We are programmed to believe “the more things we have, the better,” said Louis Manza, psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pa.
You can break the cycle, though, by outsmarting yourself.
Separate your wants from needs. Resist immediate-gratification messages that bombard you from your television and computer.
Forgo just one frill — even just for a month or a year — and the dollars add up. Manza makes his own late-morning tea for 3 cents a cup, for example. Following are more suggestions:
Free wheeling. Financial planner David Williams of Cordova, Tenn., sold his car and rides his bicycle to work. Gone are his bills for insurance, gas and oil changes.
Perk: Cycling helps Williams manage his weight, keep his cholesterol level in check and feel a “sense of accomplishment.”
Brewed awakening. When Danielle Elderkin of Temecula, Calif., invested in a cappuccino-maker for the staff at her public relations firm, the machine paid for itself in week one. Five people times twice daily saved $250 each week on coffee-shop drinks, she said.
Perk: Instead of scurrying off to Starbucks, said Elderkin, the staff now uses their coffee breaks to share some laughs.
Hang it up. If your weakness is designer labels, cull your closet, then stick to staples, said Karen Moran of Charleston, S.C. By selling most of her designer duds, she raised $4,000 to start her Sweet Lulu’s Bakery.
Perk: You can still score some top labels on a tight budget, Moran said, if you curb your impulse shopping. Wait for sales and free shipping offers, and patronize consignment shops.
Food for thought. Instead of expensive restaurant meals, nonprofit website director Tony Marren of Provo, Utah, goes online to find his favorite dishes, then makes them at home for much less.
Perk: When you eat at home, there’s no need to dress up, gas up the car or feel rushed through your meal because the waiter wants to turn over your table.
Wags to riches. For the cost of an electric shaver and decent pair of shears ($50 total on amazon.com), you can groom your own dog. If you have no clue how to start, go to diypetgrooms.com for tutorials. A walk a day keeps toenails trimmed.
Perk: Instead of leaving your dog at the poodle parlor for the day (a scary outing for many dogs), he can have a spa day at his favorite place — home.
Sew easy. Rather than paying your dry cleaner to sew a button or repair a seam, buy a sewing machine for $50 and take a basic sewing class ($35 at Jo-Ann stores). By the time you do nine repairs (about $90), your new skill pays for itself.
Perk: If the trip to the fabric store stirs your creative juices, you can save money by making your own Christmas stockings and Halloween costumes, too.
Wheel wealth. Save thousands by buying an almost-new car. A 2013 Ford Escape SE for example, costs $22,000, compared with $27,000 for a 2014 version (motortrend.com). The older the car, the lower your auto insurance costs too.
Perk: Some dealerships offer free warranties on used cars, so you don’t sacrifice that new-car advantage.
A real coo. Hiring baby sitters doubles your entertainment budget, so trade with other parents or find venues where you can bring the kids.
Perk: The kids learn to behave in public and are exposed to new cultural experiences.