It’s not just about the money. Although the most obvious destination of frugality is having a bunch-o-money saved up, this is by no means the only benefit frugality yields. In fact, Mr. Frugalwoods and I find that some of the tertiary results of our extreme frugality are as enjoyable as the monetary fruits. After all, if we didn’t love living this way, we wouldn’t do it! Simple as that.
Our luxurious approach to frugality allows us to meet the dual goals of 1) saving 71% of our income in order to enable financial independence, and 2) creating a lifestyle we find vastly more rewarding than the typical, prescribed routine of excessive consumerism and a focus on material goods. Frugality isn’t about deprivation or hardship, it’s about creating a purpose-driven existence in which your spending is focused towards your ultimate goals.
Wondering what frugality can do for you? I’m so glad you asked! If you’re looking to increase your happiness, decrease your spending, be more attractive to potential mates, own a greyhound, get more sleep at night, grow back your hair, and find that one weird trick for weight loss, then frugality is for you! Ok so maybe it won’t quite do all that stuff for you, but here are 11 fabulous things it will do.
The Nonmonetary Benefits Of Frugality
1) Fosters creativity.
This really hit home over the weekend as Mr. FW and I eagerly prepared for Babywoods’ arrival (11 weeks to go!). Since we have all used (and primarily free) items for her, we needed to employ a bit of ingenuity to get everything in top shape.
I washed and organized all of her tiny used clothes, blankets, towels, sheets, baby carriers, toys, books, baby wraps, bassinet/nursing pillow/infant bouncer/swing/play mat covers (I’ve learned there are lots of covers involved in baby paraphernalia, which makes cleaning them super easy!).
And Mr. FW refinished this dresser we found by the side of the road (trash find score!) for her nursery. He thus transformed a sad, heavily lacquered 80s-era situation–which underneath was a solid wood, dovetailed piece of furniture–into a charming white ensemble.
If we took the boring, traditional route of running to the store and buying a dresser, we’d not only be several hundred bucks poorer, we also would’ve missed out on the satisfaction that comes from working with our hands to transform something from the trash into a gorgeous treasure.
Since our default is to not spend money, we’re constantly engineering ways to circumvent buying things. Whether it’s taking hand-me-downs and making them look new or finding interesting ways to entertain ourselves, frugality gives us the gift of using our minds–instead of our money–to create our delightfully quirky world.
2) Cuts down on waste (food and otherwise).
We throw precious little into the trash around here. One of the ways we keep our grocery bill so low ($300-$350/month for the two of us) is by rarely wasting food. We eat everything we buy, which is good for both the pocketbook and the environment. Food waste is a significant problem in landfills these days, and it’s a simple thing we can do to be more conscious of the world we live in.
Everything we own gets used until it’s either tattered beyond repair or it’s time to pass it on to someone else. We don’t throw stuff out because we want newer stuff or need to clear things out of the house. The Frugalwoods trash is reserved for just that: true trash.
Just yesterday, I gave away our empty Sodastream CO2 cartridges, which for some reason I’d held onto for a full year after Mr. FW performed our epic Sodastream hack with a 20lb CO2 tank. No idea why it took me so long to get rid of these, but I found no less than four people through the Buy Nothing Project who were delighted to have them. I love this circle of reusing–it ensures we don’t buy more than we need and it drastically reduces the amount we toss.
3) Is environmentally friendly.
The frugal life is almost always the environmentally friendly life. Nearly every frugal strategy doubles as an environmental boon: driving less, rarely buying new things, not wasting food, using our heat and A/C sparingly–it’s all connected. Although Mr. FW and I are no green pros, we aim to do our best in this arena. And the very fact that we consume less stuff, food, gasoline, and electricity than the average American is a wonderful added bonus of our frugality.
It’s also part of our general outlook. We see no reason to use more than we need of any precious resource and it’s an approach that makes us all the more appreciative of these luxuries when we do use them. If we flicked on our AC at the first sign of warmth, for example, we’d never experience that rare pleasure of entering a truly cool home on a 90-degree day (and not merely on a 75-degree day).
We also regularly save perfectly usable items from certain landfill death. I know I keep using Babywoods’ nursery as an example, but it’s our most recent project and I have baby on the brain! So, bear with me… if we’d bought all new furniture, clothes, toys, books and sundry goods for her, think of the astronomical embodied costs of all that new stuff: the packaging, the carbon emissions, the raw materials, etc. Instead, by using second-hand goods, we’re simultaneously circumventing the energy and resources required to make new things and saving perfectly decent products from the landfill. In our minds, beyond the monetary savings, it’s worth it to go used for the reduced carbon footprint alone.
4) Builds community.
Thriftiness engenders community. We’ve met more people through sharing, donating, giving, and lending of our time and stuff than through any other mechanism. By helping our friends, and accepting their assistance in return, we build genuine relationships that aren’t merely focused on entertainment or diversions.
Finding ways to be there for our friends and neighbors by dog-sitting, lending our stuff, watering gardens, cooking meals, fixing furniture, and loaning Frugalwoods-mobile for carting gigantic items has allowed us to create a community of caring individuals who look out for each other. And, through the Buy Nothing project, we’ve been able to extend that community to people we don’t even know.
We’ve received countless amazing baby hand-me-downs through Buy Nothing and have given away countless items we no longer need. Last week I was able to give away a bag of business clothes Mr. FW no longer wears to someone in desperate need of just such clothing. Nothing makes me happier than these serendipitous exchanges where no one pays any money or proves their worth or expects anything in return.
Approaching the world as collaborative givers allows us to get creative in how we utilize our time, talent, and resources. We’d much rather use our own skills and abilities to help our friends than pay for these services. I’ve found there are quite a few other folks who feel this way too, which is a refreshing discovery. Although I think the frugal life still exists largely on the fringes (I mean, we are frugal weirdos after all… ), it’s entirely possible to create a tribe that values this cooperative ethos.
5) Forces you to evaluate your priorities.
As soon as Mr. FW and I decided to live our lives outside the standard path of buying things we don’t need, we were faced with the fascinating task of identifying what truly matters to us. And after setting our goal of retiring to a homestead in the woods at 33, we find ourselves relying less and less on diversions–like TV or eating out–and instead pouring our energy into projects and philosophies we care about.
I mention eating out because once upon a time, that was a major event for us–we’d eat out every Saturday night and it was the occasion we’d look forward to all week. We built it up in our minds that if we could only make it through the week, then we’d get to go to a restaurant. But once we realized that eating out wasn’t bringing us lasting satisfaction (in other words, it was a dreaded road bump opiate), it was a clear decision for us to eliminate it from our lives.
Doing this was honestly difficult at first, but after a few months, we found we didn’t even miss it. And that’s a very revealing fact: if you can remove a splurge from your budget and still experience happiness, then you didn’t really need the splurge to begin with. Frugality isn’t about removing all splurges (I’m not giving up my coffee or seltzer anytime soon), only those that don’t score highly on your own personal cost/benefit analysis.
We’re no longer turning to escapism in order to savor our lives–rather, we’re transforming our lives into daily compilations of how we want to live. Instead of rushing to the weekend to cram in all the things we want to do, we’re orchestrating a life in which we’ll do those things every single day.
Focusing on our priorities also means that when we do spend money, it’s almost always on something very specific and well thought-out, which we’ve carefully decided will bring pleasure into our lives (like our recent chest freezer acquisition). Spending only in service of your goals inoculates you against buyer’s remorse.
6) Gives you options.
One of my personal favorites: the old Frugalwoods adage that frugality gives you options. Living frugally means you have the financial freedom to take risks, change jobs, quit your job, weather a health crisis, make a radical life change, travel the world, or do any number of other non-conformist things. You have the money saved up, and the security it provides to pursue the life you want. It’s as simple–and awesome–as that. Don’t let your spending prevent you from doing what you want with your life. Instead, let frugality sculpt the life you crave.
7) Fosters close family relationships.
Since Mr. FW and I insource a great many things–haircuts, cleaning, cooking, home repairs, dog care, and more–we spend a ton of time collaborating on projects. On an almost daily basis, we problem solve, create, advise, innovate, and just generally enjoy one another’s company. Our efforts are focused on helping each other–not on spending money so that someone else can do stuff for us. In this way, our relationship has deepened tremendously.
Though we had a fine marriage before our stint of extreme frugality, we have a stronger and more meaningful connection now. Our partnership extends to every aspect of our lives and we respect and depend on one another in ways that our modern society usually pays away. There’s nothing quite like wrangling/wresting a 60lb Frugal Hound into the bathtub together and then scrubbing her down as she mournfully shakes water all over the entire bathroom. Experiences like this almost guarantee a closer bond for any couple (not to mention the unique charm of then pulling tufts of dog fur out of each other’s hair–super romantic!).
We’ve found that every small victory we achieve through cooperation (such as refinishing our kitchen cabinets) gives us the confidence that we can achieve even greater victories together. It’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about our homestead plans–even though it’ll be a brand new learning experience rife with missteps and hilarity, we’re confident we can figure it out together.
In the same vein, we look forward to bringing this spirit of family work to our raising of Babywoods. We intend to spend a lot of time with Babywoods and nurture her creativity and curiosity about the world through hands-on work. We won’t tell her to work hard and do things for herself, we’ll lead by example.
8) Brings peace and simplicity into your life.
Without the pressure to conform to social norms of spending, appearance, and conventional metrics of success, our lives are increasingly less stressful. Before starting our journey to early retirement, I was a pretty high stress person–a classic Type A with an endless drive for perfectionism.
I was constantly on the war path for my next big win, my next success… and it didn’t bring me any happiness or fulfillment. I was anxious, stressed, and exhausted. Letting go of those external validators of my worth as a person brought me a freedom and a peace of mind I never thought possible. Mr. FW and I live the lives we want to live–not the lives anyone else expects us to.
I find this manifests itself in everything from my decision to stop wearing most makeup, to my clothes buying ban, to my commitment to ruthlessly optimizing every part of our lives. Living for myself and my own goals is liberating and it’s brought me to a place where not only do I disavow the judgments of others, I find myself not judging other people’s decisions either. I’ve realized that we’re all on our own distinct trajectories through life and there’s no one right way to find fulfillment. Be you and ignore the haters.
9) Fewer consumer choices = happiness.
Eliminating shopping from our schedule frees up both our time and mental resources for more productive endeavors. It takes a fair amount of energy to spend the afternoon at the mall selecting the perfect shade of turquoise golf shorts. It’s a lot easier to wear what we have–or score something from Goodwill. My goal in life isn’t to be a consumer and I relish how few times I need to set foot in any store other than the store of groceries.
Furthermore as humans, endless choice doesn’t necessarily make us happier. It’s far more likely to stress us out and tax our little mammalian brains. By taking hand-me-downs and other used items, we don’t suffer the worry over whether we should’ve bought the blue one or the red one or the small one or the large one–we take what we’re given, or what we find on the side of the road, and are shockingly pleased with it. And then we get on with our lives. Our existence doesn’t revolve around our stuff.
10) Built-in exercise!
Whether we’re walking or biking instead of driving, repairing things around the house, hauling furniture from the side of the road, or hiking (the ultimate frugal hobby in my humble opinion), we move our bodies quite a bit. It’s kind of tough to be lazy and frugal (although we’re admittedly very lazy about budgeting).
We have no need for a gym membership since most of our exercise is the result of us living our daily lives. It’s bizarre when you consider the fact that the classic American route is to pay other people to clean our houses, wash our cars, and walk dogs, so that we can pay to go run on a machine inside of a building… think that one over for a minute :). Though don’t get me wrong, I do love my free yoga.
11) You’ll never be bored.
One thing I can absolutely guarantee is that, if you live the life of the extremely frugal, you’ll never be bored. There’s simply no time or space for it. Constantly employing our creativity, exploring free events around town, cooking new recipes from scratch, or just plain scratching Frugal Hound–frugality entails living a very real, very tactile existence. We use our hands a lot. We don’t pay for easy solutions. And we find humor in nearly everything we do (ok, maybe not everything, but we try to laugh at ourselves daily).
Because why not? This is what life is all about. I was reflecting this morning that there’s no other way I’d like to start my day than how we begin every single morning. We wake up together, I take Frugal Hound out, and Mr. FW prepares our coffee and breakfast. Then, we sit down at the table together and engage in things we both love: I write and Mr. FW reads. Instead of wishing for an exotic vacation to take us away from our daily lives, we crave the life we already have.
Frugality isn’t a tactic, it’s a mindset and a joyful lifestyle. Sure, frugality is about saving money and it’s about financial freedom and it’s about creating the longterm life you want. But it’s also about opening up an entire world of simplified, honest, fun living. It’s about the personal accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from learning new skills, fixing things, and relishing all of the gifts we already have. It’s about being content without the junk marketers tell us we need to buy. It’s about being your own person and not the person society says you’re supposed to be.