The Key to Living on Less: Turn Sacrifices into Habits

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When you first stop doing something you’re used to doing, it is a sacrifice.  However, if you keep going without what you’ve sacrificed for a period of time, it becomes a habit.  When things are habits, they happen automatically.

From Sacrifice to Habit

When my wife and I first moved to Papua New Guinea, we didn’t (like 99% of the people there) have a dishwasher.  For the first few weeks, we realized how much longer and how much work it actually takes to wash dishes by hand.  Interestingly, after the first few weeks of ‘sacrificing’ or downgrading our standard of living, it seemed normal.  Honestly, it was only when we returned to North America and saw people putting things in a dishwasher was our sense of ‘sacrifice’ renewed.

Life Lesson:  When you first stop doing things you’re used to doing, you’ll be ultra sensitive to the extra sacrifice required by the change.

Finance Lesson: When you first stop buying things or spending money on certain items you’re used to buying, it will feel like a sacrifice.

Example: Cut the Cable

In an effort to cut down expenses, you might consider cutting the cable.  That will probably require a huge sacrifice initially.  You’re not just cutting the cable, but you’re changing your lifestyle and habits.

However, here’s the good news.  After a month or so, there will be fewer and fewer occasions where you wished you had cable.  Once you’ve adjusted your life to life without cable, you’ll probably have replaced that activity with a new habit.

On day one, you may sulk in front of the TV wishing you could see your favorite sitcom.  However, by day 10 you could be sitting down to read that book that you’ve been wanting to read for years.  At some point, you’ll probably glance over at the TV and wonder why you thought it was going to be so hard to cut cable.

There is no longer a sacrifice because you’ve managed to adjust to a different lifestyle.

Life Lesson: As we create new habits, those new habits seem as normal as an old habit did.

Financial Lesson: Time heals all wounds.  When you cut something from your budget, be sure to give yourself time to adjust to the new normal.  Don’t quit prematurely.

Example: Transitioning to a One Income Family

My wife and I had to make some lifestyle changes when we went from a dual income no kids family to a single income with a kid household.  Now, seven years later, this feels normal.  Not dining out multiple nights a week is normal.  Not going to expensive entertainment events is normal. Cooking from scratch is normal.

You have an amazing ability to adapt so that sacrifices today will seem normal tomorrow.

The Only Way to Distinguish a Need from a Want: Test it

“I don’t think I could live without ..”

That’s a pretty interesting phrase we use.  It’s interesting because for thousands of years people have actually lived without the item.  What we do is make predictions about how hard or easy something will be to accomplish.

Often, our magic 8-ball isn’t very accurate.

The only way to know how important or crucial something is, is to try and live without it for at least 2 – 4 weeks.

Humans aren’t very good at predicting how they’ll feel in certain situations.  We’re much better at analyzing how we actually feel about something we’re experiencing.

As such, if you need to cut your spending, cut something out of your budget and give it enough time for a new habit to develop.  Chances are that once your habit or lifestyle has adjusted to living without the thing you’ve cut, you’ll be saying, “That wasn’t so bad.  I barely miss it”.

Life Lesson: You never know how easy or hard something will be until you try it.

Financial Lesson: The only way to know how hard it will be to live without XYZ is to cut XYZ from your budget for a month and see if it’s really as important as you expected it to be.


Have you ever cut something from your budget or lifestyle that you thought was going to be really hard, but in the end it turned out to be fairly simple?


  1. JD says

    We did the same thing as you and eliminated the tv. At first my husband (sulked) had a hard time but after 4 years he has now stated that he never wants to watch it again. We not only reclaimed wasted time but managed to get more projects done, read more and generally enjoy our lives more.

    We gave up eating out except for one or two times a year. I was the one that (struggled) had a harder time with this one. It forced more planning especially for times I was tired or not feeling well. No longer would we order take out or make a dash to a restaurant. Maybe the only downside is that now my husband never wants to eat out. He prefers home cooking to restaurant food. ha ha

    We have changed our large list of “I want” to “I need” and then we plan the purchase and take time to find the best price. It has become a way of life and doesn’t seem like a hardship or sacrifice.

  2. says

    This is great! When I gave up Facebook( I was on all day/ everyday) it felt like a sacrifice. But..I am so glad I gave it up, my heart has changed toward people since getting away from it. It isn’t something I desire anymore.

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