Frugality has fallen terribly out of fashion at the moment. Maybe it’s where I live, maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my workplace- but I rarely hear frugality being talked about in a positive light (outside of supportive online forums of course). In fact, we seem to have entered an age of what I call “glorified credit”- an age where being terrible with money, where spending every cent you make, where living paycheck to paycheck despite a steady salary, is like some clever joke that everyone laughs about.
People seem to think that being frugal is defined by all the things you can’t do. You “can’t” go out to eat, you “can’t” buy something just because you want it, you “can’t” go over budget. But frugality in itself is neither virtuous or evil, it’s what you choose to do with the effects of your frugality that defines your relationship to money- and in many ways to the world around us (since ours is a capitalist world).
Imagine that you tell a lifelong smoker that they should quit smoking. To the smoker, you are telling them that they can no longer do something they enjoy. They will think of all the times they have enjoyed having a cigarette, how cigarettes have helped them be more social, and how all of those many little relaxing moments will no longer exist if they stop smoking. What they aren’t thinking about is all the positive things they will gain from no longer smoking, all the massive health benefits, not to mention benefits to their own appearance (and odor), and all the other healthy activities they may enjoy once they quit. Even if they intellectually know the benefits of being a non-smoker, they still don’t truly realize it- because they have an addiction.
Chronic spenders are the same way. They see spending as something that helps them have fun, that defines a part of their life. They imagine a word without mindless spending (although most of them don’t even realize how mindless their spending is) to be a world without fun, without a social life, without accomplishment or enjoyment. These big spenders may even intellectually realize that saving money is a good thing, and that having credit card debt is bad- but they can’t seem to separate the idea that spending money is necessary to enjoying life.
Frugal people, like myself, are often laughed at a bit- if not simply thought to be strange. I am sure there are people in my life who wonder why I don’t live in a more fashionable neighborhood, why I don’t have a more “decorated” apartment, or why I haven’t traveled more extensively. I’ve had many people ask why I bring my lunch to work, and several comments have been made about the lack of variety in my footwear. These same people who gently poke fun at me also make comments about being in debt, about barely making it until their next paycheck, about wishing that someday they could retire. In the same breath that they complain about not having enough money, they gush over their new leased cars, or their latest fashionable purchase. “Why not spend it today?” seems to be the modern mantra.
What these spenders don’t realize is that just because I’m frugal, doesn’t mean I’m not using my money for something. I may not buy designer handbags, but I do buy investments. I may not shop online for the latest housewares, but I do get great enjoyment from checking the balances on my various accounts- and watching them grow! I’m not just hoarding my money for no reason, I’m using it to buy myself freedom. That’s the key thing that separates spenders from frugal folks- the concept that money can be used not just for consumer goods (that depreciate in value), but that it can be used to buy your time and to literally give you a better quality of life (not a perceived better quality of life that commercial goods promise).
A handbag isn’t going to give me peace of mind. But knowing that if I got fired tomorrow, I could support myself for over a year- that’s true peace of mind. A new kitchen won’t actually change my life, but a high enough savings rate can result in early retirement- which is definitely life changing (I save about 54% of my income a year).
I can literally trade my money for consumer goods, or my own free time and peace of mind- in short, my life. I can spend today, and retire at 65 (if I’m lucky). Or I can save most of my income today, and be financially independent in my 30s or 40s- free to do whatever I choose. My life is unbelievably luxurious, I still go out with friends, I have the best boyfriend ever and the best kitty ever, I have a wonderful place to live, I work out, and I eat delicious food, I watch movies, I go to classes to try new things. The exaggeration of how deprived you have to be to save money only exists because our standard of living as a country is growing exponentially (even the size of houses, for families with the same number of people, keep getting bigger and bigger). What we consider “necessary” as a culture keeps growing, so people assume that frugality means some sparse sad existence.
In reality, I’m just living more like someone in the 1950s (with a couple added technological tools from today, like a laptop and a great smart tv that plays netflix). I saved up for a month before buying my new couch (I don’t ever rely on credit), and I won’t replace it until it no longer functions- even if the style goes a bit out of fashion. I don’t upgrade things for the sake of upgrading them- I use everything until it truly can’t be fixed, and then I do research to find the best possible replacement (both in terms of cost and longevity). I try to do things myself, I make all our food from scratch, and I buy things for their quality rather than their status.
I’m happy saving, I’m happy living my frugal life, and I’ll be happy when I leave work for the last time- hopefully wearing the same pair of sturdy leather shoes that I’m wearing now.
How do people respond to your frugal ways?