Frugality (unlike its cousins simplicity and minimalism) sometimes gets a bad rap. While simplicity is off communing with nature and minimalism is living out of a bespoke suitcase and an Apple watch, frugality is the uncool one hanging out at home hemming a skirt from the thrift store and checking for coupons in the paper with accusations of "being cheap" ringing in its ears. Now, I love all three of these “movements” and try to incorporate different tenets of each into my life, but I must say, I have a real soft spot for frugality. It may not be as on trend as simplicity and minimalism, but frugality is the core of the good life, as far as I’m concerned.
Frugality is actually pretty common, although we don’t always call it this. It’s that thing that everyone knows about from their grandparents or next-door neighbors, and it’s that thing that everyone feels when they get a great deal on something. It’s also likely that you’ve inherited some unconscious frugal habits from your family, like picking up change in the street, reusing Ziploc bags, or shopping the sale racks.
I’ve inherited my fair share of these traits (saving the wax paper bag from inside the cereal box anyone?), but when I thought about it more I realized that not only do I have frugal habits, but I would claim frugality as part of my identity. For me, frugality is a lifestyle - it’s a deliberate choice that runs fairly consistently across all aspects of my life. Now, this isn’t a frugality blog, but frugality is such an essential part of how I spend my values, I think it deserves a moment in the sun.
We embrace a frugal lifestyle for two reasons:
1. Frugality helps us reach our financial goals. Our long-term goal is to work toward financial independence and streamlining our expenses helps us save toward that goal. In addition, over the years our invested money will continue to grow (as our money minions do their thing), so whatever money we save now in 2016 is really important.
2. Frugality helps us follow our value of generosity. As part of our commitment to generosity we want to host small group, game nights, or church community dinners. We also want to dedicate a portion of our salaries to charitable organizations and the church. Frugality helps us trim our spending in some areas of our lives and put that money toward hospitality and generosity instead.
What Frugality Is
Frugality is the choice to make deliberate and strategic decisions about personal finances, both big and small. Frugality is looking for the most economical option for purchases and taking the WWII-era saying seriously: “use it up; wear it out; make it do; or do without.” (Notice I didn’t say that frugality is ONLY about this, just that it takes it seriously. More on that below.) It’s about taking the time to deliberate on purchases and turn your back on impulse buys. Frugality is about efficiency and intention. I get really excited about a frugal lifestyle because it feels like a game and it’s thrilling to win. While Alex plays a game of personal finance, I play a game of thrift.
Frugality is also about wanting what you have, or in Mark Scandrette’s words, “radical contentment.” It’s about defining a happy and peaceful relationship with your stuff that doesn’t leave you wanting more. It’s about enjoying what’s on your shelves right now (books, food, clothes, hobbies, games) instead of wondering about what’s not there or what could be there.
What Frugality Is Not
Frugality is not about depriving ourselves of comforts, interests, or fun. Frugality for us is not about a studio apartment, eating ramen noodles and rice and beans, turning down every invite to eat out, and getting rid of our car. For us, this would make our lives demonstrably worse and the lower expenses would not be worth the lowered happiness levels. However, the great thing about frugality is that it looks different for everyone, and it's quite likely that for someone else frugality is living in a studio apartment, eating ramen noodles, staying in all the time, and selling your car. Frugality is about finding your own level of comfort and needs.
Sometimes Alex and I make seemingly more inconvenient decisions in order to save money, like air drying our clothes, biking to work, cutting our own hair, grooming our dog, and driving a 2001 Buick Century. But the funny thing is that none of these things feel like an inconvenience to us. Yes, it took a while to learn to cut our own hair, but it is completely worth it to save the $50+ per month it would normally cost to keep our short hair looking snazzy.
Other times we decide that the comforting, interesting, or fun thing is actually worth spending un-frugal amounts of money on – like a fancy new computer that weighs much less than my old computer, a nicer phone with a better camera to use for the blog, and the fanciest vanilla ice cream at Aldi.
Frugality is also NOT about being legalistic about money. We've established a lot of frugal habits over the years, but these habits aren't hard and fast rules. If we forget to bring our lunch to work, we buy something instead. If we're invited to a friend's birthday party at a fancy restaurant, we usually go. Frugality is a mindset, not a contract and it allows for creativity and flexibility. By adopting a lifestyle of frugality we almost always have the funds to take advantage of interesting or necessary events or activities or expenses that come along.
The Key to Our Frugal Lifestyle
One word: habits. The more you think frugal, the more you do frugal. The more you do frugal, the less you think about it, and the less you think about it the easier it is to do...you get the picture. It takes some work on the front-end to identify places in your life that could use some trimming down or intention, but often once you set up frugality in one part of your life it pretty much runs itself. The frugal mastermind behind the best frugality blog out there calls this phenomenon “frugal autopilot,” and that makes a lot of sense. Much like how taking the less convenient route often doesn’t feel like an inconvenience, frugality doesn’t even feel like a speedbump. It’s just our life!
How do you feel about frugality? Do you slip frugal habits into your everyday life? What are your favorite frugal tips and tricks?