemon Go tactics, and unrealistic frugality. A blog post about someone who pays off $67,000 of debt in 20 months is eye-catching clickbait. However, the much more common and realistic version of personal finance stories that detail the slow and steady approach of people who pay off debt, build up their savings, and enjoy a secure retirement over the course of decades are far less sensational.

I probably wouldn’t binge watch that reality show. But I admit that I’ve caught an episode or two of Extreme Couponing.

As a financial planner, I enjoy reading about savings hacks and money management tips no matter how outlandish they may seem. Personal finance after all is personal and what works for one person may not work for another. Even though savings is a big priority for me (I have to practice what I preach!), there are so many tips out there I could never imagine implementing in my own life no matter how much I could save. Drink BYOB or nothing at all and split an entree. I just can’t get on board with that – why even go to a restaurant? Let your significant other give you a haircut. My fiancé and I’d be divorced before we even got married. Use cards or board games as your main entertainment. Come on, really?

It’s easy to dismiss these extreme examples and assume that we could never replicate their tactics in our own lives nor would we want to. But it may be worth giving them a second look. Ditch some of the judgement and try to find something we can learn from the internet’s community of minimalists, frugal weirdos (their words, not mine) and those that aim to retire well before their grey hair comes in. How can we take the best parts of these lifestyles and apply it to our own? Within reason, of course.

A handful of things I will do to save an extra buck? Buy in bulk, walk/bike/take public transportation, make good use of my Keurig. These things are simple and fit into my lifestyle quite nicely. But there’s much more to take from these people who chose to share their lifestyle online than just a few small tips and tricks:

  1. Start now. Not tomorrow, not next week. Now is the time to kick start some changes if that’s what you want and need. If these people can transform their entire lives to become more frugal and financially secure, you can certainly save an extra 20 bucks this week.
  2. Little steps count, but big actions produce big results. Its great to make coffee at home, buy generic brands, and occasionally ride a bike to work. These small steps do add up over time. However, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that if we throw our spare change into a jar or save a dollar a day, we will completely fund our retirement, buy our dream house, or have enough cash to travel the world. Big dreams require big-time planning and sometimes big lifestyle changes. Moving to a more affordable neighborhood or trading in your car for a cheaper model will produce the kind of big dividends that might be necessary.
  3. Find your balance. Think about your goals, calculate how much you will need to get there, and when you want to achieve it. Want to put $20,000 down on a house in 5 years? You need to save $333 dollars each month to make that a reality. No need to jump off the frugal deep end if you don’t have to. Know your target savings rate and adjust accordingly.
  4. Frugality can be fun. No, I haven’t totally drank the kool-aid, but what do all these cheapskates have in common? They actually seem to like what they do and take a lot of pride and joy in maximizing their savings and financial security. You can too. Financial stress can drag us down in a lot of ways so we should start being excited, motivated, and downright proud to see our back account balance go up.
  5. Your house, car, and stuff don’t define you. I know this one might be a little touchy-feely, but I like this sentiment. It’s easy to get wrapped up in having the latest, most expensive things but they won’t solve your problems or make you who you are. There’s always something to spend money on but focusing on what’s most important to you will be a lot more satisfying. 

So, before you dismiss the next list of 35 tips from extreme penny pinchers that you come across, take a second look. Is there something worth trying or something to take away from it? Remember, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Choose one tip or idea that you think is worth a try and go for it. You might even surprise yourself.

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