Defining frugality

As a sign of the times, a local magazine just came out with an article about how to save money.  And it was interesting to note two things: a) most of the suggestions were nice but weren’t going to radically change anyone’s financial situation (eg – occasionally don’t have your cleaning help come in and do the cleaning yourself); and b) no one interviewed for their tips wanted to use their name, other than the shopping maven who buys designer suits for $400 instead of $1200.  This got me thinking about why people are embarrassed to identify themselves publicly as practicing frugality, and how differently I view frugality.

I think a lot of people equate saving money and frugality with doing without, being low class and needy, and being cheap or a skinflint.  Who wants to proudly call themselves cheap, when it carries such a strongly negative connotation?  Not me, and obviously everyone interviewed who wouldn’t share their name must have somehow shared this association with saving money.  

However, I love having a frugal lifestyle and am very comfortable talking about it, because to me, frugality is not about being cheap at all.  Being frugal means being able to create a lifestyle where you can have all that is important to you, without compromising other things that are important to you.  People many years ago had a lot less materially than we do today, and do you think that we’re a significantly happier generation than all of those past were?  Statistics actually show the opposite, but the point is that having more stuff doesn’t equate well with being happy, even though those who make their living in marketing would like us to think so!

It can be a challenge, living well within your means and not feeling deprived, but the challenge is mental more than anything.  Living within your means is not about deprivation and doing without.  Living frugally is about clarifying what really matters to you, assessing what gives you joy, and then making choices every day that support that.  It’s about attitude – do you feel sorry for yourself that you don’t have what it seems everyone around you has, or do you feel good to have a clear vision of what you feel is most important, and honor that every time you spend money?   

For example, it’s a huge value for my husband and I that our children are raised by us, and that they have a full time stay home parent.  So we gladly forgo the supposed benefits of having two incomes (very overrated and a myth that could stand to be debunked) because we have so much more pleasure from raising our family than having a few dollars more each month.  It’s a value for us to have the money to buy what we want, so I don’t mind sometimes waiting a month or more for larger purchases if that’s when the cash will be available.  Basically, we spend our money in a way that supports our values, and that’s a good feeling.

When you can find fun wherever you are, and enjoy all that you have to the fullest, that’s being frugal.  It’s not about doing without – it’s about identifying what really matters to you and finding ways to achieve that, while staying in your budget.  It’s exciting and fun to live within your means, and to live well!  Our family can squeeze enjoyment about of a small trip or activity, a special food or – well, anything, really!

So much of living outside of our means is about trying to impress others, and just as often, trying to impress ourselves.  When we define ourselves by what we have instead of who we are, there’s a feeling of inadequacy.  We can never have enough, because no matter what we have, it doesn’t give us value.  So people keep spending, trying to push away that feeling of inadequacy.  We’ve become a society of people focused on how we look, rather than our character.

There’s so much joy in living without the burden of debt, of not having to keep up appearances to impress others (with the internal knowledge that the lifestyle we present to the world is a house of cards), that I wince to hear those in debt say that they’d hate to have to count every penny, to budget – because it’s clear they haven’t made the connection between the emotional and financial stress they regularly feel and the way they spend money. 


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