Blogger Mrs. Frugalwoods adapts her lifestyle to embrace frugality and avoids budgeting—here, she explains how autopay factors in.
I’m quite lazy in how I manage my money, and I’ve come to believe that’s a key element of my success. Rather than waste hours fretting over my finances, I have an incredibly simple approach—I live on frugal autopilot and automate just about every aspect of my savings, bill paying, and even investments. In doing so, I find I actually spend less money overall. Since saving is my default, it’s easier to ignore the temptation to spend!
Embrace a Budget-Free Life
My family and I save upwards of 70 percent of our income every year, but we don’t budget. I’ve found that spending hours trying to meticulously project my cash outlay for a given month is a futile exercise. It’s far easier for me to simply ingrain frugality as a daily habit.
Additionally, a strict budget—much like a rigid diet—is often a recipe for feeling constrained and frustrated. If I had to literally count every penny, I’d be stressed out and worried every time I had to fill up the car or take the dog to the vet. Furthermore, it’s my experience that anytime I set a budget for something, I’ll spend all the way up to that limit. Conversely, I approach every day with the assumption that I won’t spend any money at all. Obviously, I do spend some money, but since I have that $0 goal in mind, I’m less likely to expel excess cash.
Take grocery shopping: I know which foods are cheapest, what store has the best deals, and the quantities I should buy to avoid wasting food. My ingrained habitual frugality means I purchase primarily raw ingredients—such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats—and then cook from scratch. Avoiding packaged, pre-made, and junk foods enables our family of three to eat on around $300 per month. By knowing how to shop smart, I’ve freed myself from the need to laboriously outline a grocery budget.
In order to achieve a wholesale budget-free life, my husband and I regularly review all of our spending and our daily routines. Every time we uncovered a superfluous expense—such as me buying coffee out every morning—we devised a frugal alternative (making coffee at home) and then stuck to it for the long term.
By eliminating these unnecessary, repeated spending events, we permanently increased our savings and formed lifelong frugal habits. Since we’re gunning for financial independence, we’ve chosen to frugalize every element of our lives—we cut each other’s hair at home, only shop used, groom our dog ourselves, and more. But it’s not necessary to embrace extreme frugality in order to reap the benefits of more judicious spending—there are savings to realize all along the frugality continuum. Making frugality our modus operandi took a bit of work at the outset, but now it takes no more effort than our erstwhile spendthrift approach. In fact, I’d say it actually saves us time since we shop so much less!
Automate 401k Contributions
Contributing to an employer-sponsored 401k is a wonderful decision, particularly if your employer matches your contributions. (That’s essentially free money for your future.) But remembering to contribute every month is just one more item on a to-do list. Fear not, there’s a solution to this conundrum: automation!
By automating our contributions, my husband and I don’t have to set a monthly reminder—it just happens. Automating contributions also ensures we can’t thwart our own good intentions by skipping a month or decreasing our contribution amount. It also means our take-home pay consistently reflects this deduction every month; hence, it’s not a shock to see that money allocated towards retirement, it’s merely a matter of course.
Automate Bill Pay
Online banking makes automated bill pay super simple. We have everything possible—including our mortgage—set to automated pay via our checking account. There’s no need to micromanage these monthly, repeated payments. Plus, automating means we never miss a payment or make a late payment.
All our other bills—internet, credit cards—are paid online as well, meaning we don’t have to write checks and ferry them to a mailbox. Managing our money online also means we have a holistic view of our real-time net worth at any given moment.
Automating payments also eliminates the temptation to only pay the minimum on a bill or skip it entirely. Knowing in advance that everything will be paid in full every month is liberating—there’s no need to make excuses or equivocate over the need to pay a bill. It’s simply a given.
Frugality ensures we can always cover our expenses. Thanks to our high savings rate, we simultaneously need less to live on and have more money saved up.
Put Investments on Autopilot
Since attempting to time the market is a fool’s errand, we have our investment accounts set to automatically buy into the market at scheduled intervals throughout the year. This ensures we maintain our preferred balance of liquid cash and investments.
With investing, it can be damaging to emotionally respond to the market. By automating, we no longer fall victim to the very human temptation to pull out when the market appears low. Remaining invested for the long term is the only proven way to appreciate gains, but it mandates we don’t pop in and out of the market on a whim.
A crucial benefit of automating every element of my financial life is that the temptation to spend money has nearly evaporated. Rather than trying to budget so I can afford more stuff, I focus on finding happiness with what I already own.
Before making a purchase, I ask myself if this item will bring me lasting joy or if it is merely a temporary pleasure that I don’t honestly need. Keeping my long-term goal of financial independence at the forefront of my purchasing decisions also enables me to easily say no to spending that isn’t in service of that overarching aspiration.
In many ways, I find this approach yields a virtuous cycle: The less I worry about my money, the less I spend; the more money I have in the bank, the less I have to worry about.
While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.