Perfection Is The Enemy Of Frugality
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.
What do you think, is perfection the enemy of frugality? Are we our own worst enemies in this battle?
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I love this post a lot! I’m glad we have a female voice out there promoting MMM-style optimism – I relate to you much more than him!
Thank you so much! I take that as a huge compliment :).
Huge fan of MMM and I just discovered your blog! Glad to have another one to add to the list 🙂
Thanks, Kate :). So glad to have you here!
Our mantras for this principle is “life is not about our preferences” and “not everything has to be our favorite.” Our home furnishings are almost all mix-matched free or used items that are a far cry from a Good Housekeeping spread, but do the job just fine. Plus our children are systematically destroying everything, and not having pristine possessions makes this a lot easier to take! My husband also gladly tolerates a less-than-perfect haircut from me, and we’ve been living with half our deck dismantled as he DIYs a major home repair in his limited free time. The less particular we are, the less we have to spend. And as a fellow former perfectionist, I can testify this attitude can be learned.
Preach! 100% agree with your mantras. That has all very much been our experience too. The first time Frugal Hound wiped her nose on our couch, I thought, this is exactly why I wanted a used couch ;)! And, you’re so right, this is absolutely something one can learn and incorporate into life.
Great point. I do think perfection the enemy of frugality, because you end up paying more for perfection. Like you said if your are okay with things being 80% perfect you can save some money. It’s about having the mindset change and accepting that 80% is okay.
Absolutely! There’s serious money to be saved by avoiding perfectionism 🙂
Excellent insight – this is not obvious at first and very grounding.
Thank you, Patrick!
I’m with you that perfection is the enemy of frugality. I view perfection as anything that marketers are trying to make me buy or do. 99 times out of 100, whatever the marketers want me to buy doesn’t make my life any better. Perhaps easier for a moment, but rarely better. Stepping off the consumption moving walkway is so freeing. I can focus on “does it work?” or “is it functional?” instead of trying to follow what is the latest and greatest.
Totally! Those pesky marketers usually don’t know what’s best for us. And I agree, “is it functional” is a far better metric than newest/shiniest.
Yes perfection is the enemy of frugality. I embrace imperfections more now that I am so much more frugal.
I would add that this applies to frugality itself as well. In the ‘perfect’ frugal healthy food budget, there would be no room for frozen pizza. I have often fallen into the trap of thinking that all meals need to be nutritionally complete, as inexpensive as possible, and made from scratch. For me, aiming for 100% perfection on this inevitably ends in failure. And take-out.
Perfectly said! Wish I’d thought of that! As a frozen pizza eater, I can absolutely attest that you gotta let yourself off the hook on all fronts–frugal and spendy.
Perfection is also kind of boring, and discourages the vulnerability and depth we need to grow deep lives and relationships. Thanks for this post!
Agreed! Perfection is kind of boring!!! 🙂 I really enjoy visiting people and seeing the furniture/decor they have acquired over the years – not all matching – and most with a story or two to go along with it. My house certainly doesn’t match either. I think it lends charm and allows personality and taste to show through.
Completely agree! Julia–you make a great point about the absence of depth in a “perfect” life. When we open ourselves up, we’re able to connect with people on a much more intimate level. And Laura–I’m with you, I love the stories that accompany people’s eclectic surroundings :).
I find myself time and again reaching for that unattainable sense of perfection and completeness, but like you, I’m learning to let go. If the universe can’t be perfect due to entropy, who or what says we can be? Rock on Mrs. FW.
Totally–just let go 🙂
Spot on my good frugal friends. Our own house is clean enough, nice enough, and comfortable enough. Our cars run well enough. Our 50″ HDTV is big enough and new enough. Our computers are fast enough. Everything we own is good enough. Good enough, that is, to satisfy its role in our life. We lack for nothing in our world of frugal abundance yet hardly anything in our life is 100% perfect. It takes way too much effort to get from 80% or 95% perfect to 100% perfect. No thanks!
Good enough is a pretty sound metric, in my experience. You can go a long way in life on that :). Also, I love “frugal abundance”–that’s exactly how we feel about our life too.
I do think perfectionism overall is…well, just unattainable. And absolutely marketers prey upon our sometimes fragile self-esteem that once we have this thing or that thing, our lives will be so much better. Man, just drive around LA and it’s loaded with weight loss surgery ads! I do, however, think it’s OK to buy whatever is important to YOU to feel good. FOR YOU. No one else. So my haircut is more important to me and would not want someone else to cut it because it’s short and easy to mess up, however, my kitchen cabinets and apt in general is a hot mess with peeling paint and generally very old, but I could care a less and could care a less what anyone else thinks about it. While you did it yourself, you did still spend money on it, because it was important to YOU! And I think that is the very basis of frugality. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder! 🙂
Preach, my friend! Per our conversation last night, I’m all for spending on what matters to you personally (and forgetting all the rest). I honestly think that’s the golden ticket to frugality and peace.
It took me a long time to learn that perfection is the enemy of everything . . . and it’s a lesson I have to re-teach myself almost every day. Perfectionism is an obstacle to being a good lawyer, a good wife, and now, a good mother!
Wow, this post and comment make me realize how important it is to shun perfection.
I just put in fake grass in my front yard. First, no one could believe it that a home owner would be doing it. Then, so many hacks to save money. For example, the sand they offered to put on top of the turf was $32 for a gallon bucket. I just used industrial sand, $8 for 100 pounds.
Also about the comment Ms Frugalwoods said about hair–I’ve been doing my own hair for many a year. I remember when I used to get my hair done professionally and the amount of time just to make sure my sideburns were even. Well, after 10 years of cutting my own hair, not one person has come up to me and mentioned that one of my sideburns is longer than the other.
I’m sure glad that’s my experience, otherwise I’d be mortified now if someone noticed a sideburn was 1/16″ longer than the other.
DebtFreeJD–you’re so right. Perfectionism really is the enemy of doing just about everything in life to the best of your own personal abilities. P.S. congrats on your new bundle of joy :)!!!
Mike–exactly! No one cares about your (or Mr. FW’s) sideburn length! And if they do, uh, they should probably get a hobby ;).
this reminds me of a saying/phrase we used in theatre…
We, as artists and humans, overanalyze things. I can look at a stage and see a tiny black rope out of place but the saying goes, “If the audience notices that tiny black rope we haven’t done our job.” Our job is to tell the story and connect and that’s really our job in life, too. If we are connecting no one cares to notice the imperfections.
I struggle with the want to be perfect sometimes. It’s way better than it used to be, but I still strive for a little too close to perfect sometimes.
Fight the power! Be imperfect like me :)!
I definitely agree with this! Especially when it comes to things around the house (like your soda stream hack). If you’re willing to not have something look quite as perfect, you can save a ton of money! Although there are times that I would prefer to pay a bit more to get the exact look I want, but it just depends on the situation. At the end of the day, it should only matter what YOU think, not what anyone else does.
Totally agree–it’s all about what’s important to you and what you value.
I definitely do think that perfection is an enemy of frugality. Growing up through a digital age, you experience the bombardment of marketing & advertising. What’s the next big thing, how to “fit in” at school, what will make you successful after you graduate, and so on. The challenging part is that most people around you are buying in to the same narrative, and with that tunnel vision people begin to form hobbies/passions/wants that require creating that “perfection” by spending copious amounts of money. On the contrary, I am delighted by the internet because it allows people to take on tasks without outsourcing and forking over money. This allows for people to take on frugality practices. I love to hear your stories about the tasks you’ve taken on with your home – it makes me look forward to taking on such tasks in the future when we do purchase ourselves! Oh, and by the way – at only 7:00am you have officially made me crave carrot cake, it looks divine! 🙂
I agree with you on the wonder of the internet to enable frugality. It really is a vital tool for us since it’s hard to find folks in real life who want to insource/frugal it up as much as we do. Having this online community is a lifesaver! I just wish we had more local people we could borrow/share tools with. And for what it’s worth, I seem to constantly crave carrot cake these days, so I don’t think your 7am craving is too out of line at all :).
One other benefit of taking used over brand new is that I don’t have to worry about the item getting a scratch or wear mark. Chances are if it’s not new it already is ‘broken in’. It’s like that first scratch on your new car is such a disaster, but by year two you don’t notice it any more.
Absolutely! We say this all the time! It’s especially an advantage since we have our car in the city parked on the street–there’s always a new ding or dent, but we could care less. And, since Frugal Hound likes to wipe her hound snout on our couch, we’re glad it’s used :).
Like DebtFreeJD pointed out, I think perfectionism is pretty much the enemy of everything – especially when it comes to anything financial in nature. You touched on a huge issue when it comes to advertising, this coming from someone who works in the field, is that we think some random new object is going to solve all of our problems. The simple truth is that it won’t as it’s something that has been sold to you. We can be our own worst enemies, though there are many ways to mitigate it – mainly looking at your priorities and seeing how said purchase will get you closer or further away from your goals.
Advertising is definitely a danger! Hewing to your priorities is great advice–I think focusing on what you really want makes it easy not to spend on the meaningless tertiary things in life.
Definitely agree with this! Even if things are not perfect, I still can personalize them more by taking the frugal vs buying new approach. I’ve bought lamps from Goodwill before (new in the box from Target!), but they looked perfect and too nice to take a chance spray painting them to the color I really wanted. The free lamps I got (nice, but not perfect) I had no regrets spray painting to match my homemade curtains- and now they’re exactly what I wanted 🙂
At the end of the day, it’s your life, so perfect is what YOU decide is perfect- not what society says is perfect 🙂
Your lamp revamp sounds delightful! It’s amazing what some paint will do for old stuff. And, I totally agree, it’s all about what YOU want and what you value :).
Yes! Especially for ladies. I’ve decided that I simply reject the cultural expectation that a lady should not show her bare toenails in public, and I’m much happier for it. I’m going to a wedding in a couple of weeks, and I’m going to wear a three-year-old dress, some shoes that miiiight date back to the last century, and the same makeup that I bought when I turned 30, 4 years back. (I might buy a new strapless bra. The one I’ve had since about 2008 doesn’t really fit my post-babies physique.)
And I totally agree with you about learning things! It’s very satisfying! I learned to replace bike chains a while back, and now I’m teaching myself to sew skirts. (I can already hem, but the only garment I’ve finished without my mother’s help is an apron.) So interesting! I’ve already learned how darts and pleats are made.
Oh yeah! Preach! I sport bare toenails all the time and so far, no one has stopped speaking to me because of it ;). Super pumped about your budding sewing career–making skirts is a great idea. Could be a very useful skill for me, Babywoods, and Frugal Hound.
My mom used to say “If “they” are looking that close, they deserve the shock!”. Lol! Took me years to be fine with imperfection, thus being fine with me! Kudos to you for sharing your heart!
That’s a perfect saying! Your mom sounds like a wise person :)!
I’ve luckily never been a full-on perfectionist. I expect a lot from myself and others, but never perfection. I realized in high school that if I exerted maybe 70% effort that would yield an A- average. But to get an A average I would have had to increase that 70% to 100%, which I realized wouldn’t have been beneficially since I was already safe to get into the state school, and that other time could be spent working a job earning an income. I’ve also noted this same concept works in life, whether with relationships, work, hobbies, etc.
That makes sense! Economizing effort just makes sense–especially when you have a lot you want to do in a day/life.
I had come to a comfortable spot with my non-perfection, until I had kids. Last year, my kids were the only ones at school in homemade Halloween costumes… so now I often wonder how our frugality will hurt the kids as they get older and more aware….
You will have creative, self-sustaining children, who won’t have a meltdown when they don’t get the newest gadget/clothes on the market. I know it’s hard, but stay strong, especially with your kids. We were the weirdos who wouldn’t allow our 9 year old to get a cell phone-she got one at 14. She did her own school projects, instead of the perfect looking ones the other kids parents did for them. She is actually well known for her fashion sense at her high school. And guess where she’s gets her fab clothes? Mostly thrift stores. She likes trendy makeup and doesn’t like how some of the cheap brands go on. She was talking with a lady that worked in the makeup dept at Walgreens, and she told her about a cheap but really great eye liner. So again, your kiddos will be just fine! Better than fine 🙂
Jane–your daughter sounds like one awesome and creative young lady! It’s definitely our hope to raise Babywoods to appreciate that money isn’t the answer and that buying things doesn’t necessarily yield happiness. I love hearing your story of successful frugal child-rearing 🙂
I think we certainly can let perfection get in our way! I do it allllll the time, but I’m working on it! 🙂
It’s a work in progress for me too :)!
I completely agree that perfection gets in the way of frugality. I especially see this when it comes to gadgets. People want to portray a perfect image and therefore purchase the latest and great personal electronics, but at what cost? I was perfectly happy with my iPhone 4 until everyone told me I needed a 5. Sure, my 4 wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to make me happy. I’m trying hard to understand what is enough to make me happy vs. enough to achieve perfection and/or make other people happy.
It’s a wonderful realization when you see that what you already have is sufficient for your happiness/needs :). Kudos to you for having that insight.
I started cutting my own hair awhile back also. In order for me to cut my own (I would never let my husband near it!), I need to keep it long to access the length for trimming. I am particular about my layers too. I love not having to worry about setting aside the time to make an appt and then walk away not happy with the results after spending $100. I can now give myself exactly what I want, when I want and I love it. Simplicity at its finest. 🙂
I’m super impressed you cut your own hair! Now that takes some serious frugal skill!
Great post! As I was reading it, I kept thinking, “She’s going to be such a great mom.”
Awww, thank you! I really appreciate that 🙂
I’ve been living this way forever. I think I inherited the Yankee Thrift gene, which eschews perfection for practicality, from my family. Then in high school I made up my own rule of getting Maximum Reward for Minimal Effort which started out related to schoolwork, and now translates into finance. Was it an excuse for me to slack off in some areas? Sure, but it definitely didn’t hurt me. You can do some things perfectly, but you have to pick your fights. We only have so much time, resources, and brain space.
“We only have so much time, resources, and brain space”–so true! The Yankee Thrift gene is one of the things I love most about New England 🙂
I struggled with the perfection issue for a long time. I’m a Type A personality, so “good enough” was never, well, good enough. Then the universe in its infinite, smirking wisdom (or randomness, depending on what you believe) had me come down with a very serious neurological illness. It’s gone, but it left me with chronic fatigue. Just try picturing the hell of being Type A in a severely limited body. Ugh.
So I spent years fighting against my limits. Some irrational part of me thought that if I just pushed through the boundaries, I’d come out the other side fine and functioning. After therapy — a lot of it — and my husband’s nagging, I’ve learned to (better) accept good enough. Because it’s the best I got. And because, if I’m sitting around freaking out about our imperfect frugality/paint job in the living room/whatever, there’s a lot less physical and mental energy for me to get other money-saving things done.
Hence my blog’s tagline “Frugality in an Imperfect World.”
Your tagline is very apt. It’s definitely an imperfect world we inhabit. And, I agree, we’re all better off if we can accept the “good enough.”
I think it’s definitely easy to overspend in the name of perfection which is the enemy of frugality. My hubby and his dad remodeled half of our basement last summer. Are their imperfections throughout, absolutely! However, the space itself is beautiful and all it cost us what the materials and in return we have a whole other area of our home that we love to use. We could have paid someone else to do it, but my hubby would have missed the bonding time with his dad and we would have overspent for perfect.
That’s a perfect (hah) example, Shannon! We feel the same way about all of our home improvement projects too. They’re imperfect, but done on the cheap :). I also love that you mentioned the bonding time–such a key part of it!
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I’m even in the process of drafting a post on the topic. I don’t think I really had too many issues with trying to achieve the illusion of perfection until I moved to LA. There’s so many people here projecting an image of perfection. Additionally, I sometimes struggle when I read design blogs or consume too much social media. Seeing carefully curated images can make one feel inferior. Thankfully, I enjoy the challenge of finding furniture, decor and (when I’m not doing a shopping ban) clothes for a fraction of the price and that’s kept me from throwing too much money at the idea of perfection.
That’s interesting that your environment changed your feelings on perfection. Makes sense though–LA (in my limited experience) is a very image-focused culture in a way that other areas aren’t. Kudos to you for staking out your own path and not falling victim to the crowd! Also, good point about “carefully curated images”–that’s exactly what they are, highlight reels!
Good post! I’ve never been a perfectionist, but I occasionally find myself doing incredibly time-consuming tasks for minimal benefit and need to reevaluate where I can get a bigger impact.
Though I did notice a few typos in your post about perfectionism – intentional? 😛
Haha, the typos are accidental, but perhaps very apt ;).
My old boss used to say “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good”.
Someone once told me that when I grew up, I’d want matching furniture, and to stop living like a college student. Well, that was about 15 years ago. My husband was in grad school, and our apartment was furnished appropriately, as I call “Late college/ Early Navy” (we were in the Navy before he went to grad school).
Anyway, here we are.
We have the same bed since 1994
My 9 year old sleeps on a craigslist bed
My 3 year old sleeps on our old queen mattress on the floor
Our kitchen table and chairs were from a yard sale
My husband built our kitchen cabinets and many of our bookshelves
Our computer table is one I bought in 1995
My husband built our coffee table, which is currently in the shed
My old boss build a kid sized picnic table, which is currently the coffee table
I sewed many of the curtains myself
We have a few purchases we got new – the couch (9 years ago), a chair, the toilet, the vanity in the bathroom
I’m 45 and waiting for the urge for matching furniture to strike. I’m guessing it won’t.
That’s awesome! Your house sounds like ours! Mr. FW even built our coffee table too :). People told us the same things, but you know what, we’re perfectly happy with our frugal, mismatched life. It’s much more interesting this way ;). Rock on, my frugal friend!
First, I think it is amazing that you are so able to do things for yourself. I admit, we out source a lot. Some of it is not fear of imperfection but lack of skill or interest in gaining the skill. Some of it is also dislike of a task (like cleaning our house). I do admit my hair is fear of imperfection. I have challenging hair, I can’t imagine hubby cutting it (although I do shave his head). While I completely respect and think your lifestyle is amazing, I can’t see us ever being that frugal. We love to travel too much and sometimes we love to be lazy. However, that being said, we have plans to retire at 55 (in 15 years), so we have found the right balance of saving and living the life we want to.
I totally agree that we are told over and over by society that if we aren’t perfect (whatever that really looks like), we are failures. It is really too bad because we end up spending our lives chasing an impossible dream.
I think you hit the nail on the head–you’ve found the right balance of saving and living the life you want. Sounds ideal to me :)! I think it’s all about striking that balance and spending on what’s meaningful to you. There’s certainly no frugal one-size-fits all approach.
I don’t think perfection accounts for my spending so much as it does for my time. When I’m freelancing, I am rather slow on some occasions because I want everything to be “perfect”. I slowly chip away at my hourly rate because I check and check again instead of let things go. A healthy amount of perfectionism is okay and allows me to catch mistakes, but taking hours to do a simple task can defeat the purpose. It’s something I’m working on.
That’s a really great point. I’m totally guilty of time perfection too. It’s so true that getting caught up in wanting the “perfect” result can result in way overspending on time.
Totally agree on the pursuit of perfection…fool’s errand. I’m a recovering perfectionist in a lot of arenas, but home decor is thankfully not one of them.
On your point of insourcing, I’m generally in favor of it and do a lot of DIY myself… but feel like outsourcing often gets a bad rap. There’s just so many good skilled workers out there who do a lot of things better than I can (or would want to learn to do). I certainly don’t want to become a farmer and raise chickens, or even to grow veggies in my own garden…since it’s like 110 here every day right now. The guys at the lumberyard make a lot better 2×4 than I could with the trees in our back yard. And, thankfully, I supposedly do some things well enough for others to pay me to do them, too.
The magic of outsourcing is we all get better goods and services, and just pass some money around rather than trying to be jacks of all trades.
I’m obviously taking this to the opposite extreme, and I probably have an axe to grind. 🙂
There’s definitely a place for outsourcing–no doubt about it. I think it’s all about figuring out your own personal balance between insourcing and paying others. There’s certainly no one right answer for everyone.
You have hit the nail on the head. I frittered away a lot of money – money that could have paid off our student loan debt – in the course of looking for a perfect home with perfect decor, the perfect car, the perfect wardrobe. Some of this is keeping up with the Joneses, some of this is seeking out what I purely want and would consider a perfect solution. Even now, my laptop has died and I am lusting after a Macbook – my ultimate perfect solution. New, of course. I’m super proud that the laptop died about two months ago, and I have yet to replace it 😉 I have an iPhone, and iPad, and a Mac and while none of these are perfect solutions for being a blogger on the go, the three of them together do a decent job!
Wow–I’m impressed you’ve gone two months without a laptop! That is stellar! Not to be the one to tell you to spend money, but, we’ve had wonderful experiences with Macbooks. My last Mac lasted 7 years, which I’d consider a frugal win ;). We usually buy our Apple products through their “refurbished” store, which is cheaper (it’s used stuff that’s been reliably refurbished).
I’m in agreement. I’m also a “reformed perfectionist”; sometimes still difficult to fight the urge in certain areas of my life.
It’s an ongoing battle for me too–we’ve just got to keep fighting the imperfect fight ;)!
Perfectionism is definitely something I struggle with in all aspects of my life. I had a hard time creating my class at first because I’d record each video 6x until it was what I deemed to be perfect. My husband was the one that let me know it was okay if there was one baby cry in the background of a video or an “um” – It’s hard for Type A people to embrace a little bit of imperfections but life is full of them and your post is the perfect example of why they still make for a perfectly lovely life to live.
Thank goodness for our less Type A husbands ;)! Mr. FW has helped me a lot in this area too–he’s so much more chill about everything that I think it’s finally rubbing off on me. And, I think it’s awesome you launched that course and I appreciate you sharing how the process was for you–that’s very much what I would do in a similar situation. It’s reassuring to know we can be reformed ;)! P.S. I think a background baby cry would be cute.
It can be tough not comparing yourself to others, whether we call it keeping up with Jones or being a perfectionist, as long as that we know what we are doing is the best thing for us. It’s easy to get side tracked and stare at a nice car, house, etc but really does it fit in the standard of living that you have set? I know we do our best to set a standard for ourselves and from reading over time FW sets a standard for themselves like no other, so in my humble opinion….great job!
Thank you so much! You’re too kind! I think you’re right that we’ve got to just do what’s best for us personally. Staying focused on what we want is key–which you totally did while paying down that student loan debt like a boss!
This post makes me happy! I love it. I want to delve into this whole “Parento Principle”. This is the first time I’ve heard of it. Let me just say that your hair is gorgeous. And if you decide to visit the salon again once your locks become grey and get that fly-away quality, I won’t judge you : )
Thank you, Prudence! So glad you enjoyed it :)! Keeping the Pareto Principle in mind helps me to keep things in perspective on a daily basis. I have to just remind myself that everything doesn’t have to be–and won’t be–perfect.
I am still struggling on a daily basis with my requirement for perfection… I understand the concept, but I haven’t yet been able to let it go… Thanks for the good read though… perhaps this will help me overcome my perfectionist ways.
You can do it! It’s still a daily work in progress for me, but I’m a whole lot happier now that I’ve embraced the imperfect :).
This is a concept I’ve been getting more and more comfortable with. I am a perfectionist for sure, but I am also a fan of “delaying.” Delaying a home renovation, delaying getting a new car, etc. Delaying can be a huge boost to your finances and it requires being happy with imperfections.
Delaying is a great tactic. We do that a lot too and I find that it enables us to figure out if we really do “need” whatever it is we were planning on buying/doing. Sometimes we find we can just live with the imperfect!
I think you are a good hairdresser Frugalwoods. Have you thought of putting up your own salon or making this a side hustle?
Haha, thanks! Mr. FW does a great job for sure!
Yes! Letting go of perfectionism and the ideas about how things “should” look has made a HUGE impact on my finances. I’m so much happier now that I don’t read design blogs. I want to surround myself with things I LOVE and sometimes that means the $20 chair I bought on Craigslist from a couple who moved to France. I don’t need the $3,000 couch when my dogs like the $300 one just as much:) I think perfectionism is a product of all the “shoulding” in our culture. I’d rather have reduced anxiety and a few mildly “imperfect” things than make myself crazy in the pursuit of a House Beautiful-worthy room:)
Yes, yes, yes! I’m all for reduced anxiety and the absence of “shoulding” ;). Makes life so much happier and easier.
That cake looks really good by the way! I can’t agree more about the satisfaction you get from doing things yourself. Even if it takes more than once to get it right it is still much better than paying for someone to do it for you. Its reassuring for me to hear from others that think the same way .
Congrats- with savings rate of 70%, you are well on the way to “frying your financial fish”.
That cake was really good ;). I get hungry every time I see the photo! There really is something so deeply satisfying about knowing you can do just about anything yourself.
Absolutely agree! Those kitchen cabinets look wonderful (we’re contemplating doing the same), and would your quality of life be measurably better if you’d paid to have them ‘perfectly’ painted? I think not, and that $2k would be in the painter’s bank account, not yours. I’ve gone too far on occasion and tackled things I’m simply not competent to do–with predictable results–solely to save money. But often with youtube’s help we can do more than we think we can!
YouTube is so helpful! It really is possible to teach oneself how to do just about anything. I highly recommend the cabinet painting project. It’s time-consuming, but not that difficult and we’ve been so pleased with the results. It’s definitely something I’d do again in a future home.
Perfection will drive a person MAD!!! Great post!
Absolutely! Thanks :)!
With a house form the 60’s we’ve really had to learn to live with 80% (or less) perfect. Our whole house is right off of Craigslist (though I indulge my overpriced haircuts). I don’t think we’ve ever paid full price for a piece of furniture and our kitchen cabinets (that we painted ourselves) are anything but flawless, but we think they look great.
Great post for the perfectionist in me.
Nicely done on securing Craigslist items for your house! Used really is the way to go for furniture (and most things, really 🙂 ).
Wow, that’s some inspiring strength you both have to have set yourself free of the pursuit of ‘perfection’, as well as the mighty forces of society’s and other’s opinions on how your life should be!
I think im pretty good when it comes to avoiding the ‘materialistic’ pursuits of perfection (although we did pay up big for our relatively humble but ‘dream’ home), but my biggest challenge has always been seeking perfection in my behaviours – never eating junk, never getting angry or impatient etc etc. Fair to say I fail miserably, and am only just starting to accept my lack of perfection in these areas.
Perfection is the enemy of not only frugality, but a happy life! Congrats on your victory over perfection!
Good point–perfection really is the enemy of happiness. We can lose sight of so many important things in its pursuit!
This is a great reminder – thanks for this. Now if I could just perfect being ok with not “the best”. Oh wait…
I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and have found it hugely helpful in so many ways. I don’t think I’ve commented yet, but I’m going back to this piece to add this note because it’s been so powerful in my own life. Letting go of the need for perfection may be the single most influential factor in pushing us from merely chugging along on the quest for financial independence and early retirement, to accelerating our efforts to the point that we can see the FIRE finish line, which now is only about a year away (when we’ll both be in our mid/late 30s). Wanting everything in my life to seem “perfect” — from clothes, to the appearance of our home, to the decoration in my office (I’m a lawyer with a big firm) — led us to spend so much unnecessary money in the early years of our careers. Even after we discovered Mr. Money Mustache and the whole concept of frugality and FIRE (about 4 years ago), the urge for perfection nonetheless persisted and often led to deviations from our otherwise decently frugal life. When I discovered your blog and read this post, I had a major AHA moment. Ever since then, when I’m tempted to spend money on lovely but unnecessary things, I think of you and this post and tell myself to let go of the concept of perfection. I specifically conjure up the photos of your beautiful (but not perfect) home in Vermont and remind myself that we can make a warm, comfortable, and welcoming home without buying lots of stuff or paying lots of money for renovations and updates. We recently toyed with the idea of having the interior of our house professionally painted (at a cost of over $2000), but luckily I came back to what you preach on this blog and decided the current state of our walls was “good enough.” Thank you for dishing out the inspiration we all need with posts like this! It’s keeping us on track to live our dreams, which don’t depend on perfection of any material sort but rather on having the freedom to do exactly what we want, when we want.
Thank you for sharing this! I am so happy to hear it. And, huge congrats on making such amazing progress towards FIRE :)!
This is the best thing I have ever read in terms of frugality. I feel like it made a light come on in my head. For me this especially applies in terms of my home. I binge watch HGTV remodel shows where the people are so happy because their home is exactly like they wanted it. I wanted that happy. I wanted that feeling. Reading this helped me to have a different view.
Last year my husband grew carrots and I ground them up and baked my own carrot cake plus made the cream cheese frosting. It was one of my best-ever moments.
Loved the article. I have also been watching Dave Ramsey and my goals this year are to 1: not buy any new clothes 2: Start a few savings accounts to save for and pay cash for a car in a few years 3: Pre-plan meals and cut my grocery bill significantly 4: Make hefty principal payments on my very large mortgage every month. I loved your book and look forward to the daily emails. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with others.
This is one of my favorite posts! I go back to it whenever I feel the pressures of consumerism creeping back in. We are pretty minimalistic with our home but I definitely get pulled into wanting my clothes to be “perfect”. I can even obsess about having the perfect minimalist “capsule” wardrobe and end up spending lots in pursuit of something that no one really cares about and doesn’t really bring any satisfaction in the end.
Thanks for your post!