This week, I’m collaborating with Sam Lustgarten of Frugaling.org on the topic of relationships and frugality. Sam is currently single and was kind enough to lend us his thoughts and advice on how he lives a fulfilling, happy, single, and frugal life.
I’m delighted to share this perspective on Frugalwoods today, since it’s a topic many of you have asked about, but that I’m not able to address from my personal experience. To round out our project, I’ll share my thoughts on marriage and frugality this Wednesday over on Frugaling.org.
I hope you’ll enjoy Sam’s insights!
By: Sam Lustgarten, Frugaling.org
I never imagined being single for this long. I never imagined declining offers from friends to spend the night out on the town, get buzzed, and clumsily talk to women. I never imagined deleting my dating profiles and focusing on my budget. But even more, I never imagined liking it – until now.
Frugality led me to this point, but it wasn’t always attractive. See, being frugal was something my grandparents showed me. They didn’t purposely teach, but their habits were evident. I was close with my four grandparents – spending many summers and holidays with them.
Frankly, as a young child, they could be a bit boring, stuffy, and dull. In their older years they mostly read, worked, and cooked their own meals. They participated in book clubs, were eager to entertain friends, listened to classical music, and wondered about local politics.
I hated it. I wanted to play my own music, eat out with friends, and not be interrupted by their simplicity. I wanted to explore and do. It felt like they wanted to relax and be. Their simplicity was my inconvenience. And so, their lessons didn’t click with me initially.
In college, I could’ve sowed my pockets shut. The money didn’t need a home or wallet. Anything I made, which was minimal, would be forked over to someone else – a corporation usually. I’d buy clothing at expensive retailers, and carelessly ignore sticker prices. I traveled across the country – East and West – because I was an exciting guy doing exciting things. I was someone others wanted to be (so I told myself). I had the fascinating Facebook.
When I dated, I chose expensive gifts and restaurants to share with those I cared about. Roses at the table, reservations at the bistro, and a $100+ bill at the end. I felt assured by their smiles, blushes, and moments of joy. Happiness was worth the cost; at least, I thought.
Eventually, something shifted in me. I clipped more coupons, saved, and managed my bank accounts online. The spending raged on, but now I could feel these inexplicable, new pains. I didn’t want to part with this money as much. I felt compelled to nonetheless.
Then graduate school happened. It was the best news of my life when I received my acceptance letter. I moved to Iowa and entered a PhD program. My heart was full of happiness that couldn’t be achieved through material goods. This moment was about inner worth and long-term goals. Dreams were being made.
Shortly after moving to Iowa, I struck up a relationship with someone who I continue to care about deeply to this day. It was a long-distance relationship, where I would fly all over to meet her, stay in lavish hotels, and try to “make” her happy.
Despite my monetary efforts and outsized spending habits, she was the first person to slow me down. She simply asked how much debt I had, and I stopped in my tracks. It hurt to be embarrassed, but I needed to be honest with her, and myself. Her question spurred me to start Frugaling.org.
Unfortunately, after countless struggles related to distance and money, we broke up. I could feel her crying over the phone, but couldn’t see her. I wanted to support her, but that was no longer my job. As the call ended, I remember walking outside and “being single.” For the first time in my life, I didn’t crave another person.
It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since that moment. Much has changed. I sold my car. I bought a bike. I sold furniture. I sold my TV. I sold books. I donated clothing. I retooled my diet. I packed more lunches. I ran and biked to work. I got up earlier. I worked harder. I connected with more people. And most importantly, I began to feel happy, alone.
It’s funny, we grow up saying, “I’ll never be like my parents and grandparents.” Then one day you wake up and you realize, “I’m exactly like them. How did this happen?”
It’s hard to deny, my grandparents’ habits rubbed off on me. When I was younger, their lives bored me to tears (literally). All I wanted was adventure and fun. Now, I crave the moments of calm, peace, and tranquility. I lust after books more than ever, eager to soak up every word. I look around me, and the subtle frugal lessons my grandparents modeled have trickled into my life.
Photos of family line my walls, music often plays in the background, and a new pot of coffee is the perfect accouterment to a good book. Life is simpler than ever, even if it’s busy.
Every now and then I get these pains. I think about whether I’ll ever find someone I crave – someone I can see getting old with. Part of me wonders whether they could understand my simple living and frugal ways. Would they be my teammate in these frugal adventures?
The jury’s out, but for now, I’m happy with who I am: frugal, simple, and passionate about helping others. And whenever I doubt this resolve, I remember the following:
- Attraction is a reflection of who you are
I stay grounded and content because I want to find someone that’s attracted to the real me. I don’t want them to be fooled into thinking I live some lavish lifestyle. Fundamentally, I continue being frugal because I want people to know that I care more about who they are, rather than the brand they’re wearing.
- Frugality, like life, is long-term
When I first started Frugaling.org and writing about my adventures in frugality, I didn’t realize I’d eventually embody that persona. Nowadays, people continuously joke about me; I’m the frugal one of the group, drinking water at the bar. Frugality is not a short-term fling because I don’t have the means to live a more fanciful lifestyle. It’s a part of me that I cannot remove – and wouldn’t want to!
- Money can disrupt relationships
Unfortunately, monetary differences are frequently one of the greatest causes for domestic arguments and separations. Whether it’s financial instability or disagreements about how it could be best spent, money is at the root of many concerns. What this tells me is that people are matching up with others who have different means and temperaments around money. If a relationship eventually materializes for me, I hope that the values of frugality are shared.
As always, I’d love to know what your experience has been. What keeps you grounded and motivated to be frugal? How do relationships help, hinder, or hurt your ability to stay frugal? Is it easier to be single or in a relationship when trying to save money, why or why not? I look forward to your input!
Sam Lustgarten is the founder of Frugaling.org and a doctoral student in counseling psychology at The University of Iowa. His personal finance website focuses on issues of social justice and consumerism, which are at the heart of many money concerns.