Budgets can feel limiting, tight, and claustrophobic, especially when you’ve hit your budget wall and there are still things on your To Do or Want list. Most people that I speak with look down upon budgets for this very reason, either stating that something always comes up during the month to thwart even their greatest efforts, or they just don’t want to deal with the hassle—after all, it is their money that they have worked hard for, so why shouldn’t they spend it as they please?
I have little sympathy, especially when these same people are also in debt and cannot seem to fund their futures. Over time immemorial, people have been dealing with limits. These could be monetary, geographical, time, or any number of things that have held them back. What has bridged their problem to its solution was not pushing the problem to the side for later, whining, or throwing someone else’s money at it—especially since the sentence for debt used to be imprisonment or death—but rather using creativity.
Budgeting is a puzzle to some and a problem to others. You have to balance what comes into your bank account with what goes out, allocate resources to a long list of priorities, pay down debt, and think about your future, all with limited resources.
But it’s not impossible.
History is filled with amazing discoveries and inventions from people who have been faced with a problem and had limited resources to fix the problem. There is no greater example of what exciting creations can come from limits—money or otherwise— than traditional peasant foods.
Peasants have been saddled with the same problem for centuries: needing an extended family in order to work their land while at the same time having to feed these large families substantial amounts of food to keep their energy up, all while on a severely limited budget. In other words, if they wanted their fields tilled, their crops harvested, and to survive, then there was no room for deprivation. And yet their budgets were pitiful! They weren’t stuck deciding whether or not to purchase a new videogame this month versus new clothes for work, but rather how to use the small amount of local ingredients at their disposal to keep their families from starving. And being given such limiting circumstances has resulted in some of the most delightful and imaginable food available. Using their brains to combat hunger despite meager resources has led to such exquisite cuisine that there is usually contention around whom and which country invented it first.
Stale bread may not be a problem to people like you and I, but when you have hardly any money and a lot of mouths to feed you need to maximize your resources and eat subpar food. French toast was a solution to all of the stale bread that peasants could not afford to waste, which many historians date back to the Roman era (though there appear to be versions of French toast throughout history in all parts of the world). They found that dipping the stale bread into egg yolk softened it enough to make it edible…and delicious! Italian peasants also had to find a solution for stale bread, and came up with an entirely different one from the local and abundant ingredients they had on hand: bruschetta, that amazingly simple dish of herbs, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and stale bread. In Eastern Europe, the pierogi was a great solution to hunger because the dough was cheap to make and you could literally fill it with anything that was abundant and on hand: vegetables, meat, fruit, potato, cabbage fillings, etc.
It may seem like putting limits on yourself financially—such as incorporating a budget, and setting up automatic withdrawals to your savings each month—is limiting your life. But I challenge you to think differently about this. I am a budgeter at heart, but even I feel limited sometimes by my self-imposed boundaries. If I sit around and brood about all of the things I cannot purchase, or how I am nearing my spending limit and it’s only three quarters of the way through the month, then I would miss out on all of the great opportunities out there. For one, I never would have learned the Drugstore Game, which led me to write six columns called “Frugal Confessions” and start this blog! Having unlimited money would have caused me to spend more of it (necessity is the mother of invention, not abundance) as I never would have discovered great tools like Craigslist, followed many of the blogs that I do with people dedicated to saving me money, learned how to invest my precious resources, save for retirement, etc. Having limits in my life has only served me, not caused me deprivation.
With limits, opportunities abound. Have you taken advantage of yours?