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.
RELATED POST: How Frugality Doesn’t Paint the Whole Picture
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.
RELATED POST: You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should
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?
Britt @ Tiny Ambitions
“Additionally, I don’t feel the need to have things simply because that’s how it’s supposed to be. ” What a powerful sentence! I think that’s the most important outcome of any spending or lifestyle change. ‘Did it change my mindset?’ should be question number 1.
I don’t consider myself a frugal person, but I’ve been trying to make much more mindful spending decisions this year. Really taking the time to think through the necessity of a purchase, whether it’s something at the grocery store or a house item, has made a big difference for me.
P.s. totally love the pb & s image. Nailed it.
Nailed it, indeed? Strawberries? On a cracker toast bread wafer? I’m the best blogger, Britt.
You are right. Mindset is such an important consideration!
Sarah @ tortoisehappy.com
In the last couple of years, I stopped buying chocolate biscuits as standard. It seems OTT and so minute in the grand scheme of things, but treating the 50p difference like a lot of money stopped me from mindlessly (since that what it often can be) spending 50p here, £1 there, £5 here, £10 there. Sure, I like biscuits with chocolate on more than those without, but I don’t think we need the best of everything every day. We just don’t. Being a bit of a scrimper meant we could still travel whilst overpaying aggressively. There are few specific chocolate biscuits, coffees, pair of shoes, bottles of wine, etc that I can remember. But those holidays, each one gave us a tonne of memories that are worth far more than the money we saved for them and spent on them.
Also, being frugal means I can treat my nieces to new books and snuggle up on the sofa reading with them. That’s pretty priceless! Is there a greater luxury than a new book? 🙂
I pack a thermos of coffee to fuel my mornings plus my lunch everyday. I have a 30 minute break where I work, so efficiency is key. It’s paid off in several ways – #1 Eating lunch on our buildings’ roof gives me a break from the work environment. #2 Saves money #3 I’ve started losing weight by adding walking laps around the roof & taking the stairs everyday. #4 Is what I like to call the unintended benefit. My coworkers became curious as to where I was going and what I was up do. They frequently ask what’s in my lunchbox. So, it’s opened up a whole new dialog of how I’m taking steps to improve in a few areas bit by bit. Now others are starting to take the stairs to our floor & walk laps….plus sharing whats in their lunches. It’s also made for renewed interest for training topics to include retirement savings, deferred compensation and the basics (for younger folks) on how money actually works. Plus trading lunchbox item ideas/recipes. Crazy cool… all of it stemming from wanting to get outside and catch a breathe of fresh air while not breaking the bank.
This is amazing! I love how you are letting people in and leading my example. Come do my workplace next!
Young FIRE Knight
Outside of my very first month of work (and the occasional day or two per year I go out to lunch with coworkers) I’ve always brought a deli or Pb&j sandwich for lunch. It just so simple and easy (and cheap) and I enjoy it, so why change?
I think the inherent nature of frugality in everyday life is that it gives you so many options on how to spend both your money and your time. As the space between your natural spending and income gets bigger, it leaves you with confidence that you can make things work, regardless if you splurge a little, because it’s just s temporary thing.
Also, nice use of abstemious, vocab word of the day! ?
Mrs. Picky Pincher
Yaaaas girl yaaaas! I was hoping you’d write about the PB&J. 🙂 I salute you for eating simply. Hubs and I are absurdly Picky about food and it’s such a chore to eat around here. I’m very jealous!
And so much yes to this. Even though you might say no to a few things, it gives you the ability to say ‘yes’ to much more. Case in point: our student loans will be paid off at the end of the month (!!!). Once those are gone, I get to say ‘goodbye’ to my employer and freelance full time. None of that would have been possible without making drastic changes to how we eat, live, and have fun. It’s been a hard journey with a learning curve, but holy moly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You eat those sammiches and enjoy that fat bank account. 🙂
I am so happy for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’ve gotten way more out of being frugal than what I’ve given up. I’ve given up all the stress that comes with bills I can’t pay, and that alone is worth it! I’ve also gained a sense of freedom, but also security. No matter what happens in life, we will financially be ok, because we’ve paid down debts and learned how to live on less.
I actually really enjoy being frugal. I’ve referred to it in past as a bit of a hobby, and I get a rush when I do something that saves some serious cash!
We have many ‘give ups’ in common, but you’ve given me a few new things to appreciate on the ‘get’ side. Thanks!
I agree, Clare. I enjoy frugality far more than I ever imagined. And I think part of that comes from realizing that I’m not just being frugal for the heck of it. It is serving a real purpose!
I think the biggest thing I get is a better sense of financial security overall. And yes, the ability to spend without (or with a minimum of) financial fretting because I know the money is there and earmarked for that particular purpose. Even if that’s just drinks out with friends.
The peace of mind is incredible. Even when I know things are getting a little rocky, it’s nice to know that I’m not working against myself…finally!
Liz @ Splurging on Freedom
Penny, this was wonderful.
You really embody the principles in Your Money or Your Life. One of my favorite books of all time, so this was a really good read!
I’m really happy that frugality has worked out so well for you. It certainly takes some time to adjust to, but it definitely pays off. I love that you get so much more than you give. Frugality has worked out well for me too. It took a few years of adjustments, but I can say that I’m infinitely happier and more fulfilled now. 🙂
When I first started at my current job, I knew about the cafeteria that they had and they served complementary breakfast and lunch for us but I didn’t take advantage of it because I wasn’t really font of cafeteria food and opt to go out for lunch. But after a few years, I realized how much I spent on lunch and felt that I needed to take advantage of the free food at work. And so I did and realized that the food isn’t that bad. Now I’m embraced so much that I take some food to go for dinner. It has really helped on saving from going out for lunch all the time.
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
I remember eating peanut butter (no jelly!) sandwiches for lunch every day and having someone who made much less than me look at me with pity. I almost burst out laughing because I LOVE PB sandwiches and it’s just a bonus that they’re frugal.
END CAPS OMG. They are *dangerous*. Triply so at Target. I’m pretty sure that shopping online only so I can’t see them has saved us quite a lot of angst and wasted money.
I never had a strong spending habit to break simply because I was so so SO broke for so long but PiC definitely had a spender mentality akin to yours. I’m very grateful for those frugal habit building years because we learned together to find our happy medium so when we eventually started making real money, we didn’t have an expensive learning period. Timing FTW!