If you were to ask my 27-year-old self what frugality means, I would have probably lumped the word in with people who are cheap.
In those days, I used to stroll breezily through the streets of Seattle, browsing all the super kitschy shops in the Capitol Hill district where I lived. Believe me, there was no shortage of those shops. I’d buy completely random things: a super 8 camera (which I think I used once), funky candles, pillows, and other home decor which I thought were all part of my cool identity (c’mon, it was Seattle in the 90’s!).
I would also go downtown, which was very close, and spend a lot at Nordstrom and The Bon Marché, and then pick up a bunch of things at Pike Place Market. I freaking loved shopping in Seattle.
While Mr. Frugalwoods and I enjoy/attempt to survive our very first month as parents to our daughter, Babywoods, I have a delightful slate of guest posts from my friends lined up for your reading pleasure. Today, please welcome the terrific Tonya from Budget & the Beach!
And then there was music. I spent so much on CD’s and live shows. I’m pretty sure 4 of 7 days of the week, I was seeing live music. And I was meticulous about displaying my thousands–yes thousands–of CD’s in my fancy CD holder.
I always had pretty good jobs in my 20’s and 30’s. I was in and out of debt, but never much, and I never had any student loans. But aside from contributing to my company 401K, I was really doing a piss poor job of saving any money. One look at my old diary entries tells me that: “Dear Diary (ok, I never used to write that), “I really have to get better about saving money” (I did write that… a lot!).
Here’s the gist of most of my 20’s and 30’s when it came to money: I was absolutely mindless. You made money, you spent money, and you had a good time.
In my last long-term relationship, I thought my boyfriend was super cheap. I could not understand why he didn’t want to go out to nice dinners and have all these nice things (except for all his cycling equipment). But it was really me that had no concept of good money habits, not him.
You’d think my wake up call would’ve come when I was laid off in 2008, right at the start of the recession, but sadly, I pissed away a good majority of my savings on beach volleyball lessons, eating out, and traveling… with very little freelance work coming my way.
I was 38 at the time and still hadn’t followed any type of budget, or devised a plan of making my savings stretch. I try not to look back with regret, but it’s hard not to. I guess you can only live and learn.
My rock bottom came when my car was towed the day after Valentine’s Day in 2012. I started a blog talking about money, and realized I needed to drastically change my life.
Frugality As A Necessity
I think there’s a huge difference between being frugal by choice, versus being “forced into it” like I felt I was. Dinners out with friends had to be cut, I had to see fewer movies at the theater, and every potential purchase became a harsh internal deliberation. It was a drag, and I was very pouty about it.
Frugality As A Game
After a year or two during which frugality felt hard, I started to make it into a sort of game. What could I cut from my life? What could I sell or just get rid of? What side hustles could I take on to earn some extra cash? Saying “no” to friends’ extravagant birthday parties or girls’ nights out gave me a pep in my step that I had willpower. Not getting any more parking tickets felt like a big “FU” to “the man!” OK, I can get used to this!
Frugality As A Choice
And finally there came a time where frugality no longer felt like just a necessity or just a game, but a way of life. Now I walk by tempting racks of magazines without blinking an eye (I can read them for free at the library!). Saying “no” to events that cost money that I don’t want to spend does not make me feel guilty. Seeing friends with fancy cars or clothes does not make me feel envious (not feeling envious of friends’ travel, however, I’m still working on… ).
I went through SO much of my life completely mindless about money. And when I stop and think about it, just where are all those “things” I bought in my 20’s and 30’s that made me happy? Nowhere! It took me forever to get rid of all those CD’s that I had accumulated. Knowing that you seem to get rid of 80% of the things you usually buy, makes not buying things (without mindful consideration) a pretty easy decision.
When it comes to frugal living, I am by no means as hardcore as the Frugalwoods, but frugality is not a competition. It’s simply a way to be smart about your purchases and know why you are spending and saving. That is now my definition of frugality.
Tonya is a video editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She chronicles her journey of becoming financially independent, and navigating the rocky waters of freelancing in her personal finance blog Budget & the Beach. You can follow her on Youtube & Twitter at @beachbudget.