In my book “Frugillionaire,” I offer 500 tips on living a frugal, yet fabulous, life. Tip #485 is “Lower your expectations.”
It may seem odd advice in our “shoot for the stars,” “fake it ‘til you make it” society. But expectations are a powerful psychological influence over our spending; and they can, indeed, spell the difference between financial security and crushing debt.
Expectations play a particularly important role in the milestones we share with our significant other: like becoming engaged, getting married, and buying our first house. High expectations surrounding these events can be a recipe for frustration, debt, and divorce. Temper them, however, and you’ll experience the same amount of happiness — at significantly less expense.
Let’s start with the engagement. You’ve met Mr. Right, and you’re starry-eyed and love-struck. Any day now, he could drop to one knee and pop the question. The problem occurs when you have certain expectations of the rock he’ll put on your finger. Pressure to produce a 1-carat stone, or spend two months’ salary, may very well result in a fiancé with depleted savings — or worse yet, massive credit card debt. Not the best way to start off your financial relationship together!
If, on the other hand, you remove the burden of expectation — by making it clear, for example, that the size of the diamond means little to you — you’ll be rewarded with a significantly richer partner.
Fast forward to the wedding. Your expectations for this day have been building since you were a little girl — they may involve a country club venue, elegant ice sculptures, and a guest list in the hundreds. But is it really worth being princess for a day, if it means taking on debt of royal proportions? Consider instead if all you expected was a simple ceremony with friends and family. You and your groom would instantly “save” tens of thousands of dollars, and start your lives on solid financial footing.
Finally, let’s consider the biggest financial transaction of your life: buying a house. Expectations here can make or break you financially. If you envision yourself throwing dinner parties in a 4000-square-foot McMansion, anything less may feel like a disappointment — leading you, perhaps, to take on risky loans and live paycheck-to-paycheck. But if you want nothing more than a roof over your head, you’d be equally delighted with a modest bungalow. In the latter case, you’d not only have a warm place to sleep; you’d sleep much easier, knowing you can comfortably make your payments, and put money in the bank.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big — just channel those lofty aspirations towards personal, civic, or spiritual development. When it comes to consumer-driven life events — particularly the major ones you share with your partner — lowering your expectations can put you on the path to marital, and financial, bliss.