Peanut butter and jelly.
I eat it every day for lunch.
After a recent interview on the FIRE Drill Podcast, that seemed to be the sound bite that stood out to most people.
I could practically hear people’s sighs laiden with pity. Rather than write an ode about that the deliciousness of that simple sandwich or the practicality of it when you have a thirty-five minute lunch break, let me say this: Yes, it’s a frugal meal. And that’s partly why I eat it.
This is also why frugality gets painted so strangely. People either want to critique it or send their sympathies for people who practice it. Today, I want to focus on the latter because I already stood on my soapbox for the former.
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Frugality is a sacrifice.
But not really.
Frugality is a sacrifice the same way that not eating pizza every day is a sacrifice. Or adding more vegetables to your diet, more yards to your run, more reps to your workout.
It’s a lifestyle change that is jarring, perhaps even painful at first. But the results are worth it.
The Give (Up)
I’ve made some big changes as I have slowly worked to become more mindful with my spending. I could write quite the laundry list of all the things I’ve ditched. Rather than do only that, I thought I would chronicle the most painful. Here are the burpees of my frugal lifestyle, if you will.
My husband I ate out 2-3 times per week when we were dating. We dating for five years. No, I’ve never done the math because there’s no use crying over old Chipotle and sushi receipts. But my best guess puts that at an easy $100 a week. I never gained the Freshman Fifteen on dorm food in college. But I promise my waistline and wallet suffered post graduation.
I still drink. Sometimes. Once in a while. I think. But my drinking habits are vastly different. I used to go out with my coworkers once a week for happy hour. Unless weeks were really unhappy. Then, we’d go out several times. And I never shied away from the bar scene with friends on weekends either. Ah, youth. (Full disclosure: I absolutely rocked grandma sweaters on the dance floor at 21. I was born 65.)
(Another) new car
I bought a new car, and I stand by my decision. 10/10 would recommend. But I’m not doing it again any time soon. Had I not adopted a frugal lifestyle, I do think I would have traded in for a new set of wheels or would be in the market to do so.
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YOLO grocery shopping
I’m not an extravagant cook (see: peanut butter and jelly on the daily), not because I don’t appreciate good food but because the very last thing I want to do in the evenings is spend time cooking. That’s a lie. The very very last thing I want to do is spend time cleaning up the 14 pots, 7 pans, and 32 apparatuses that make up the Rube Goldberg machine necessary to recreate most #foodporn meals. But I used to pretty much buy whatever looked good and was on sale (or not) when I grocery shopped. I tried to meal plan, but a lot of times I filled the cart with tasty treats or things I just had to try.
If anyone ever wants to figure out how to market anything, study the clearance racks at Target. I swear to shopping gods, I can’t even describe how many utterly unnecessary purchases I’ve made in my life. Now, I avoid them like my life depends on it.
Actual footage of me by Target end caps via GIPHY
Do I miss these things? Sometimes. But not nearly as much as I would have thought. Have there been some awkward growing pains along the way? Umm, there’s a whole series of them. (You’re welcome!) But leaning into a more frugal lifestyle has given me more than I ever expected.
I am not a travel hacker. Not really. I do a bit of credit card churning, but we mostly pay for vacations the old fashioned way. We save. And it’s so much easier to hit your savings goals when you’re not eating and drinking hundreds of mindless dollars a month. Since we started focusing on being more mindful with our money, we’ve traveled to the Dominican, Mexico, and Costa Rica without any real hemming and hawing at the cost.
During my love affair with mindless consumerism, I had one solution to most everything: swipe my credit card. Bad day, good day, something broke, something didn’t fit. Visa, Mastercard, and Discover to the rescue. It required little thought and certainly no creativity. Since we’ve started practicing frugality, though, we are spending more time learning to repair things, borrow things, and create things. As someone who once classified shopping as her favorite pastime, I can honestly say how pleasantly shocked I am that this other stuff is more fun.
I have a much better understanding of the ways in which my consumption impacts others. My desire to wear a different outfit every day during high school wreaked havoc on my minimum-wage paychecks. But the strain I single-handedly put on the environment is something I will never really be at peace with. In addition to learning how to be more environmentally friendly, frugality has also allowed me to do more for others. By stretching our budget, we can prioritize charitable giving now. Additionally, I don’t feel the need to have things simply because that’s how it’s supposed to be. Now that I have learned to live with closets and drawers that are half full, I can pass things along to others without hesitating.
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Another unexpected consequence of frugality is that I can grab sushi or meet up with a friend for
coffee tea and not think twice about it. This is not unless my mindless spending days, except for the fact that I know that these occasional treats aren’t setting me back any. Instead, I’m still hitting my financial goals. It turns out that frugality lets you have your cake and pay off your mortgage decades early too.
The ability to say no
Because we are more frugal, I can walk away from things that no longer suit us. The thought of turning down side hustles would have made my blood run cold when our spending kept pace with our earning. But now? We have some wiggle room in our budget, so we can both be more choosy with our time.
We Get More than We Give (Up)
My peanut butter and jelly sandwich might seem abstemious to some, but brown-bagging it has undeniable benefits. My lunchtime choices are a microcosm of the ways in which we have worked to be more thoughtful with our money. Frugality might require a bit of sacrifice, but there is no denying that we get far more than we give up.
So Tell Me…How does frugality or mindful spending pay off for you?