Living a Happy Life on a Small Budget

Once upon a time, not long ago, I led a fairly lavish life, and by lavish, I mean not worrying about running out of resources before the next paycheck arrived. I was pursuing a fairly successful career in an MNC with a decent salary, giving me the financial freedom to spend on things I wanted, visit places, and gift generously.

Time changes, and so does life.

I quit my corporate career for pursuing higher studies and settled for a much modest-paying stint with a start-up to support myself, and my two young twin children. Settling into a new lifestyle with a significantly reduced monthly budget at disposal was a change that didn’t happen overnight. It took me more than a year to get used to the life situation that was now my “new normal“.

In the initial months, I would often curse myself to have made choices that had landed me in the uncomfortable situation. I was plagued with self-pity, self-doubt, and above all guilt, which mounted with every passing day.

I was wrong, very wrong! Looking back, I now feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to have learned to lead a fulfilling, healthy and experience-rich life on that shoestring budget. It made me smarter with resources, a better planner, have foresight, curb the need to indulge in spontaneous purchases, learn the art of disassociating inner happiness from the material things I owned and most importantly learn to do more with less. These are life skills that I may not have learned otherwise.

10 tips to live a fulfilling life on a tight budget

  1. An attitudinal shift: Being perpetually in a state of guilt or self-pity is going to drain you of all life-energy. Make a conscious effort to break the chain. Being on a budget is not something to be ashamed of, and does not show you in poor light. You need to see money in a new way to preserve your sanity. Being happy comes from within. Once I made this shift, it became easier for me to accept my situation and make the most of what I had in hand.
  2. Internalize the trade-off: When I traded my well-paying corporate life in a metro, with an average-paying job at a start-up, in a small city (Read: Moving to a small city enriched my life in many ways) I was aware of the changes I’d have to adjust to, yet making them was not easy. With time I learned to appreciate the trade-off and the numerous things I have got in the bargain, time being the most important one. I now have more time to devote to fitness, help kids with their studies, pursue my studies and make time for my hobbies (writing for this blog for example).
  3. Invest wisely: Though I graduated in Economics, I never really understood the importance of financial literacy as the key to financial stability, till I was faced with the fear of future, not for myself, but my children. I brushed my basics, researched and consulted with experts to make long-term investment choices and also bought a term insurance to offer me psychological security in the present.
  4. Go local: Whenever possible I try to shop at local stores and flea markets instead of supermarkets or high-end malls. This way I buy only things that I need instead of picking up things along the aisles or being tempted by offers and discounts on things that aren’t on my list.
  5. Accessorize: I curse myself for not learning this art earlier. This is a skill I picked up in my low-days. I learned to accessorize my outfits with belts, scarves, mix-matched pieces of cheap yet trendy jewelry, shrugs and bands to pull off high fashion. I now upcycle and accessorize most of my wardrobe and buy less new clothes than before. This has also reduced my online shopping for clothes.
  6. Get rid of guilt: This is the biggest favor I have done to myself. If anyone in this world could ever die of guilt, it would be me! Not anymore. The day I began to replace guilt with confidence, a little at a time, life brightened up, a little at a time. I take pride in choices I have made for myself and my children. What matters most is we are together in this, there is unconditional love, bundles of laughter and the future looks bright. There is no reason to harbor guilt. Letting go of guilt has also helped me cultivate a positive self-image to a great extent.
  7. Swap expensive vacations with meaningful experience: I’d be lying if I say I have been able to take my children on exotic and expensive vacations. But, does that mean we have missed out on experiences? No. In fact, we have made intelligent swaps that have brought us closer in unimaginable ways. We take out time to visit the local parks, nearby beaches, zoo, local fun-rides, kid’s movies, museum, planetarium and historical monuments in the vicinity very often, spending quality time together and building memories, at practically no cost. The kids are going to remember these experiences long into their adulthood.
  8. Remain debt-free: This is a best-practice I have followed since my early career, so it has been easy for me. I never owned a credit card. I still don’t. The urge to consume now and pay later is never ending and lead to mounting debt even before you realize. Instead of relying on plastic money, I plan and provide for vacations, outings, gifts and other major expenses months in advance to save me the last-minute stress (and get best deals).
  9. Prioritize and plan: I plan for recurring expenses like school fees, bills, premiums (though this is an investment, I count them as expenses for my own calculation) and a few other fixed overheads, making monthly payouts even for annual payments. I also prioritize and plan things like buying new clothing, appliances, air travel, furniture, and gifts. I try to postpone my purchases until around the festive season when retailers offer maximum discounts and freebies. I also plan food outings around happy hours!
  10. Enjoying low-cost activities: The kids and me regularly sign-up for low cost or free activities like dance shows, marathons, treks, cycling events, reading clubs, bloggers meetups and more to learn new things that enrich our lives in more ways than anyone can believe. Over time we have come to enjoy these little activities and have no plan to stop anytime soon.
  11. Create magic in the kitchen: Instead of going out for pizza or muffins, I make them at home which the kids absolutely love. Ironically, almost all unhealthy food comes expensive. I have learned to strike the balance by making healthier versions of store brought unhealthy alternatives, like mayonnaise, coconut milk, almond milk, peanut butter, marmalades, sauces, toppings and more, at practically one-fourth the cost.
  12. Tap into your network to travel: Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be satisfying. Our upcoming vacation is to a hill station where my bestie stays. We have planned some cool activities like hiking, trekking, and rafting together with our children. This is a vacation we both are looking forward to, to add a bunch of happy memories to our already huge treasure that we have collected together over the years.

Living on a small budget doesn’t mean you have to give up the good life. There are countless ways to enjoy a healthy and amazing lifestyle on a limited budget! I love the beauty of my imperfect life!

Life is what you make of it.

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