These nuggets of wisdom come from the 1992 bestseller, “Your Money or Your Life,” and are more relevant than ever.
Over the past week, I’ve been reading Vicki Robin’s classic book, Your Money or Your Life, recently updated for a modern audience. The book is famous for its nine-step program for transforming people’s relationships with money. It has helped thousands of readers get out of debt, retire early, and bolster savings rates.
While the whole book has been eye-opening, there was one section that felt particularly relevant to my work at TreeHugger. It was a list of “ten sure ways to save money,” taken from Robin’s chapter called “The American Dream – on a Shoestring.” The list, which I’ll share below, doesn’t contain any mind-blowing revelations – in fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve written about every single one of these at some point – but there is something profound about seeing them all laid out in a list, like a simple set of steps that can get you where you want to go. Do these and your wealth will accumulate.
Most crucially, the planet will thank you. To be frugal is to be environmentally conscious. To reject conspicuous consumerism is to preserve resources for future generations. To follow these steps, in other words, is to live in a way that treads a bit more lightly on Earth. Without further ado, here is Robin’s advice, distilled.
1. Don’t go shopping.
If you don’t walk into a store and don’t make online purchases, then money will stay in your bank account and your credit card bill won’t grow. This ‘frugality muscle’ will get stronger over time: “Soon enough you’re no longer swayed by targeted advertising. You may be saving more than money. You may be saving your sanity, not to mention your soul.”
2. Live with your means.
This concept used to be familiar to everyone, but now is rare to see. It means waiting until you have the money before you buy something. This reduces interest charges and may provide a much-needed opportunity to recalibrate your own desires.
3. Take care of what you have.
We’ve become used to assuming there’s always more from where something came, but we shouldn’t fall for that. We should prioritize caring for ourselves (bodies, teeth, etc.) and our belongings in order to make them last.
“Mend ripped clothes, resole worn shoes, replace your computer’s old hard drive or add more RAM. Regular oil changes are known to extend the life of your car. Cleaning your tools keeps them functioning at peak performance. Dusting your refrigerator coils conserves energy and could save your refrigerator… We need to rewire our brains to think repair rather than replace.”
4. Wear it out.
When is the last time you wore something out fully? It doesn’t happen often anymore. Challenge your habits of replacing things, such as linens and winter boots and dishes and vehicles. Ask whether their life could be extended, even by 20 percent. Robin points out, however, that “using something until you wear it out does not mean using it until it wears you out.” In other words, don’t fight forever with an item that’s consuming more of your energy than it’s worth.
5. Do it yourself.
DIY culture is slowly making a comeback, though more for pleasure than practicality. Still, there are many tasks you can probably perform for yourself, like taxes, bicycle tire change, baking a birthday cake, building a bookshelf, planting a garden, cleaning, and more. Robin is a firm believer in not paying someone to do work that you could do for yourself.
6. Anticipate your needs.
Know what you’re going to need in the next year, whether it’s a new furnace, a set of winter tires, or a replacement vacuum cleaner. Be ready to pounce on a deal when you see one because you’ve done the research and know the good prices, brands, and features. This applies to smaller purchases, too, such as stocking up on toilet paper and rice and milk when you’re at the supermarket, instead of paying top dollar at the corner store when you run out all of a sudden. As a friend said to my young son the other day, “It’s all about the 5 P’s: Proper preparation prevents poor performance!”
7. Research value, quality, durability, multiple use, and price.
Be an educated consumer, which means being much more than a ‘bargain junkie’ who automatically buys the cheapest item available. “Spending $40 on a tool that lasts ten years instead of buying a $30 one that will need to be replaced in five years will save you $20 in the long run.” Learn how to identify well-made items, from clothes to furniture.
8. Buy it for less.
Robin maintains that there are many ways to get what you need for less, whether it’s comparison-shopping, bargaining/haggling, buying something used, or paying cash.
9. Meet your needs differently.
People often shop because they’re trying to fulfil something within themselves, but there are other ways to meet that need. Slow down and get outside. Hang out with new people. Go to the library instead of the bookstore. Go camping nearby instead of hopping on a plane. Substitute that urge with something else. To quote Robin:
“Substitution isn’t limitation. It’s liberation. It’s letting go of assumptions and habits, looking at the richness of reality, and picking from the smorgasbord of pleasures available right under your nose.”
10. Follow the nine-step program.
You’ll have the read the whole book to figure that out, and I recommend you do – although you will be hearing more about the book from me in coming days.