I’m not perfect. Far from it, my friends. And frugal weirdos, by our very nature, are imperfect creatures. In fact, I’d go so far as to wager that perfection is the enemy of frugality. The more perfect I want something to be, the more expensive it’s going to be. This doesn’t apply in every single instance, but more often than not, embracing imperfection is tantamount to embracing frugality. And this is about far more than the consummate frugal abhorrence of “keeping up with the Joneses.” This is about keeping up with our own internal metrics of perfection. I know this because I used to be a perfectionist.
Keeping Up With Yourself
Once upon a time, I wanted everything to be as perfect as possible and I drove myself to distraction trying to achieve the one thing no one ever can: perfection. Chasing a false idol is exhausting and ultimately, you’re going to lose. So why was I torturing myself? I’d bought into the concept that if I just worked a bit harder, smarter, and faster, I really could be perfect.
My drive for perfection extended beyond that which can be purchased and I’ve discussed how I overcame the emotional aspects of wanting to project the perfect life in How I Let Go Of Caring What People Think; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Future; Less Makeup, More Confidence: My Frugal Beauty Manifesto; and Why I Won’t Judge Your Spending. But today, I’m staunchly in the realm of the frugal weirdo and the power the purse wields to deliver us from the futile drive for perfection.
Frugality never yields perfection. It is a humorous and imperfect pursuit of creativity, ingenuity, hacks, self-taught skills, and counter-culture modes of existence. Never has anyone called a hack perfect (although I must say our Sodastream hack works pretty darn perfectly).
On second thought, let’s explore that particular frugal hack in greater depth. Is it actually “perfect”? Heck no! There’s a freaking hose running from our seltzer machine to a 20lb CO2 tank tucked (safely and securely, fear not) behind our kitchen trash can. But who cares? We save $461.40 a year by tolerating this random black hose and as a bonus, it’s a fabulous conversation starter for visitors to our kitchen.
Our Sodastream hack is but one example of the imperfection that we allow, and even welcome, into our lives in pursuit of extreme frugality. Sure, we like things clean, tidy, and properly working, but beyond the basics, Mr. Frugalwoods and I are quite tolerant of the less-than-ideal.
What we’ve discovered over the course of our journey to saving 71%+ of our income and pursing the life we want (quitting our rat race jobs and retiring to a homestead in the woods at age 33) is that accepting imperfection is not only frugal, it’s also liberating. Instead of chasing our tails, we spend time learning new skills and devising ways to circumvent the consumer spending machine. Far more interesting and fulfilling than simply slapping down money to solve every little inconvenient nuance that comes our way.
So why didn’t Mr. FW and I always take this approach to life? Because we feared falling short of perfection and because we’re our own worst enemies in this fight against the perfect. Our own picture of what the optimal life should encompass held us back. It’s not like anyone else in the world cares if we have a black hose running from our Sodastream–that type of preoccupation was all on us.
Buying Into Perfection: It’s What All Good Consumers Do
We’re all smart people and thus, we all know perfection isn’t attainable. Right? But for some reason, our culture harps on this ephemeral state as if it were as realistic as Frugal Hound’s love for chicken treats (which is blatantly real). Marketing campaigns and pop culture implore us to “get that perfect bikini body”; “design the perfect living room”; “create your dream wedding”; and “attain the perfect <fill in the blank>” ad infinitum. We all realize these ads are hyperbole, yet they haunt us still.
What could be wrong with my body that means it’s not already perfect? Is my living room lacking in some way? Did I actually have my dream wedding??? These ads sow doubt and insecurity, which are the lifeblood of consumption. When we’re insecure and uncertain about our stuff, our lives, our bodies–society has the answer right there for us: just go buy things and life will be… perfect!
The problem with this retail therapy approach is that unfortunately, we’re not cured with just one dose of shopping. Quite the contrary. Once we ascribe to the notion that our problems are ameliorated through spending, we’re fully-fledged riders on the consumer carousel.
No sooner have we purchased the latest in drapery for our living room when we’re told we should also buy the trendiest new throw rug and accent pillow ensemble. And don’t forget the casually draped throw blanket and matching candle holders. All this purchasing and we still haven’t quite emulated the perfect living room. These examples can be applied to any aspect of the consumer frenzy: clothes, cars, baby accoutrements (don’t even get me started), and perhaps most frightening of all–houses.
Stepping onto the consumer carousel signs us up for a lifetime of endless buying in order to hew to the lifestyle we perceive everyone else enjoys. I think we buy because we’re calculating our self-worth based on an internal conception of the ideal life. By unburdening ourselves of the chains created by our own insecurities, we can suddenly stop spending and start living.
Attain Inner Peace Through Insourcing
By insourcing just about every task imaginable, Mr. FW and I save thousands of dollars every year. We’ve also permanently reduced our dependency on paying other people. After we took the plunge and decided to give each other haircuts at home, for example, we’re not going to suddenly un-learn how to cut our hair and scamper back to paying exorbitant (or even discount) rates at a salon.
Mr. FW and I have discovered that once you go frugal, you don’t go back. There’s just no reason to! Once we’ve empowered ourselves to say, install our own storm door, we realize that we can teach ourselves to do just about anything (thank you, YouTube and the internet writ large).
And the linchpin is that we’re at peace with the imperfection inherent in doing projects ourselves. Is the haircut Mr. FW gives me every few months as perfect as the salon I used to go to? No, but it’s good enough. To get the “most perfect” haircut imaginable, I’d have to pay upwards of $100 at a salon.
However, I don’t require that margin of accuracy in my life. I guarantee you no one cares what my hair looks like and most importantly, I certainly don’t. We’ve let go of the self-imposed expectations we used to levy on everything from our appearances to the way we cook our food.
I’d much rather bank every single penny of that haircut and have the freedom to do what I want with my life. Plus, there’s nothing quite as sweet as having my bearded, 6’3″ husband lovingly comb out and carefully cut my hair in our bathroom. You should hear him talk about split ends and angling towards the face–the man knows his haircutting stuff.
How The 80/20 Rule Changed Our Lives
Mr. FW and I often refer to the Pareto Principle, which states that “…80 percent of consequences stem from 20 percent of causes.” In terms of frugality, this means we can achieve a result that’s 80% perfect for 20% of the cost/effort. And the inverse is also true–the final 20% of benefit will take 80% of the cost/effort.
The prime example of the Pareto Principle in our lives is in our home improvement undertakings. Since we’ve never hired anyone to help us with our projects, they’re all about 80% perfect.
Check out our kitchen cabinets, which we painted ourselves. If you come over to our house and inspect them closely, you might see the occasional brush stroke or spot that could’ve been sanded more carefully.
If we’d hired professional cabinet painters, they would’ve shooed us out of the way, used a sprayer, and delivered “perfect” painted cabinets to us–for the princely sum of circa $2,000. Conversely, Mr. FW and I spent a few weekends doing the project ourselves and spent a mere $183.45 for cabinets that sure look lovely to us.
Since we’re ruthless efficiency mavens and frugality pursuers, getting 80% of the result from far less than 20% of the cost is well worth it to us. Plus, we now have the skill of cabinet refinishing under our frugal belts and we can employ that again in a future home.
The Satisfaction of Doing it Yourself
It’s also vastly more satisfying to DIY. When you pay someone else for their services, you have no concept of the effort that goes into the final product. You just fork over your cash (or heaven forbid, your credit) and tell them to do something for you. But when you do it yourself, you know the intimate details of everything you learned in the process. It’s akin to baking a cake.
The carrot cake I made last weekend was scrumptious, but I bet I could’ve purchased an even more perfect cake for $20 from the upscale bakery in our neighborhood. But why would I do that? There’s no fulfillment or sense of accomplishment in buying a cake, there’s just…. a cake.
By baking it from scratch myself, I gained a new skill (I’d never made a carrot cake before), I enjoyed the process, I saved a ton of money, Mr. FW got involved thus making it a family affair, and I was able to serve it warm from the over to our guests (Jeff, his wife, and daughter from Sustainable Life Blog, who we were delighted to host for the weekend 🙂 ).
As I write this, I’m sitting at our Craigslist dining room table glancing around our home and I realize that just about everything I see is an example of pursuing the frugal over the perfect. I look across the table at Mr. FW and the haircut I gave him and think, that looks pretty darn good! I then scan the kitchen and think, those cabinets are looking fine! I then look at the curtains we installed and think, the fact that they’re a tad uneven is barely noticeable! Then I pan the living room and think, our furniture is all used and mismatched, but darn if I don’t like it all! I glance at the staircase we refinished and hey, it’s looking nice!
Frugal Hound just clacked by and I think, we did a fabulous job grooming her and trimming her nails! I can even peek into our bedroom if I lean forward (well, my Babywoods bump is sort of in the way), and spy the corner of our $279 mattress, which is very comfortable and just as good as a mattress five times the price. I’m drinking Costco coffee from a mug I pulled out of the trash, and it tastes just fine! In all of these instances, we could’ve paid two, three, four, even five times the price for a “more perfect” result, but for what reason? When we can achieve happiness for so much less, why spend more?
Your Money, Your Life, Your Stuff
Our lives are an amalgamation of the spending decisions we make. I fervently admire people who are able to live supremely minimal lives with very few possessions, but I’m honestly not one of them.
I like having three different chairs plus a couch for our guests to recline in, and I like having a dog, who isn’t the most frugal beast on earth, and I like having a car so that we can drive out to the mountains to hike whenever we want, and I like having a bunch of clothes to choose from (even though I haven’t purchased any in 17 months and counting).
None of this stuff cost us anywhere near what you’d expect. For a fraction of the price, we sourced all of these items imperfectly. They’re all used or extremely inexpensive (we did buy our mattress new, for example) and not a single piece of it is perfect.
But the flaws of our life are what enable our lifestyle. By fully embracing the imperfection intrinsic to buying used, doing everything ourselves, and using old items until they’re completely used up (ahem, our 19-year-old car being a prime example), we live a life of frugal luxury. And the key determinant in making this approach possible is our own mindsets.
Our freedom from the perfect didn’t come from society or from our friends or from the apocryphal Joneses–it came from an internal decision we made to disavow perfection in favor of joyful frugality.
We have everything we could ever want, but all for a modicum of expense. We’ve circumvented the consumer madness machine and carved out a life that’s peaceful, happy and one where we’re completely at ease with who we are. We know what we want out of life and we don’t have anything to prove with our stuff or our appearances. We buy what we need and we just flat out don’t buy anything else.
Mr. FW and I have freed ourselves from the expectations that our image-focused society tries to impose on us. And in the process, we’ve found the frugal loophole. Through frugality, you can chart your way right out of the rat race and right into the life you actually want to live every single day.