It Can Be Exhausting To Practice FRUGALITY
December has been a tough month, in interesting ways. I never realized this but frugality is mentally draining, similar to balancing a cup of coffee when walking through the hospital hallways. There are so many opportunities to spend money, refraining requires a lot of concentration and diligence.
I would already consider myself frugal. I don’t have a whole lot of lavish expenses, I make most of my own meals at home, I don’t take too many vacations, I don’t own a car and I don’t spend a lot on clothes or tech toys.
It’s Much Easier Going Cold-Turkey
August 2013, I moved out an expensive downtown San Diego condo and rented a tiny little 200 sq ft studio without a kitchen. I decided to spend on the bare necessities and eat out only if I didn’t have the time to make my own meals. I cut out drinks with friends, expensive vacations, I stopped spending money on my racecar and I stopped buying fancy wines.
By taking the plunge suddenly instead of a more gradual approach, I didn’t give my mind much time to consider other options, it really made it easier to become frugal – frugal, for the very first time in my life.
A few month prior to this ice-cold plunge, I had tried to just sort of slowly cut things out, spend a little less here, cancel a few subscriptions and go out a little less with friends.
I actually recall what I did:
- started using my mountain bike to commute
- bought a $1k beater Honda CRX to commute to work
- cooked my own meals
- stopped getting coffee in the mornings
- cancelled my fancy internet and my fancy channels
The problem is that it’s hard to really know how low you can go. From the top, it’s impossible to see the bottom. Once you go all the way down, then that’s when you can make the right decisions.
Need vs Want, A Gray Area
When you work full-time and take home nearly $20k a month, it’s really hard to care about $20 here, $50 there, $200 for a new phone, $500 for a small TV in the bedroom, $75 for an exercise class, $1,500 for a new bike. “I work hard, I make good money, I can’t be bothered trying to figure out all the angels here!”.
It’s true, trying to think about the big picture will make your head spin. Once you’re making a doctor’s salary and have the stress of a doctor’s lifestyle on your shoulders, it can be overwhelming to try to make the right financial decision when it comes to buying a new water heater.
You know you will have the water heater for 10-15 years, so fuck it, you’re gonna buy the best one, because you can afford it. Sure, you could research between the middle-tier ones, read reviews and talk to contractors but you don’t have the time nor the mental RAM.
I would equate this dilemma to that of those who are trying to lose weight. Their food choices and exercise options fall on a continuum of need/want. Their decisions are that much more important if they are already overweight/obese. While they might have more wiggle room if they are already skinny.
If we don’t get into the habit of making the right financial decisions when it comes to even $20, then we are less likely to make the right decision when it comes to making larger purchases and even when it comes to investing.
In my recent week of “lean spending” I have realized that it’s not the dollar increments that matter, it’s however many times you reach for your card or cash in order to satisfy a need/want/desire. I never realized how easily I have tried to spend my way out of a problem, instead of thinking my way creatively out of it.
Getting Even More Frugal
For 3 years now I would say that I’ve been fairly frugal. I’m not the frugal sort, let me say that outright. My friend V. and my best friend M. are inherently frugal. They break out in hives when they spend too much money. When there is a problem they don’t think about what to buy that could solve the problem – they prefer to keep the money in their pockets, that’s where it belongs.
V. is a professional, has a dog, a car, pays rent and pays for a cell phone and she still spends quite a bit less than I do. I just wanna take her 10-year old wallet and beat her with it – how the shit does she do it?!
I decided that this month I would try being frugal like her, a whole new level of frugal. Not like holding on to old Q-tips or skipping the after-work shower, but spending like I’m on social security. I call this my Frugal December and I’ve been thinking about doing it for 2 years now – I’m doing it, finally.
WhY Frugality Is So Mentally Taxing
Habit. Period. That’s what makes it so hard for most of us to be frugal. I grew up in a family that didn’t know how to spend money. Mom & pop always disagreed about money. He would spend it on a ton of little crap because he just liked buying things and she would spend it on a lot of expensive crap to impress family and friends.
I didn’t learn about prioritizing spending. As soon as I started moonlighting I solved all my money problems, more money coming in fixes most problems…. at first. During that initial high income I wasn’t creative enough to spend it all. That didn’t take long, with enough time on one’s hand, and now with the help of the internet, it’s really not hard to spend whatever money you make.
To be frugal, every expense has to be scrutinized. The initial mental response has to be that ‘nope, you don’t need it’. Then you have to spend time convincing yourself that you don’t need it. You have to remind yourself of your goals; that money buys you freedom, not objects or convenience.
It’s even harder when you try to transition from spendy to frugal. Your peers and friends likely won’t share your view-point. You may not want to come across cheap or have to explain it to others. Shit, you have a hard enough time explaining to and convincing yourself that you don’t need the said expenditure.
What’s The Alternative
The alternative is that you will spend many years working full-time. You have maybe 90 years to live on this planet, in this body of yours. You finally have enough income, common sense and will to do whatever it is that you want.
If working full-time for an employer who tells you when to work and how to work until age 50, 60, or 70 is okay with you, then you probably aren’t reading this – or at least you shouldn’t be.
Frugality is for someone who wants to trade freedom for their disposable income, not merely goods and marketed experiences. The freedom could allow you to spend the rest of your time on this earth doing whatever you like with your time. At the very least it will allow you to work exactly the kind of job that you’ve dreamed of, working the hours you prefer.
What Is Frugality
Frugality is about stretching the shit out of your dollar, it’s not about suffering. It appears that most of my friends think that I’m suffering or sacrificing a lot for the sake of my financial freedom goals.
If you know what is most important to you, then you can figure out a way to achieve it. More time with your family, more time mountain biking, more time sleeping, more time reading in your den, more time volunteering or more time exercising in the gym.
It’s not about sacrificing, it’s a trade-off. Of course you have to choose one thing over another. Forgoing sleeping-in for going in early to my job at 8am. Skipping the juicy, fat burger for the vegan marinara slice at Sizzle Pie. Or,delaying financial independence by living in Portland vs Poland.
When someone says “Dude, let it go, just live life, spend on what you want!”, I don’t think that they are wrong. The irony might be that I’ll die tomorrow and they will sail into retirement with $8.5 million in their savings account.
I don’t think that I lived a lesser life than my 7-figure friend. The things that’ll probably flash before me in those few milliseconds before getting squished by the semi, are my walks through Forest Park, my cup of coffee at Coffee Time, the time I spent with my partner watching Netflix under the blankets, laughing with my mom over homemade pizza and a few random childhood memories.
For the person who is gonna be working a traditional job until age 70, frugality is buying an M5 and not an R8. It’s being okay with the $1.2 million home instead of the $2 million one.
I see the trade-off, the sacrifice, or whatever you want to call it, as being my reliance on a lower income. Anything extra I make, is a bonus. I can live the lifestyle that I want without needing to generate a whole lot of income – imagine the possibilities.
Lean December Has Been Tough But Worth It
Less than 3 days left in December and it’s been eye-opening. I didn’t realize the level of focus it takes to get to this lower expense-goal. It’s simply habit, if I did it long enough, undoubtedly I’d be proficient at it.
Frugality isn’t forever. This month wasn’t a poorer quality of life for me compared to other months. I had to say no to myself a few times – but again, I’m amazed that my quality of life has been even better, not worse.
I think it’s beneficial to unlearn the idiom that one suffers when not spending to heart’s content. Most of the best moments I’ve lived in life didn’t happen because I was spending a lot of money, it wasn’t because I was a doctor, it wasn’t because I was rich – they were experiencing shared with others.