I don’t care what people think about me. I’ve shared this sentiment with you all before, and it’s not that I don’t care about people, I just don’t happen to put much stock in their opinion of me. I’m confident in who I am and the choices I make and I don’t let the desire to impress or prove myself guide the decisions I make with regard to spending or my life trajectory.
I do value the advice and guidance of friends, family, and my stalwart online frugal crew (that’d be you), but I’m not hung up on what anyone thinks about my appearance, success, or penchant for the extremely frugal. I used to care about these things—A LOT—and it consumed my life. I was stressed, always in a rush, constantly self-doubting, and rarely content. Not the best way to go through life. It’s a much better existence to be my authentic self and make decisions based on the goals that Mr. Frugalwoods and I have for early retirement and homesteading.
The Other Side Of Not Caring
Something I’ve realized is that there’s another, equally important aspect of not caring—it’s the other side of this equation and I call it “not judging.” Yes, I know, I’m amazingly original in my titles ;). But, in all honesty, “not judging” pretty much sums it up. Just as I don’t pay heed to the judgments of others, I in turn don’t judge.
As I experience more of life (that’s a nice way of saying “age”), I’ve come to appreciate the incredibly diverse trajectories we’re all on. Everyone is working through their own challenges, secret heartaches, hidden victories, and unknown insecurities.
I touched on this briefly in my exploration of the pain we encountered in our struggle with infertility because that experience heightened this awareness.
It is so easy to judge. I’m guilty of it all the time (just ask Mr. FW). It’s deliciously effortless to fall into the habit of thinking that I know what other people are going through and that I, in my eminent wisdom, know how they should improve their lives. I could (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I sometimes do) think unkind thoughts such as, “well, if those people would just stop eating out, they’d be out of debt in no time” or “they don’t look like they can afford that car—bet they’re paying off a loan at a ridiculous percentage every month.”
But then I snap the proverbial rubber band on my wrist and remind myself that I have no right to judge anyone and no clue what their lives are actually like. When I find those judgments creeping in, I remind myself that people probably see Mr. FW and I cruising around in our 19-year-old banged-up, rusting out minivan (the illustrious Frugalwoods-mobile) and make the assessment that we’re poor, terrible with our money, and probably in debt up to our eyeballs (when of course, we’re in the exact opposite situation).
I’m also a fairly multi-faceted person. I’ve been told I don’t “fit into a box,” or “adhere to norms,” and it’s true. We all have many dimensions to our personalities, and to our spending. Just as the clothes I’m wearing today (a very nice hand-me-down dress from a high-end maternity store and a J. Crew cardigan I purchased on clearance with a gift card) belie the fact that I’m ridiculously frugal and will be retiring early, so too someone else’s spending decisions don’t encapsulate who they are. As humans, I think we crave the ability to categorize and stereotype, but it doesn’t work that way.
Plus, I am keenly aware that Mr. FW and I are lucky, lucky people. We’re privileged beyond belief (see: The Privilege Of Pursuing Financial Independence), we live in a wealthy country, we’re healthy and able-bodied, and we’re very well educated. Since I live with those facts every day, I take them for granted. I don’t have to suffer with a terminal illness as I do housework or battle to understand forms I need to fill out for my 401k, for example. That stuff is easy for me, which is not the case for everyone.
I Won’t Judge Your Spending
People often assume that because I espouse the extreme frugality philosophy, I’ll heckle them for spendy decisions. But I won’t! I might not make the decision myself to buy a new car, for example, but if other people want to do that—who am I to judge?
The one thing I want to convey is that frugality is an awesome alternative to our dominant, debt-laden consumer culture. But, if it’s not your thing, that’s OK! I just don’t want anyone to go through life not knowing about the joys a frugal existence can provide. I’m a mission to spread the frugal word. However, I’m not out to convert you. Striking that balance between sharing how fabulous frugality is for me and not judging others for choosing a different financial path is something I think about a lot.
Much of the early retirement canon is rather polarizing and casts the debate as “us smart, frugal people” vs. “those dumb, spendy people.” I’m frankly not comfortable with this dogmatic approach. There are countless permutations of frugality and of how people want—and need—to live their lives. We’re all beholden to a unique set of circumstances, backgrounds, and goals.
Trying to impose the same standard of fiscal management on everyone is akin to attempting to stop Frugal Hound from chasing squirrels in her sleep: pointless and you’ll probably get scratched.
I do firmly believe that financial education in our country is abysmal at best and I think we’d all (myself included) benefit from more robust opportunities for understanding our finances. But, I don’t believe we should all take the exact same path towards retirement, savings, or spending. For example, while using credit cards and their attendant rewards is a terrific tactic for Mr. FW and me, it’s not the wisest approach for everyone. Using credit cards could be disastrous for folks who are prone to overspend and who wouldn’t be able to pay off their balance in full every month!
Similarly, the fact that Mr. FW and I spend $10.68 on a pound of luscious, organic, fair trade coffee beans every other week could be deemed an atrocious luxury of overspending. What if that was all that someone knew about the Frugalwoods family? What if they were judging us as we checked out with our beans in tow at the organic market?
They’d assume we were spendthrift money philanderers with no regard for our fiscal health. And the same is true in the reverse—how dare I judge someone else for buying brand-new baby clothes? Just because I’ve benefitted from hand-me-down and garage sale baby clothes doesn’t mean that everyone can or will.
Why This Outlook Is Core To Happy Frugality
I grapple with the conflicting desires of wanting to convey how very possible it is to save over 70% of your income and also wanting to explain why this actually might not be possible for everyone. It’s a catch-22 in many ways, but my grounding force is my steadfast belief that everyone should be working towards their own true purpose and goal in life. When you’re focused on what you want out of life, and are doing what it takes to make that happen, then there’s no reason to worry about judging or being judged.
I’d wager that the twin traits of not caring and not judging are central tenets of happy frugality. The absence of both from my life allows me to ruthlessly pursue my frugal weirdo tactics and also opens my eyes to the possibility that someone else might be doing it better than me. I consider life an opportunity for endless learning and growth. By not focusing on what people think about me, I’m free to wear used clothes, drive an ancient car, eat all my meals at home, and have Mr. FW cut my hair. All of this enables me to reach peak frugality.
And by not judging others, I’m continually opening myself up to the sharing economy of not only tangible things, but of ideas. If I were closed in my commitment to frugality, and unwilling to listen to new thoughts and advice, I’d be tremendously limited in my scope. I’d lose out on the potential to expand my repertoire of frugal hacks.
Plus, judging others gives me a bitter outlook—it makes me misanthropic and nasty. It might feel good for a moment to consider myself superior to someone else, but then I just feel like a scoundrel. This isn’t to say I’ve mastered the Zen art of never judging, it’s just that I’m much more aware of the tendency and I try to shun it.
The moment I feel a judgment coming on, I try to thwack it back and I force myself to think something charitable about the person instead. After all, they’re on their own path and I’m on mine. How wonderful it would be if we could all learn from each other instead of only seeking to judge and compare.