A Roadmap to Happiness: A College Student's Advice on Frugality

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My two passions are home decor and history, and I'm lucky to have jobs that allow me to indulge both. Aside from my work at AT, I'm a history professor, and this semester one of my students, Daisy Contreras, had some insightful reflections on frugality and happiness that I thought were well worth sharing.

After reading about Benjamin Franklin's moral virtues, Daisy, a communications major at Illinois Institute of Technology, composed her own set of tenets that she believes can lead to happiness, and many of them fall perfectly into line with our focus on budget living this month. So, without further ado, here's Daisy:

Leading the frugal life—a roadmap to happiness

In order to achieve a happier, more fulfilling life, embracing frugality in all the small things of everyday life is a must.

1. “Respect the savings account”: It is very easy to dip into a savings account when wanting to pay for things upfront. The mentality of ‘I will just owe myself later’ works to justify this act, but backfires when one time easily turns to five times a month. Respecting the savings account allows a person to make smart buying decisions, and makes one confront the question of: Do I really need to buy this? Deciding to not buy a new pair of shoes will make you feel better at the end of the day and your closet will thank you.

2. “Cook at home, gain more Pinterest followers”: A busy life style often does not allow one to cook at home. The easier alternative is to pass through that popular, often pricey place off the Red Line on the way home from school. Let’s be honest with ourselves and remember that we could be immersing ourselves in a cookbook, trying new recipes, and documenting the process through Pinterest posts, instead of taking money from that savings account to pay for a $20 meal. Doing the math, a $20 meal per day for five days amounts to about $100 a week—money that could be used to buy organic groceries that could ultimately lead to a healthier body.

3. “Save energy, sleep more”: Try to finish work using the sun as a natural source of light. See it as a race against the sun—the more you force yourself to focus, the faster you can get done with your assignments. If attempting this during the winter months, you can give yourself some room for failure. But once the days get longer, there is no excuse. Any free time after the sun has set can be focused on cooking dinner, updating Pinterest, and sleeping earlier. This will ultimately lead to better health, earlier mornings, and prevent you from constantly being late to those morning classes.

4. “Say no to the clearance section”: If there is a need to shop, avoid the clearance section at all costs. Remember that you must respect the savings account, and that your closet does not need a replica of that dress you have not worn in six months, but thought the light green color would be a great addition to the collection. Wear the clothes you have until you can no longer tell if that hoodie was originally a dark blue or gray color.

5. “Set goals, be patient”: This is easier said than done. It will take patience to walk away from the weekly invitation to the bar with friends, and a lot of self-will to walk past the clearance section at Forever21 or Macy’s. Take one week at a time and reward yourself with that much needed vacation at the end of the year—the one that you sacrificed for all year long.

Following these five steps for a happier life is just a start. Daily and weekly plans will change since one will be forced to weigh options and sacrifice "instant happiness." This leads one to be more creative in the ways in which we do things—from time management, studying, shopping, and even eating. We ultimately find innovative ways to cope with these changes and discover talents and interests that were never attempted due to leading a hectic and busy life-style. Taking a break, analyzing the world around us, and deciding what truly matters leads to that long-term happiness.

(Image credits: Alexis Buryk)