Repeat after me: frugality is not a destination. Setting up a budget, tracking spending, and reducing expenses are all essential parts of understanding money. But mastering a $200 grocery budget or figuring out how to address all the awkward encounters after your cheap semi-annual haircut is not the end. Rather, it’s the means to an end. But do you know what that end is?
Stay the Course
First things first. I’m not advocating the abandonment of frugality. It’s hard work to reform old habits and adopt new ones. In fact, following a frugal lifestyle is one of the hardest things I’ve done. So this post isn’t going to encourage you to dine out on avocado toast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day (but seriously, one meal out won’t kill you) or to swap out your reliable Camry for a new SUV (I see those Google searches, Mr. P). Nope, there’s no lifestyle inflation happening here. Even after a raise, a promotion, or the launch of a new side hustle, stay frugal, friends. It’s good for the long haul.
Explore How You Got Here
There’s no one way to become frugal. For some people, it’s about letting go of your items and even downsizing. For others, it’s about getting creative with meals and homebrews. There are so many strategies to save.
It’s also worth remembering that what works for some people won’t work for everyone. Take, for instance, my ill-fated attempt to knit. I wear a lot of scarves. They make nice gifts. Knitting should be fairly frugal. Except when you are quite uncoordinated. The needles constantly battled one another when they weren’t slipping out of my hands. Online tutorials were of no use. Why would they be? I can hardly follow YouTube videos demonstrating how to tie a scarf. Why in the world would I be able to follow one showing me how to make one?
But gardening? I rock that. And baking. And kayaking. And diving into books and DVDs and other media from our library. Think about all of the choices that you made on your way to frugal living. Which of these choices can you grow into hobbies? Cultivate a life you love by filling up your free time with passions that don’t involve spending.
Put Your Money to Work
After you’ve had a frugal lifestyle for a while, you’ve probably started to grow the gap. You know, the space between what you’re spending and what you’re earning. Maybe you’re starting to save 15, 50, or even 75 percent of your salary. Now it’s time to do more than put your money away.
For some people, that means exploring retirement options at work. Does your workplace offer company matching? What do the fees look like for the different options you have? Open up or better yet, max out your retirement accounts.
Consider other options as well. For us, paying off our mortgage early is a no-brainer. The thought of all that interest alone is enough to keep me up at night. But maybe you prefer the write-off and wish to open a taxable account, set up an IRA, or even try your hand at purchasing stocks. Regardless of what you choose to do, know that simply setting aside your earnings isn’t enough. Sure, it counts as being frugal. But the endgame isn’t just to spend less, it’s to get your money to work for you.
Continue to Prioritize Time
If frugality isn’t the end, what is? While I imagine everyone will answer this question in slightly different ways, for most of us, it boils down to time. Spending less, consuming less, wanting and needing less. Those are all byproducts of frugal living. They’re also the key steps to maximizing time.
Frugal living for us allowed me to spend the maximum amount of time allowed under FMLA at home with my son. Had we not figured out how to trim our expenses and really examined things like eating out and buying shoes, we wouldn’t have been able to create the Baby Fund that we did and I could have been forced back to work much sooner. In the long run, frugality will also give us the option of leaving the workplace sooner. Financial independence happens faster when lifestyle inflation doesn’t get in the way. Even if we decide that early retirement isn’t for us, having the option to decide how we spend our time is invaluable. In fact, you might say it’s the greatest thing money can buy.
So Tell Me…Do you consider yourself to be frugal? What destination are you working toward?