Even today, when I hear the word ‘frugal’, there are many negative images that instantly spring to my mind. I can’t seem to help but think about cheapness or dirtiness when someone brings it up. Just saying the word ‘fruuuu-gulll’…Uhg. Not only is it barbaric sounding but it also (kinda) rhymes with dull (bOoOoOooring). A lot of times it goes something like an old man living in a cardboard box scrimping and saving every last penny just for the sake of it. A little longer in this imaginary world of mine and I quickly come back to reality in a crowded train at rush hour shaking and saying to myself “not me, not me, please not me…” It takes some heavy concentrated breathing along with a few repetitions of a nice soothing mantra to snap out of it and remember that frugality is actually good for me … and you too!
I would say that my frugality career is now solidly in its fourth year by now. It all started when Sallie Mae came knocking in 2012 and I realized I needed to get my shit together quickly. Now if I were in the NFL you could say that 4 years is a nice long career. I would be a seasoned veteran and probably already looking over my shoulder at the young stud who’s going to replace me some day. But in the personal finance world 4 years is just what it sounds like – a toddler who can formulate some basic yet mildly coherent ideas about life.
In this spirit, I’d like to share some of the ways I think about frugality. First up: motivations. What are some reasons people do frugal anyways? For me it was to pay off my debt and get rid of all the negative consequences that were associated with that. Most of those consequences included some form of fear like the fear of losing my job, the fear to move or travel, the fear of being held back… you get the picture. But now that my debt is gone what reasons do I have to stay frugal? Why not just live it up, enjoy life to the fullest? That brings me to another big motivation which is buying shit.
Everyone needs to buy some stuff once in a while, it’s just a necessary part of life. For example not long after I became debt free I had to move. Getting a new apartment does have significant upfront costs like a deposit and first and last months rent, moving costs etc… Only by being frugal would I have some of my income left over after my expenses to buy my one off necessities. Now if you are used to spending less than you earn every month the amount of money you have goes up pretty much every month. You are used to having an excess amount of money lying around and you could use it to consume extra stuff if you so pleased. What could possibly hold you back from doing just that?
Assuming that you have a few working years under your belt, you know not only that expenses come up unexpectedly but also that things on the income side can change too. Maybe you don’t really like the job you currently have or don’t really see yourself doing it for 20+ years but you currently enjoy the nice income you get from it. In this case not only do your frugal ways provide an increasing amount of savings month to month but they also show you what you could live on if needed. Say for now you took home $3500 a month but over the last two years you consistently averaged $2000 in monthly spending. Wow you could lose 43%ish of your income and the only thing that would change would be your savings account wouldn’t be growing anymore. Call it a security buffer or a nice thick blanket protecting you from a reduction in living standard. Hopefully this doesn’t happen to you at all. At least you will rest a little bit easier at night.
As you go along in your life, sticking to a nice frugal pace you’ll start to realize that your savings have grown so big that it just seems pointless to add more to it. You have enough to cover you for a couple years and that would be plenty of time to find a similar paying job – ffeww, you no longer have to worry about that anymore! Time to start spending to your full potential. Sure go ahead you can now spend all that you make. You can keep on like this forever and essentially enjoy all the fruits of your labor, labor, labor, labor. What’s that? You’re are tired of working you say? Well it’s only been 32 years and you have at least 20 years of life left. You have to keep working to maintain your lifestyle now.
As you can see frugality isn’t just a one off event. Nor is it a strange fringe sect that you sometimes hear about on the news. It is THE only way each and every one of us can make our work worth while. It is the only way we can maintain ourselves from day to day, buy the things we need and finally become free of toil when we wish to dispose of it.