Y’all, I am frugal. I am FRUgal. But let’s tell the whole truth, mkay? If this sounds familiar, cool, that means I haven’t been totally wasting my time on Twitter. Last week, I wanted to send a little thought out into the universe. I never imagined it would gain the traction that it did. It turns out, the money community feels something that I’ve been feeling for a while now: Frugality isn’t the whole picture.
Let’s review the tweet, shall we?
Now let’s talk for real. I am not saying frugality isn’t awesome, that it doesn’t play a vital role in growing the gap between your income and your spending. Of course it does. We have all read the headlines of couples who fritter away half-million dollar salaries like something out of a
movie a B-list celebrity’s biopic. If you spend every cent you make, no amount of money can save you. No one disagrees, not even MC Hammer. Frugality is important, but it isn’t everything.
How Much of the Truth We Tell Matters
We’ve all seen the promises. Couple Pays Off $500K in Five Minutes. Okay, fine. I exaggerated. Let’s talk about a real one. In fact, I’ll even shave down the dollar amount. How We Saved $75K Last Year and You Can, Too. Hold up. What?
No amount of frugally awkward moments or clever penny pinching or any other tip you have is going to allow me to do that. On two teacher incomes, we are going to have to become the next Bonnie & Clyde to save $75,000 next year. Come to think of it, my husband’s a gamer, and I can program our thermostat, so how hard could it be to steal people’s cryptocurrency? I mean, really. Or I could always look for a sugar daddy. Honestly, both of those options are more reasonable than asking me to give up my passion and leave teaching. And you know that I love to hate my side hustles.
Maybe I’m just being difficult. That’s one possibility. Or maybe the average American family—who my husband and I both outearn, by the way—really can’t see themselves in these headlines and in these blog posts because they aren’t written by average Americans. They’re being written by exceptional people who individually pull in double or triple the average median household income.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that they’re not disclosing it. I don’t care how hard you bang the drum of frugality. If you don’t earn more than $75,000 a year, you’re not going to be able to save $75,000. I can dumpster dive. I can reuse, repurpose, barter, trade, and Freecycle with the best of them, but if you outearn me by tens of millions of pennies each year, you have more to pinch and squeeze.
Now, don’t fall to little pieces on me. I would never go so far as to say we have a small army of James Freys in our midst. No one is lying. They just aren’t telling the whole story. Sometimes it’s entirely out of the person’s control because once Business Insider gets ahold of it, there’s no accounting for what their headline writers will do for clicks. But a lot of times, it is something that can be controlled. Even if you can’t or won’t share your exact numbers, you can name the ballpark you’re playing in.
No One Is Saying You Didn’t Earn It
Let’s get another thing straight. I’m not saying high-income individuals don’t earn their keep. It is entirely possible that some are overpaid. However, exceptions and archetypes aside, many high-income professionals honed exceptional skills and business acumen, endured countless hours of graduate and postgraduate education (nevermind the debt!), and pursued a career trajectory that allows them to net these incomes. In short, they earn it.
I am not about to villainize anyone for earning six figures. You are more than your net worth, whatever it is. I would never say someone earning a low income is more noble. Nor would I say someone living in poverty is less than. The same holds true for high-income individuals. You may be horrifically rude or absurdly kind. Conflating income and character is problematic, dangerous, and unproductive.
Don’t forget that I really hope to make it to six figures one day. In fact, I know I will get there eventually. It will take 70 hours of graduate studies earning Bs or better, three specialists degrees, a litany of certification tests and portfolios, and two decades in the classroom. But I will make six figures. And I should.
If and when that day comes, I will probably be the same sour-cream-container-repurposing, $15-haircut-sporting person that I am today. But no amount of $15 haircuts will outpace the ability to save and invest six figures a year while living on my husband’s income. Frugality is important, but frugality isn’t the whole picture.
So Tell Me…What are your thoughts on frugality and income?