Frugal living: Is life more difficult for those of us who are frugal?

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Frugal living: Is life more difficult for those of us who are frugal?

Frugal living isn't about spending less money. Instead, it's about spending money on the right things to squeeze max value out of them.

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Frugal living: Is life more difficult for those of us who are frugal?

Here's an interesting question about frugal living: If you live a frugal life, is your life harder than the life of someone who spends a great deal more money than you? Or, is it easier?

Let's get a little bit deeper: If you're frugal because you have to be, rather than because you choose to be, does that change the scenario?

To this humble blogger, life becomes measurably easier when living frugally.

So what does it mean to live "frugally"? Does it mean sacrificing the nicer things in life? Sometimes, but not always. Frugal people know value better than perhaps anyone.

Value is a measure of worth within the context of your family. Once we understand the true meaning of value and how it impacts our life, our decision-making process becomes that much more effective.

For example, a frugal person may not opt for the cheapest t-shirt in the store, provided the shirt fits and feels comfortable. If another brand offers a better quality product, but at a higher price, the more expensive option might be the better buy because it will last longer.

A few examples of how this works in practice:

  • A frugal person might buy a more expensive product because it'll last longer than a less expensive option
  • A frugal person may choose a less expensive option when given a choice between things of relatively equal value
  • A frugal person is not afraid to spend money on things that provide measurable value
Frugal living: Would this house be a frugal choice?
Would this house be a "frugal" choice? Hmm...

Frugal living beats many of the alternatives

Compare frugal living to those who live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Naturally, worry over finances is the source of profound stress for many Americans. Losing a job means the dependable source of income is no longer guaranteed, jeopardizing the livelihood of the family.

Frugal living, on the other hand, often implies a savings account. It means we are spending less than we are making, generally by a wide margin. It means we have money left over month-to-month.

Now, compare frugal living to a high-income earner who treats him or herself to the nicer things in life. It's great to make lots of money, but high spending habits put us in a position of weakness.

Spending large amounts of money creates a scenario where we NEED a high-income just to keep up with our lifestyle. Often, it means we can't take a sabbatical without significantly curtailing our outward flow of cash. Or take a less stressful but lower-paying job. Our options are limited.

Finally, match frugal living up with a person with inherited wealth.

It's great to fall ass-backward into money, but what happens to that money when it's not earned? When money is not earned, it's also not appreciated. It is not an accomplishment. In other words, it's not valued.

When we don't understand how value influences our decisions, we quickly squander our would-be advantages and replace them with self-inflicted weaknesses and incredible debt.

Misconceptions about frugality

As someone who has lived a frugal lifestyle for many years now, I'm somewhat accustomed to people not really understanding what all that entails. In this age of consumer culture and "flexing for the 'gram", a lot of people are more concerned with looking like they're rich, rather than actually setting themselves up for financial success.

If you're open publicly about living a frugal lifestyle, you should be prepared to get some weird looks, and weirder questions.

You're just a penny pincher

Living a frugal lifestyle just means you're spending all your time clipping coupons, digging through thrift stores and buying generic cereal, right? Wrong.

Remember, there's a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap.

As mentioned above, being frugal is about finding the best value for you– not necessarily the best price. It's about living within your means, and trying to minimize or eliminate reckless spending.

You might be surprised that the guy that's giving you frugal living tips right now, also recently bought a $110 bottle of Tequila without regrets.

You're unhappy because you deprive yourself

As someone who bought a corvette right out of college, I remember vividly how good it felt to drive off the lot. I've also bought motorcycles, expensive camera equipment, top of the line electronics, etc.

I vividly remember how good it felt to walk onto a car lot straight out of college and drive off in a corvette. But that feeling was temporary. Having a large monthly overhead, also meant that I was tied to a job that I didn't enjoy.

Even though there are certain luxuries that I forego, I can tell you that I am significantly happier living a life of financial freedom, rather than being a slave to an over indulgent lifestyle.

What happens when we are frugal?

Again, frugal people are not cheap. While they do very often spend less money than the average consumer, they do so because they assess value differently. They are typically much more resourceful, and they conserve and squeeze the most out of everything that they buy.

They are economical. Believing in maximum output with minimal input, frugal people tend to be less wasteful and aware of the influence that the things they buy have on their life.

Frugality is about living smarter.

Smarter with money - buy based on value, not based purely on what you perceive to be the best price. The previous example of the t-shirt illustrates a scenario where price may not necessarily equate to value. Most often, we get what we pay for. It is our job to assess how much value we truly need out of the things that we buy. It's a balancing act, and it can take some practice to get right.

Smarter with time - use Pareto's 80/20 principle to maximize your time spent doing...well, everything. Very often, we are most productive during a few relatively short periods of the day. Take advantage of these times by doing the things that make the biggest difference in your life.

That's right - don't clean the bathtub during your productive hours. Work on your start-up business. Write an article for your blog. Apply for that job. Do that assignment that should have been done weeks ago. Whatever means the most to you and your future, do it!

Smarter with skills - fix your own car when possible. Replace that faucet instead of hiring a plumber. Become your very own "Mr. Fix-It" and stop paying for someone else's labor whenever you can. You will make mistakes along the way, but that's how we humans learn. We don't learn a thing by doing everything right the first time.

When we live a frugal life...

...we have the money management skills necessary to pursue a life of financial freedom. we can take a sabbatical without a second thought about finances. We have enough saved in an emergency fund to withstand a sudden loss of our job. We have an enough extra money in our bank account to cover monthly bills if catastrophe were to strike.

If we begin to hate our job, we can move on to something else, even if that means earning less. In fact, we can simply quit on the spot if things get bad enough. Virtually anything is possible when we don't live paycheck-to-paycheck.

My dad used to tell me: "You can have anything you want, but not everything". He was right.

And frugal people know this first hand.

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Steve Adcock
Steves a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence.