How a tight budget can be a blessing

Three years ago, we moved to North Carolina with a small nest egg but no real plans. Tony had a job waiting for him (an extremely low-paying teaching assistantship), but I spent three months looking for a full-time job in my field before I starting working part-time. We were frugal out of necessity. it’s scary to watch money leaving your account every month with no income. We didn’t know how to budget, though, and three months with no income depleted our savings pretty quickly.

Once I started working part-time, things were still extremely tight. During those 10 months, I learned most of what I know about finance out of necessity. Our limited income required that we prioritize our spending and avoid buying anything that wasn’t completely necessary. Frugality was easier then, because the temptation to spend wasn’t there. We were just trying to survive without getting behind on our bills.

Not only did we survive, but we paid off most of our credit card debt during that time. By the time I finally found a full-time job, though, our savings account was pretty much empty. We spent the next year and a half building it back up and saving for other goals.

Ever since our income increased, though, staying committed to frugality has become harder. Now that the need to plan and save isn’t quite so urgent, it’s tougher to make the right choices. Three years ago, if we overspent, we might not be able to pay our rent. These days, the consequences of overspending aren’t as concrete. It may mean that it takes us a little more time to buy a house or pay off our student loans, but we’re in no immediate danger.

Because of this mindset, I’m actually looking forward to hunkering down and going back into survivor mode after the move. I’m hoping that the months we spend searching for jobs will help us recommit to frugality, and once we’re finally in our own place building our savings again, we’ll have a renewed motivation to meet our goals quickly.

If you’re currently living in survivor mode, I have a little advice: Take advantage of this time without temptation and learn to be happy with what you have. Commit to this lifestyle now while temptation is low. As your income increases, don’t let your spending increase with it.

In my experience, tougher times can be a blessing. It’s a time to reflect on what’s really important in life, learn to be happy with less money, and develop habits that will help you save even more as your financial situation improves. As tight as I know things will be for us after the move, I’m looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity to focus on our priorities.