Your ability to be frugal is limited, your earning potential is not

When you’re in the thick of organizing your finances or vanquishing debt, one of your main focuses will be cutting costs. The more you eliminate from your spending, the more money you will have leftover to achieve your financial goals. Many personal finance blogs (mine included!) offer useful tips on negotiating for lower interest rates on debts, eliminating unnecessary spending, and generally living a more frugal life. But there is a limit to how frugal you can become.

With the exception of taking on a major lifestyle change and choosing to live off-the-grid, chances are you have some basic expenses you can’t get rid of: food, shelter, cellphone, etc. While you may have succeeded in getting these costs as low as possible, it’s unlikely you’ve managed to eliminate them entirely you. Whether you like it or not, it simply costs money to live. Period.

I like reading articles about families that have made a salary of $30,000 stretch to raise their six-children without resorting to dumpster diving, but I do so only to marvel the way I would at an oddity or magic trick — I never think or wish to do that for myself. Why?

Being frugal 24/7 sucks. 

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You the day before you implement your new no-fun budget

It’s good to know what your bottom line is, but not so that you can live there. The bad thing about your bottom line is once you’re living at it, you can’t go any further down. If you’ve trimmed all the fat from your budget, there’s nothing left to cut if you suddenly find you need an extra $100 or $1,000. Sure, you have an emergency fund, but that’s not the same as having flexibility in your disposable income. Once you’ve cut what you can from your budget, your immediate focus should be on how to get more money. A little bit more money, a lot more money, whatever. Just get more.

Your ability to cut costs is limited, but your earning potential is unlimited.

There’s nothing stopping you from bringing in extra money, except maybe an idea of how to do so, but that’s a small barrier to overcome. Whether it’s earning an extra $100 or $10,000 per month, increasing your income is worth far more in the long run than cutting your budget is.

How do you get more money?

Like your earning potential, the possibilities are limitless. If you’re stuck, start small with some easy you can implement immediately such as:

  • selling items on Kijiji or eBay
  • finding odd jobs on Kijiji or Craigslist (everything from helping people clean out their garage to working gates at music festivals, there is someone out there just looking for general labor)
  • providing tutoring in music, language, or academic subject you’re proficient in
  • cleaning homes
  • babysitting children or pets
  • selling creative work such as paintings or handmade jewelry

If you have more resources or have identified a unique market, you might be able to set up a small business. You don’t need to invent a cool gadget or build a multi-million dollar business to be an entrepreneur, even a small operation that brings in a few extra thousand per year still counts. From hauling junk to freelance writing, there are opportunities everywhere.

The important thing is that you don’t wait to start making more money. Start right now. 

Finally, one of the easiest ways to earn more money is to target where you’re currently getting most of your current income: your day job. If you’re an hourly employee (like I am as an intern!), inquire about working more hours. Even 1 extra hour per week can add over $100 to your monthly income — that’s $1,200 per year! Staying a bit late on Wednesdays doesn’t look so bad now does it? If you’re not hourly, now might be a good time to negotiate for a higher salary. Nothing pays off more than a conversation that nets you a higher gross income.

Often when people are looking for ways to pay down debt or save for a major goal, like a down-payment on a home, they seem to be way too focused on cutting costs and living on as small as budget as possible. While initially effective, once you’ve cut all the costs you can you’re left with nothing more to do other than entertain whatever level of deprivation you’ve accepted until your goal is met. Instead, you should focus on cutting costs AND increasing your income as much as possible.

What creative ways have you found to increase your income? What inspired you to find another source of money?

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Comments

  1. I’m on the same page as you here… I’d way rather earn more money than cut my spending. I have no objection to living modestly but I figure if you have the option to increase the money coming in, you’ll enjoy it more than forcing yourself into frugality. I’m looking into ‘side hustles’ for this very reason…might as well put my spare time to good use!

    • Earning more money is infinitely better than trying to live on less. It’s not necessarily about even spending it all or living excessively, it’s just nice to have a cushion so you can always adjust your spending up or down based on circumstances and opportunities!

  2. I agree with you on principle on this point, but I think one thing you forgot to mention is how much time and effort earning extra money can take. After having our basic needs taken care of, time is the most valuable resource we have, even more than money.

    Very recently I knew what is was like to be working 2 demanding jobs, own a house, and be married with two kids. When my head hit the pillow I wouldn’t have enough energy to say 5 words to my wife before falling asleep let alone have 5 minutes to spend quality time with her.

    I think a balance of easy frugality and easy ways to make extra money needs to be achieved. When you’re young and unmarried, that’s the time to work hard and figure out how to work smart so when you have less time later on you’re able to maximize your income potential without exhausting all your time.

  3. In the past month I’ve had to pay a $550 vet bill, got pulled over for speeding ($150) and got a photo radar ticket in the mail ($85).

    Besides the obvious lesson to slow down and not have pets, I’m proud to say I didn’t have to dip into an emergency fund or go into debt to pay for these bills.

    First of all, I contacted my editor about writing something in addition to my regular bi-weekly column. Then I contacted a new financial service that I’d seen around on other blogs and asked if they’d like an advertorial + banner ad campaign on my blog.

    That effort earned me an extra $1500, which goes into my business account. I’ll withdraw $800 to pay for those unexpected bills and leave the remainder in the business where it is taxed more favourable.

    If I still needed extra money I’d sell a camera that I don’t use very often, and my wife and I are ready to unload some of our baby gear now that our youngest is two.

    Tons of earning options at your disposal if you get creative and hustle.

  4. I’ve worked as a hostess and taught piano on top of my regular day job to pay off a $5K bill because I rear ended someone and didn’t want to use my insurance.

  5. Making more income definitely makes a big difference, on the other hand I’ve been really into MMM lately and love his frugality is not deprivation attitude. To achieve a frugal lifestyle that can be maintained long term does wonders to save time, which is the most important commodity in our lives. But I agree with you, once the budget has been trimmed, making more income should definitely be on the agenda – especially when there is debt. I was putting in 50 to 60 hours a week at work before killing off that student loan

    • I like MMM as well. I’ve been reading from nearly the ‘beginning of time’. But what I can’t get past with him is the fact that his life is… boring. There’s so little adventure! Heck, he’s turned out big adventures mainly on the fact that he doesn’t want to hurt mother earth with his extra emissions. C’mon, man, live a little! I never put human happiness over earth’s happiness. C’mon…

  6. I love this! I am a firm believer in making more money, over just being frugal. Yes, they need to work together, but I speak from experience — there is only so much you can cut back on! Once I realized how long it would take me to be debt free, I was inspired to side hustle. I’ve done a lot of different gigs and side hustling has changed my life.

  7. I do agree that making more money is the goal, but I don’t believe this should give people an excuse to rein in their expenses.

  8. I think there has to be a balance. I earn a fairly big chunk of change on the side, and have fallen into a huge lifestyle inflation trap whereby I was spending MOST of that money. Now that I’ve scaled back, I’m able to save aggressively.

    I do think that earning more is > being super frugal, obviously. I’m constantly trying to find ways to earn more, do better, and grow my side income (and my income from my day job).

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