“But what’s the point of not really buying anything all the time if we don’t do this?” A comment my husband made while we were mapping out our summer plans stopped me in my tracks. Once again, I forgot the why of frugality.
We were knee deep in the middle of ideas–literally. Our dining room table and floor were covered in scraps of paper lined with tentative routes that would take us from here to Montreal and back again. Locations and times, mapped and remapped.
In the midst of plans, I started to scrawl costs in the margins. Then, I did what I am now programmed to do.
I balked at the cost.
Not because I didn’t already at least sort-of anticipate it. Not because we didn’t have stipend checks coming in that would easily cover it. Not because we don’t hit our short-term savings goal every month. Not because we couldn’t also cover this from our regular slush of savings.
I balked at the cost because I’m frugal, and I have forgotten why.
I’m Not Being Frugal for Sport
Frugality is actually a difficult subject to discuss. We throw around words like frugal and cheap all the time. Sometimes, we banter back and forth about those words. Are they synonyms? Are they not? Are they compliments? Are they insults?
But it’s actually hard to define what frugality is. (Though, I took a pretty widely-read stab at it last year.)
Even understanding what frugality is isn’t enough. You have to find your why. For me, the easier part is figuring out why I’m not frugal. It comes down to two things:
The Frugality Olympics Aren’t a Thing
If you’re tempted to adopt a frugal lifestyle because you’re hoping to take home a gold medal, I have bad news. The Frugality Olympics aren’t a thing.
It sure can feel like it, though.
And I say that as someone who has won an actual trophy for being frugal. Or running a frugality blog. Tomato, tomahto.
As much of a shock and an honor winning that award was, there is no such thing as the Frugality Olympics. Being the most frugal person, or being the 54th most frugal, or being the 8473261253th most frugal person simply doesn’t matter.
Being frugal simply for the sake of frugality is actually a miserable existence. Ask me how I know. Go ahead. Ask.
And then there was my pregnancy. You know how many mothers radiate joy as their bellies grow. Lots of things came out of me while I was pregnant, and none of them were joy. My pregnancy was complicated for myriad reasons, and one of the most obvious reasons to me in hindsight was entirely self imposed.
I was so concerned with keeping the glisten in my frugal crown that I was refusing to do really obvious things. Like allow myself to buy food I would actually be able to stomach and wear pants that…stayed up. I had the means to take myself out some of my misery. Instead, I inflicted more of it.
And I still don’t have a gold medal to show for it.
Reminder of Privilege
The part of frugality that I struggle with the most–besides remembering why–is being conscious of the fact that this is a choice. My frugality is self-imposed. My husband and I have grown our incomes and side hustle streams to the point that if we blow our budget nothing bad happens.
Bills still get paid. Our house stays in our my name. Life continues.
Eventually, mindless spending would catch up with us. It did before. But we are solidly middle class, marching to the upward limit and hopefully beyond.
So not only am I not participating in the Frugality Olympics or Krazily Couponing anything anymore, I am also constantly trying to remind myself that we are so fortunate to have worked to put ourselves in a place where we can opt in and out of a frugal lifestyle at any point.
Our Why of Frugality
Well, that’s wasn’t so hard, was it? I’m not frugal in order to win a prize. And I’m not frugal because I have to be. It’s a choice. But why exactly am I making this choice?
Like every other aspect of personal finance, frugality can be deeply personal. We can define it differently, and we most certainly practice it differently. Most importantly, though, is understanding that they why of frugality looks different for everyone. Here’s why we are focused on frugality:
By being strategic with our spending on a day-to-day basis, we’ve eliminated a lot of the small leaks that plagued our budget. Because of this, we can make considerations beyond sticker price when we buy things.
Now, I only buy shoes if I absolutely need a pair. Rather than buying a handful (fine, dozens) of shoes from Target when I’m supposed to Stick To The List, I buy shoes I love and shoes that last. Sometimes, they’re designer and sometimes, they’re not. Either way, the purchase isn’t an impulse. It’s a consideration of quality to make sure that it’s comfortable and stylish.
The same is true of upgrades to our house and other purchases. That’s not to say that we don’t price things out, look for coupons, and consider how to stack cash back opportunities with rebates and credit cards. We do.
But we recently found ourselves in a situation where we had to repair and replace parts of our powder room. Instead of overhauling the whole room ($$$$$) or looking for rock-bottom prices ($), I chose a custom cabinet with a granite top and made it work with the towels, decor, flooring, and paint color that was already in the room. The vanity cost a bit more but our intention was to buy it for life. And those particle board options for sale everywhere? They simply won’t withstand the force of a toddler.
Frugality serves another important purpose in my life. It’s greatly reduced the amount of clutter that I have to deal with. The most difficult part of the decluttering process for me is the fact that it’s hard to stem the tide of the incoming items. Frugality forces me to think long and hard before welcoming something else into my home.
Which is exactly what I need. Because honestly, the things in my closet still feel like they’re multiplying when I turn off the lights and shut the door. How else can I explain this years-long process?
Saving money is often talked about with long horizons. It’s true that we hope frugality benefits us later in life. Frugality, in tandem with increasing our income, has given us more money to pay down debt and to invest. All of that leads to a promising financial future.
- A mortgage paid off long before it’s due.
- Retirement accounts that are pleasantly plump, despite the promise of a pension.
- We don’t worry about an exact date, but we know we’ll hit FI long before the traditional (already early) retirement teacher age of 57.
Frugality is also helping our son’s future. When I resist the urge to buy my son all the things
his my heart desires, I am giving him a future gift. I’m not speaking in metaphors. Whenever I resist the temptation to buy him a Baby’s First Flag Day onesie or a bunch of trinkets for National Paper Airplane Day, I have more money to move around.
I kid, but only kind of. While I largely ignore the obscure holidays, I do put an extra $10 or $20 in his 529 on instances like this past Easter where I dressed him in a cute hand-me-down rather than buying him something new.
But another part of frugality that doesn’t get talked about near enough is that frugality today actually yields incredible benefits tomorrow. As in the next day, the next week, and the next month.
Scaling back is what allows us to plan this rather last-minute road trip to reunite with friends. It’s also what gives me great joy in filing out all of the RSVP cards for graduation parties and weddings for the summer and beyond. Frugality today gives me the option to say yes to more of my priorities tomorrow. It allows me to choose my family, my friends, my husband, my son, and even myself. That seems like a pretty perfect why of frugality to me.
So Tell Me…Do you consider yourself frugal? What drives your money decisions in the short-term and the long-term?