As of late, frugality has come under fire. I should know. I took one of the shots. Recently, though, I have also seen other personal finance writers throw some jabs at frugality. They pulled no punches. A lot of it was ugly, and it was downright incorrect in some instances, which leads me to wonder if any of us really knows what frugality is.
Frugality isn’t an Insult
Being called frugal isn’t an insult; being called cheap is. Returning wet towels is cheap, not frugal. I don’t care what you say, no matter how famous you are. Though I know it isn’t an insult, even I find myself prickling at being called frugal in real life.
Just the other day, one of my closest friends looked at me and said, “You’ve always been frugal.” Initially, I was crestfallen. I wanted to respond with a rallying cry about our beloved Target runs, the designer handbag slung over my shoulder, my wall of Tiffany blue velvet jewelry bags in my closet. Quite frankly, I wanted to remind her that my walk-in closet is the size of her apartment bedroom.
I, like most Americans, have been conditioned to wear my consumerism as a badge of honor, the highest of compliments. Frugality is something that should be hidden in the deep recesses of anonymous blogs on the Internet, never to be whispered about in real life, while spending is something to wear with pride. The problem with my initial reaction and with viewing frugality as an insult is that the connotation of the word will never change unless it is embraced as the positive personality trait that it is.
Frugality is Innovative
A comment smacked me in the face the other day. It boiled down to frugality being nothing more than photos of food. What’s more is that the accusation behind the comment was that there isn’t anything innovative or even important in terms of what frugality has to offer.
While it is true that frugal bloggers do love to talk about food, the notion that there is nothing innovative or constructive about frugal living is simply false. Frugality in itself exists in juxtaposition to consumer culture. That same consumer culture that is the Achilles heel of so many families’ finances. Practicing living below your means and only consuming what you need is revolutionary from both societal and environmental standpoints.
Take food. 2015 marked the first year that Americans spent more on dining out at bars and restaurants than they did on groceries. Not only is how we eat and where we eat a problem for our budgets, it’s a problem for the environment. One study found that 84% of unused food in American restaurants is thrown out and of all the food waste in the world, 40% of it comes from eating out. Those maligned grocery photos may be simple on the surface but they are more than just records of frugal finds. They are a call for us to collectively do something with 55 billion dollars other than eat out.
Frugality Isn’t Shortsighted
This blog, in all of its frugally awkward glory, was nominated for an award last year. To be honest, I’m still not over it. I likely never will be. One of the most exciting moments for me was the fact that a podcast was actually going to mention my blog by name. I had arrived.
And yet when the best frugality blog category was announced, it came with a caveat that was akin to the idea that the blog category was for people who didn’t want to make more money or something. Whhhhhhat?
I am so down for making more money. Whether it’s side hustling or pulling in a six-figure salary someday, I am here for the money, honey. Make no mistake about it. If my spending is already minimized, every increase in income packs that much more of a punch.
Nonetheless, there is this increasing sentiment that frugal living and frugal writing is shortsighted, a dime-a-dozen, something that anyone can do. It has even been said that frugality exists in opposition to aspirational writing. April Fools! (The real joke in that post was the idea that frugality bloggers shy away from controversy. Hello, have we met? Allow me to share my thoughts on Dave Ramsey’s house, embracing new cars, not apologizing for privilege, and Thoreau and his modern-day podcasting counterparts.) Not everyone is walking a path that allows them to negotiate raises, pull in hefty bonuses, or hop from company to company or career to career. For those people, frugality might be their method of choice for maintaining the gap between what is earned and what is spent. That, my friend, is pretty aspirational.
Frugality is One Tool
Frugality is one tool, but it is not the only one. I would never assume that bloggers who focus predominantly on income generation ignore the fact earning six figures doesn’t mean you should spend six figures. Talk about a math problem.
It is also incorrect to assume that people who choose to sport $15 haircuts and buy the wrong vegetables aren’t also saving, investing, or even has a net worth slowly but surely closing in on the half million dollar mark in their early 30s.
How do I know?
I’m doing it.
So Tell Me…What does being frugal mean to you?
(Pssst. I don’t regularly calculate a formal net worth for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest ones is that I disagree with the notion of my house as an asset (it’s mostly a pain in the one) and our pension numbers are fuzzy at best. But there’s a ballpark for you.)