One of the keys to being financially successful is to not just live within your means, but below your means. In fact, way below your means. That's not easy. The reason it isn't easy is that your family, friends, society, and subconscious are constantly urging you to spend as much money as you can. Now, it's admittedly a little easier if you make a ton because you can spend just like your family, friends, and society and still save gobs of money. But it can still be difficult. There are three things you can do to help yourself get control, spend less money and achieve financial freedom.
# 1 Track Spending
Peter Drucker said that “if you can't measure it you can't improve it.” That might not be true with everything, but it certainly is with your personal finances. The simple act of writing down what you're spending and looking at it will subconsciously help you to spend less and live below your means. You can go even further and budget (i.e. stop spending when you run out of money allocated to a given category.) Still need more help? Go to a cash-based system. Studies show it is more painful to spend the green stuff than the plastic stuff.
# 2 Stop Caring What Other People Think
Think about this for a minute. Do you care what someone else drives? Do you think less of them as a person because they drive a 10-year-old pick-up or a 5-year-old Accord instead of a shiny new BMW? No? Then why do you think they care about what you drive? The same goes with what you wear, what you eat, where you vacation, how big your TV is, and hundreds of other items. Nobody cares. So stop buying things with money you don't have to impress people you don't even like.
One characteristic I've noticed that many wealthy people share is they have stopped caring whether other people thought they were financially successful or not. They only compare their position to their own goals. If you're not financially successful but would like to be, you might try adopting that characteristic.
# 3 Don't Deprive Yourself
Finally, remember personal finance is both personal and finance. The personal refers to your behavior and the finance refers to math. While this site spends 90% of its time on math, the truth is that behavior is probably far more important.
Imagine going on a diet that left you constantly hungry. All-day long you are thinking about food. You have to exercise willpower dozens of times a day to reach your goals. That's tough, and probably not doable. While some of us have more willpower than others, we all have a limited supply. That means you need to be judicious where you use this limited resource. Spend it on the big items–housing, transportation, schooling, health care, etc. Don't try to make up for driving a BMW by cutting out hundreds of little purchases. It won't work. The reason why is you'll be constantly “hungry.” You'll feel deprived. And feeling deprived leads to a short-term mentality that leads to failure.
The secret is to go through life not feeling deprived at all, yet still carving out a large percentage of your income to build wealth. You can do that by actually spending your money on what you actually care about and what actually makes you happy, and not on all that other stuff.
Don't make the budget so tight that it fails. Pace yourself a bit. Treat yourself to a little something (that actually makes you happy) from time to time. If you're feeling deprived, loosen up the purse strings a bit. Now, if you're spending your entire income and you still feel deprived, you probably need to get a reset on your views on money. But for most of us losing the occasional battle means winning the war.
What do you think? What are the behavioral keys to living within your means? What have you done that allowed you to save 10-30% or more of your income? Comment below!