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.
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
Remember, frugal does not equal cheap.
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.
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 cost. 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 can take a sabbatical without a second thought about finances. We have enough saved to withstand a sudden loss of our job. An emergency would likely not bankrupt us.
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.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.