This article is about the idea that frugality, or living more simply financially, can buy you freedom both in the long run and in the short run.
Frugality does not have to be a painful and difficult sacrifice. Frugality does not mean you must become a greedy, covetous Ebenezer Scrooge. Like people who love exercise or enjoy eating healthy foods, frugality can become a way of life that is both fun and financially rewarding.
I usually write about frugality when describing the path to financial freedom, where income from your investments surpasses your personal overhead. The math is pretty simple to reach this destination, but how long it takes depends upon a key measure of frugality, your savings rate.
But, freedom isn’t just the final destination. It starts when you payoff one credit card balance, reduce your cell phone bill by $50/month (see the Rule of 173), or find free entertainment that is fun.
Freedom also begins with increased confidence and decreased fear about money and investment. Freedom continues to build as you make better and better choices.
The main point I’d like to make is this:
Every dollar you spend is really a choice between the object you purchase and increased life options. Frugality, or deliberately spending less, is actually a conscious choice to purchase more freedom.
With the help of marketers, we have an unspoken assumption that the worthwhile things in life must be purchased. In many ways this makes sense because who doesn’t like fun trips, good food, clothes, comfortable furniture, electronics, gifts for family, houses, or cars.
I don’t have an inherent problem with any of these money choices, but I do wonder if we really understand the opportunity cost of chronic overspending in these areas?
If we knew that our daily spending choices deprive us of the most valuable things in life, like time, options, and flexibility, would we change our spending habits?
The value of frugality is not as obvious as highly marketed items in stores. Marketers in the U.S. spent $180 billion dollars last year trying to convince you of the value of their products and services. Only independent weirdos like me (and JMoney at BudgetsAreSexy.com) are telling you the value of spending less!
Here are a couple of examples where I’ll try to convince you of my “weird” point of view.
Buying Job Independence With Frugality
Frugality can buy yourself the right to say no to activities that don’t fulfill you or make you happy. This shows itself most of all with your work career.
Being a slave to your job means you can’t afford to walk away or to take a job you enjoy more that pays less. How many employees stay in a particular job because of the shackle of income security?
Before you reach the crossover point to financial independence, frugality and savings are the only leverage you have to control your work destiny. When you have less money going out each month, you can choose to take a lower paying job or to negotiate better terms with your existing job.
I love this article at jlcollinsnh.com which describes this concept as “F-You Money” (don’t worry, no actual vulgarity:) and what it means in the job market.
Frugality has allowed me to work as a small entrepreneur for my entire career. I love the simple things about staying small and working for myself. I like setting my own schedule, choosing what I wear in the morning, eating casual breakfasts and lunches with my family, and taking trips without asking for permission from anyone.
I had job opportunities along the way with higher and more stable incomes, but I would have lost my flexibility and control of my time so I turned them all down.
For too many people an unpleasant job situation controls a large majority or their waking hours. If they could buy a lottery ticket that was guaranteed to start freeing them from this condition today and not years from now in retirement, most people would.
Frugality, to me, is that winning lottery ticket.
Buying Your Life Back With Frugality
I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Once work is not such a burden, what else do you want to do with your life? Are there hobbies, activities, or contributions that reflect the essence of life for you? Frugality can actually buy you more time and flexibility for these life-enriching uses of your time.
In case nothing is coming to mind, here are few that I hear often from others:
- More time to coach your children’s soccer teams
- More time to exercise
- More time to prepare healthier meals
- More time and flexibility to travel and see the world
- More time to work in the garden, do crafts, work with wood
- More time and flexibility to contribute to important causes and non-profits
- More time to start a new business for fun and profit
The wonderful thing about freedom is that the specific definition is so different for each one of us. If you want to put a true positive value on frugal choices, it helps to get clear on what life-enriching activities that frugality is purchasing. This can be a simple process of taking out a pen and piece of paper and writing it down.
At least for me, most of the things I listed required much more time and flexibility than they did money. And for the things that required money, a little creativity and patience meant I could have them as well over time.
I realize that this is a touchy subject, and there are no black and white road maps to describe what frugality should look like in your own life. But, I challenge you to think hard on this subject. Ask yourself some tough questions, and see if there is room for you to get better.
- Do you have room to improve in your spending habits? If so, specifically where are they?
- What are your preconceptions about frugality?
- What are your knee-jerk objections and “yeah buts …” that came to mind when you read this?
- How do the benefits and costs of frugality balance out in your own life?
- Where is your comfort zone in this area, and where are the edges where you can stretch yourself?
I appreciate the opportunity to share with you. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.
What does frugality mean to you? What are the different levels of freedom you’ve experienced in your life? Would you leave your job if you could? Or would having less money worries allow you to enjoy your current job more? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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