Frugal. Over the course of the 20th century, frugal has become a dirty word synonymous with the word cheap. Once upon a time, being frugal was a revered skill set that almost all families needed to survive. Poor families on one income needed frugality to be able to feed their kids and pay the rent/mortgage. There was no room for any of the luxuries we all consider to be standard necessities now.
Unfortunately, over time the consumerist economy has increased the average Joe’s expected standard of living and the concept of frugality seems to have gone the way of the dodo bird. Being frugal has come to mean depriving yourself of the joys in life; and has been replaced with the concept of “Keeping up with the Joneses”, a phrase that originated in the form of a 1913-1939 comic strip of the same name.
The purpose of this comic was to make fun of the never ending need of human beings to impress each other and bring people back to a simpler time. Sad to say that I don’t think it worked. Nowadays people try to keep up with celebrities, friends, coworkers and people they barely even know. Social media only makes this more pervasive when people spend their day reading about everyone else’s highlights when they’re stuck cleaning the house, working overtime or slogging their way out of student loan debt. We’ve all been through that feeling of inadequacy in some way or another.
However, the way to deal with this feeling isn’t to get into more debt to get the brand new car or take the extra luxurious vacation. The average American at the end of 2016 owed $16,061 in credit card debt, which means odds are that the “Joneses” can’t afford to keep up with themselves. The media has advertised an ordinary life as being boring in order to get people to buy expensive clothes, have a $30,000 wedding, a BMW and a vacation home in order to prove that their life has been a success. This is not how the true value of a life is measured and will never make that inadequate feeling go away.
The way to deal with the feeling of having just an “ordinary life” because it lacks X shiny new thing is to become comfortable with the idea of having enough. Enough to create happiness but, not enough to promote waste. According to Financial Independence pioneers Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, authors of Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL), frugality is:
Enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have the use of.
This really boils down to: learning to be happy with what you have. Once you realize that you have a lot of stuff, it doesn’t seem to matter that you don’t have more stuff. Keeping this in perspective the next time you think you “need” the brand new iPhone will not only save you money but, bring you peace of mind.
Of course there is both an upper limit and a lower limit, as with all things. The upper limit being gold plated toilets and the lower limit being living under a bridge with a troll as a roommate to save on rent. What I’m talking about is finding that happy medium where you can ask yourself: “Do I really benefit from spending my time and energy to pay for this?” and being able to honestly answer before deciding to spend your hard earned money.
So, my advice to you, dear reader (Hi Mom!), is to forget the Joneses and pay attention to the needs of yourself and your family. Once you know what you need and what you truly want out of life, you can better enjoy the virtue of getting good value for every minute of life energy. Your values dictate where your life goes and frugality is merely a skill set to help get you there.
Let me know your thoughts on being frugal. What does being frugal vs being cheap mean to you?