The thing about living below your means, frugality and practicing thoughtful spending is that it takes planning. It takes thought. It takes foresight. It takes thinking about what you are going to need - for food, for clothing, for vehicles, for housing, for heating and everything in between - in advance of needing that thing. If you know you will need or want to purchase/obtain something in advance, the time allows you to shop around, look around, and find the best possible thing at the best possible price.
I was thinking about this in my kitchen tonight. I spent about an hour in there, having a little time to cook in between work deadlines. As I was preparing dinner, I was also cooking something for my lunch at work for the next 2 days, packing my husband's lunch, filling the butter keeper, putting bread for my breakfast of toast for tomorrow in the toaster oven, and filling the olive oil jar.
It wasn't so much that I was multitasking, but that I was employing foresight. Dinner tonight isn't something that will have leftovers, so I needed lunch food. And since I'll be at work late tomorrow, I'm making enough for the following day as well. And this one hour investment of my time in the kitchen allows me to spend much less time on a busy night.
In the same vein, I headed upstairs to pull out clothes for the next few days. The last thing I want to do at 5:30 in the morning is choose an outfit, so I make a point of picking out clothes in advance.
Employing this approach is also why last December, after the holidays, I was buying gifts for my nephews and nieces next birthdays. I put them in a closet, and pull them out at the appropriate time. Great gifts for great prices. It's also why our garden pays off - I decide in January what I want to eat in June.
Those who aren't big fans of planning - and I am married to one of those people - do not understand how anyone could want to plan what they eat, wear, and so on. But it helps - our lives are infinitely less chaotic when we plan. And while planning things all the time isn't always fun, it has allowed us to steadily check off a series of goals.
Our biggest goal is to downshift in 10 years. December 24, 2018 is the day we are planning to get me off the corporate ladder. This takes a huge amount of planning, savings, and thought, and it's not going to be easy.
The goal is the thing that keeps us looking forward. It's what gets me into the kitchen when a takeout pizza is calling. It's what has kept us from buying things we don't need, instead choosing to invest the money both literally, and into our home.
The savings gained by thinking ahead is hard to estimate. I can calculate easily what we save by taking lunch. But the cumulative effect of looking ahead has literally saved us thousands, if not tens of thousands, over the years. And over time, foresight and planning tasks become second nature. I don't even consider if I feel like packing lunches any more, it's automatic, built into my schedule. So are many of the other things we do.
I believe thinking about things pays off. I know it does - I look at our home, our bank account, an our life, and I have proof. But it's not always simple to learn how to plan ahead, or change existing habits. I goaled myself to change 2 expensive habits a month. I still do, although there are fewer now to change.
So think a little - what is it you need to do tomorrow, next week, next month. Look around for that thing. Try making it yourself. You'll thank yourself later.