For some, frugality sparks images of wearing threadbare socks, living without heating or cooling, and eating a diet of rice and beans in order to pinch every penny to an extreme.
Some of us may have lived with a parent or grandparent who instilled in us that frugality is a form of punishment or extreme deprivation, but luckily, it doesn’t have to be.
For people in the FI community, frugality is a tool to freedom, and simply, one of many that can be deployed to help us lead happier, and literally, richer lives.
Frugality As Deprivation Isn’t Sustainable
Have you ever been on a diet? The more we tell ourselves we can’t have chocolate cake, the more we want it. We demonize food and deprive ourselves of things our mind and body craves–that is, until we can be off this stupid diet and eat what we want again. It’s a lot of suffering to lose those five lbs.!
You may also know, that most diets fail not because they don’t help us lose weight, but that the behavior of deprivation simply isn’t sustainable. For a very short period of time, it gets us to our goals–but we invariable rebound twice as hard, putting back on whatever weight we might have lost.
Extreme frugality that’s treated like deprivation may help us cut costs for a time, but using it to create a joyless existence sets us up for short term gains and terrible rebounds. Much like a diet, if we treat frugality as a punishment to get to a goal, we may make strides for a time, but grow to resent it and rebound with bad behavior.
Frugality Is A Tool For Freedom
The first guidepost for effective frugality is that it should feel like freedom, not like punishment. Your path to financial independence does not have to be, nor should it be, years of isolation and deprivation to get you to some eventual bank account nirvana. Truly, to find happiness tomorrow, one must work to find it in little ways today.
Frugality, when employed correctly helps you align your spending with your goals and pinch pennies where it gives you the most satisfaction. Truly, everything in your life can be made frugal without having to eliminate it completely. It’s vital to take stock of what gives you the biggest emotional payout, and use frugality to make it more affordable.
You do not need to demonize your love of football, new clothes, or vacations to be frugal, but you can use frugality to find creative solutions to have what you want, but spend less on it, or, find alternative methods to get the same satisfaction.
Anything you want can be frugalized without needing to eliminate it completely–simply get creative and ask other FI’ers for ideas. The alley internet will provide my friends!
Frugality Should Be A Fun Experiment
Frugality would be far less interesting if it was simply a matter of eliminating need. It’s technically easy to stop using electricity or going without television (you simply stop using it) but it’s far more interesting to tinker and experiment with frugality in new ways to optimize your life!
Seeing frugality as a big monthly experiment, means you can have your cake and eat it too, and likely pay less for it the process! Every month is a new opportunity to look at your expenditures and cut the fluff, optimize your output and even maximize your input.
Surely, you don’t want to live without air conditioning in the peak of summer, but you can surely find interesting and effective ways to cut your energy bills–maybe even pick up some insulation skills along the way.
Making frugality a chance to say “yes, but how” instead of simply “no” to life’s desires makes it far more interesting. Experimenting and gamifying your frugality instead of simply saying no is way more fun!
Eating out less can seem terrible when approached from a deprivation mindset, but approaching it from a frugal mindset means you might find pleasure in learning a new skill in the kitchen to knock off your favorite recipes at home. Sure, you may have some pretty laughable Pad Thai the first few times you try, but seeing it as an experiment and your skills as a work in process make frugality engaging.
Related: How To Start Commuting By Bicycle
All In All, Frugality Shouldn’t Suck
In closing, if you still think frugality has to be a real drag, I have to ask you–what are you FI’ing for? If you spend your entire 10, 20 or 30 years working towards financial independence with a punishment or deprivation mindset, what is the point of it at all?
Financial independence will be fool’s gold at the end of the rainbow if you think that hitting your FI number will suddenly be the permission you need to live your life fully. Frugality is a tool, not a dogma. It should be a useful hack, not a punishment, to help you innovate your way to freedom on your own terms (even if those terms means you drive a car instead of biking to the grocery store!)
If you’re working on cutting costs and it starts to feel totally un-fun, take some time to assess if you’re approaching FI with a frugal mindset (have what you want, but smarter) or a deprivation mindset (you can’t have what you want) and see what’s serving you and your goals.
If you’ve felt frugality is holding you back from enjoying the journey, it might be time to reassess your approach and gamify your tactics. “Yes, but how” is way more fun than simply saying “no.” Have your frugal cake and eat it too, friends!