As in metaphorical carrots - and sticks. Delicious orange crunchy carrots are also good and we should talk about them someday - but today I want to talk about metaphorical carrots.
Sticks are all well and good. The big stick in our case was a fear that we wouldn't be able to provide for our baby son during what we thought would be hard times, labouring as we were under a pile of debt. As a result we began to budget, live a lot more frugally and organized our finances to pay off the debt as quickly and cheaply as possible. In time it was possible to re frame that initial impetus into something resembling a carrot - living within our means has bought us a much more interesting, productive life in many ways. Home cooked food, brewing, DIY, thrifting, handicrafts, gardening and the knowledge that there is cash left in our accounts come the week before payday all make for a much more satisfying life than one lived on the never-never. The fruits of our labours became goals in themselves. We had made the transition from living frugally out of sheer necessity, to making it an enjoyable way to live.
The initial motivating fear remains and resurfaces every so often - when we have overstretched ourselves, or forgotten a bill payment was due, or know we have to find money for a big purchase. It rises irrationally when we still have money to spare but can't afford to make an overpayment on debt - a completely irrational fear for someone who two years ago didn't even have a budget for debt overpayment, or anything else for that matter. Still, I tend to go a little berserk at these times and start devising ways that we can live on stale bread crusts and sell our remaining possessions to make ends meet, until someone (usually the person having their ear bent at the time) lends me a little perspective on matters.
Since we decided on a vague plan of action for the future that I could feel enthusiastic about - moving to Norfolk - the carrots have multiplied. I have had to rewrite the budget this week having missed out a glaringly obvious expense on the original; and my first reaction was not fear of financial doom, or recourse to my stale crust recipe collection, but sheer annoyance that we would have less money to put aside towards our move in a few years. Then came the fear of doom, but that was fleeting and besides the point. Now that I have a long term goal to work towards, an alternative to just plodding on as I am forever, I have a renewed enthusiasm for all things frugal.
This has been a week of tracking all of our spending down to the last penny. We have baked and eaten bread almost every day with gusto, soaked pulses and dug out half used packets from the back of the cupboard for frugal meals, religiously switched off appliances at the wall and I have earmarked large swathes of my remaining craft stash for various money saving baby projects for The Girl (even going so far as to break out needle and thread once again, which is never my natural inclination). Every little money saving action feels like a gallop in the right direction; and I am making the most of it whilst my energy levels and enthusiasm hold up. At the same time, I have to remind myself not to go to far with the all austerity - the goal is to get to Norfolk in five years and continue to live a good life in a new setting with new activities, not to put off living until we get there.
So, I would be interested to know, what motivates you to live frugally and manage your resources - carrots, sticks or something in between? Do you ever take it too far?