Frugality is all the rage. When Joseph and I decided to pay off $30,000 worth of debt this year, we naturally decided to frugalize our budget. But what started out as a tool to help us reach our financial goals faster, quickly morphed into this strange pressure to spend less and less because it was the “right way” to manage our money. In other words, we were trying to keep up with the Frugal-Joneses.
If frugality means avoiding spending money as much as possible, then we are not frugal.
When it comes to money, we try to spend the least that we can while getting as much what we want as possible. Everyone wants their dollar to stretch as far as possible. And most people also have a list of wants that's even longer. In a perfect world, we'd have enough funds to meet all of our financial goals with plenty to spare, stage seven of the seven steps to financial freedom, buy we're just not there yet.
Until we reach that stage, we have to manage competing financial goals as best as we can so that our money goes at far as it can. That's where being frugal comes in.
Frugality is is a tool that we use to help us reach our financial goals, but it does not define our money mindset. We always want to make sure that we are being intentional about how we spend our money, but that doesn't mean that we will always choose to be frugal.
We have talked about how being frugal can turbo charge our financial goals. As we've worked to be more frugal to free up cash for other things, we've started to bump up against the darker side of the frugal mindset: the pressure to keep up with the Frugal-Joneses.
Are we frugal?
A few months ago we sat down to film a new Youtube video and on a whim decided to make a list of some of the ways we were incorporating frugality into our lives in order to help us meet our goal of paying off $30,000 worth of debt this year. Normally we'd spend days if not weeks planning our video content but this one was a total spur of the moment. We made the list of ten things we don't buy, shot it in one take, and uploaded it that day.
That video turned out to be our most popular video by far at 220,000 views and counting. The comments ran the gamut. Some were sad for us that we lived such deprived lives. Others said they couldn't relate because our frugal was just their regular lives. And a smaller, but very vocal subset, insisted that we weren't nearly frugal enough and so should not call ourselves frugal at all.
Frugal by choice vs necessity
Before I go any further, I want to take a moment to recognize that when we talk about frugality here on OBH, it is from a place of privilege because for us frugality is a choice. Having once been a single teen mom I am acutely aware of the difference between the two. Because of that, frugality looks a lot different to us as dual-income lawyers, than it does to someone living in poverty or even someone with a lower income generally. When we talk about frugality or saving money it's always going to be a reflection of how much money we have available to spend vs. how much we choose to spend.
Who are the Frugal-Joneses?
I think we are all pretty familiar with the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” The basic idea is that we see other people living lavish lives and feel the urge to spend to keep up with them even though we can't really afford to. Then we end up saddled with mountains of debt that are hard to dig out of. And in the end we aren't actually any happier because the high from buying things is only temporary.
The frugal mindset, on the other hand focuses on reducing comsumption, spending less, and living simply. One of the best aspects of frugality is that it encourages you to be more intentional about your money and your life. It encourages you to figure out what kinds of things actually bring you joy.
The problem comes in when frugality starts to take on a life of its own and becomes the end instead of the means. When insead of frugality being a choice, it becomes something that you have to do because you new frugal crew will judge you if you buy that new designer bag that you fell in love with a few weeks ago.
The Frugal-Joneses want you to spend the least amount possible all the time and are waiting to rip off your frugal merit badge if you don't toe the company line.
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Getting past the pressure to be uber frugal
Part of what makes One Big Happy One Big Happy is that we believe that life isn't just about one thing. It's about finding balance in the midst of competing priorities and defining what your best life looks like.
So what that means is that I may do my own hair at home to save $100 per salon visit but then turn right around and spend hundreds on home decor by making a DIY poster bed or decorating our nursery. It means that we have a budget and are constantly on the lookout for budget travel deals, but we also have a $3,000 mortgage. We might have an uber frugal no-spend month then turn around and take a family vacation to Singapore in the same year.
What initially seems like contradictions are actually just us sticking with the priorities and life goals that we have decided are important to us.
We are always reevaluating our goals, so there will be times where we will lean towards being more frugal. There will also be times when we are spending in ways that don't even remotely qualify as frugal (like when we finally take that luxury vacation that's on our life bucket list).
What's important is not how much we do or don't spend, but that whatever we do is intentional and furthers our goal of living our best life on the journey to financial independence.