Because of the nature of my business, I have to live frugally. I have learned to cut corners so that I still have the creature comforts I want and live a full and rewarding life, but I do it in the most economical way I can.
Sure, every time I am paid I save as much of that money as possible to make sure I can get by during the lean times. But saving is just half of the equation -- I also find that I have to be very aware of how I am spending money and am always looking for ways to cut costs wherever possible.
In this series, I will share many steps I have taken to reduce my spending and still enjoy my life while simultaneously building my savings. While my circumstances necessitate the need for frugality, I believe that everybody can benefit from what I have learned about this topic over the past couple of years.
It doesn’t matter what income bracket you find yourself in -- being frugal is good common sense. Let me be clear at the onset: Being frugal does not mean choosing to be poor, nor does it mean being cheap. It is choosing to be conscious of the choices you make with your money and finding ways to reduce spending on everyday necessities. It lets you spend less than you earn, so that you can pay off your debts, save money, invest money -- or all three! It also teaches you how not to be wasteful.
Having money saved up can be very freeing. You could choose to work less and enjoy your life more, or retire early. You could save up money to travel. You could erase that pesky student loan once and for all. In the end, frugality is very liberating.
Learn to live on less
In Turkey income streams seem to come and go, often at the whim of a manager or director. You never know when your sweet situation could come to an end. Having a buffer zone of a few months’ living expenses can give you peace of mind should things go south. I’ve built myself up to four months, but ultimately my goal is to have a year’s worth of income saved up.
When you have money in the bank that you can fall back on during tough times, you won’t go out and jump for the first job that is dangled in front of you; rather you can hold out for a job that suits you. I have met so many people who are in jobs they hate because they need the money, but who remain trapped in those jobs because they can see no way out -- they are just one paycheck away from financial disaster.
When you live a frugal lifestyle, you learn to stretch your lira as far as it will go. This means learning to harness your creativity and engaging in smarter spending. You learn to make do with what you have and to manage your spending and purchasing.
A good starting point for me was to take 10 percent of my income and put it into a savings account. You would be amazed at how quickly you can adapt and learn to live on the 90 remaining percent. If 10 percent seems too much, start with 2 or 3 percent. In Turkish there is a saying, “damlaya damlaya, göl olur” -- drop by drop a lake is formed. Every little bit counts.
Make a budget
As you build your savings, it’s a good idea to make a budget for how you will spend that money. A budget is like a roadmap that keeps you on track with your spending goals. If you stick to your budget, you are less likely to be surprised at the end of the month when the credit card statement comes in. I know so many people who fear their monthly statement because they use their card indiscriminately. They wonder how much money they spent this month and hope that the bill is not too high so they can at least make the minimum payment. A budget takes the guesswork out of money management.
How you make your budget is up to you. It could be notes you write in the pages of a notebook, or a sophisticated software program. No matter how you do it, it is imperative that you know how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. A budget forces you to pay conscious attention to how you are utilizing this precious resource in your life.
A budget also helps you plan your spending. It’s not a cage that keeps you from having the things you want, but rather it helps you discipline yourself so you don’t go on a spending spree of all the neat gadgets that abound and regret it later.
Speaking of neat gadgets, I know that one day I would love to have one of those smart phones that everybody is walking around with. I also know that I have two choices: I can buy it now and pay for it in monthly installments, or I can save for it and buy it with cash (and a little bit more of a discount).
In this day and age it seems strange to wait, but I choose to for several reasons. First, I have found that when I wait to purchase something I will often change my mind. When mp3 players first became all the rage I decided that I wanted one, too. At that time they were about TL 120, and so I decided to allot TL 20 of my budget for one and to buy it in six months’ time. When I had saved up the money and was ready to buy the player I realized that I didn’t really need it at that time and that I would rather do something else with that money. I avoided an impulse buy and saved some money in the interim. Another reason to wait is that prices often drop over time so that you can get the best deal possible. Finally, when I do purchase a big-ticket item I’m secure in the knowledge that I remain debt-free. I own that toy outright, and even if all of my students stopped coming en masse I wouldn’t have to worry about paying the next installment.
Having a budget can keep you from making impulse purchases. How many times have you bought something that was on sale or that you had to have right at that moment, and then later looked at that item and wondered what you were thinking, or no longer need/use that item? Yet the purchase remains on your credit card statement, one installment at a time. When you plan your spending, that problem practically goes away.
De-clutter your space
When you start a savings program it can seem a bit slow. Yes, 10 percent will add up, but it can seem to plod along at a snail’s pace. One way to speed that up a bit is to find other income. A good place to start looking is in your own living space. How many things do you have tucked away in a corner or under the bed or in a closet that you told yourself you intend to use someday, but remains there collecting dust, unused for years?
Have you ever taken a serious look around your living space? Consider doing an in-depth spring-clean. You’ll probably find that, like most people, you have items stored that you haven’t touched for more than a year and that you’ve completely forgotten about. Consider pulling those items out, dusting them off and selling them to add to your savings.
When I was growing up, my family would scour the newspaper for garage sales and then we would make it a family outing to hit as many as we could. That was how families got rid of their clutter. In Turkey, with a lack of yards and garages, hosting a yard sale is not practical. In addition, Turkish culture seems to be wary of second-hand items.
Don’t let that deter you! There are still ways to sell your clutter. Using the Internet is a great method. I have found Facebook works the best for me. I simply take pictures of the items I want to sell, upload a photo album including the price, description and pertinent details of the item and then share it with my friends.
There is a Facebook group called “Buy Sell Swap” in İstanbul. Once your membership is approved, you can sell your clutter there. I have been very successful with getting rid of things that I no longer use or need and have picked up a couple of great items as well. You can also use your Facebook account and any other expat forum to search for items that are second-hand (and thus cheaper) but still in good shape. Do you need a printer? It’s a pretty sure bet that one of your friends has one in his/her house that’s just collecting dust and looking for an owner.
Next week I’ll continue this series with ways you can save on your grocery bill, entertainment costs and more. Living a frugal lifestyle can be a lot of fun. It engages your creativity while allowing you to maintain your chosen lifestyle, or what I like to call: win-win.