Frugality is not trendy. Nor is it particularly popular. Many folks, in fact, decry frugality as deprivation, as miserliness. The media certainly doesn’t do frugality any favors since no one stands to make money from it (except, of course, those of us who are practitioners).
But as we frugal weirdos know, there are immense and far-reaching benefits of following a frugal path–from providing the financial freedom to follow your dreams to bringing peace and simplicity into your life. And far from miserly, our brand of extreme frugality is the art of joyful, luxurious spending in service of our goals and on the things that matter most to us.
Since frugality is not typically portrayed as a positive mode of existence, it can be tough to feel confident and secure in this lifestyle choice. For some reason, it’s more culturally acceptable to flout external demonstrations of wealth in everything from lavish birthday parties for one-year-olds (why is that a thing????!!!!) to new clothes every season. When we choose to instead manage our money responsibly and save our resources for substantial longterm goals, we just might come under harsh scrutiny.
It’s Not About Them
A query from readers that populates my inbox at least once a week is a version of:
My family/friends don’t understand my frugal lifestyle and judge/harangue me for it. How do I continue to embrace frugality without their endorsement?
I hate that fellow frugal folk must endure this judgement, it makes me frown, and I wish I could wave my frugal wand and instantly cause everyone to comprehend the liberation of being in control of your money. Also I would wave the wand to enact world peace along with daily cookie-eating and greyhound-cuddling breaks.
But since such a wand doesn’t exist, my best response is that it’s not about them, it’s about you. It’s about how you want to live your life, which is not the business of other people (it is, of course, the business of your partner/spouse, but that’s a different conversation for a different post… oh wait, I already wrote that post! It’s right here). Living a people-pleasing existence is exhausting and unfulfilling if you’re not doing the things that make you happy. You’re largely responsible for your own happiness and if you create a life designed around the desires of other people, it’s likely you’re not meeting your own needs.
If you’ve come to the determination that frugality will enable you to achieve your goal of paying off debt/quitting your job/traveling the world/living without fear of a job loss/simplifying and enjoying your life/having options, then go for it! Don’t let naysayers tear down the liberation you’ve uncovered through frugality. Be confident in the lifestyle you’re creating–you’re now a person of conviction, who isn’t ruled by spending, and who wants something more out of life than simply slogging through it as a mindless consumer.
Frugality, for the most part, is about making a conscious decision to pursue a life outside the norm, which can make some people uncomfortable. But you know what? Tough cookies for them. Frugality doesn’t make you a bad, ungenerous, ungrateful person–quite the contrary, it opens you up to exploring how you can use your gifts beyond merely earning a living to support your own needs.
Things Non-Frugal People Say
So that’s a barrel of kittens and now we all feel cozy and secure about how cool, frugal, and ridiculously good-looking we are (what with our home haircuts and thrift-store clothes). However. What about those relatives/co-workers/friends who simply will not leave you alone about how you want to spend (or not spend) your money? Key phrase here being that it’s your money–not theirs.
Let’s run through a few classic scenarios of stuff non-frugal people say:
1) You’re Depriving Your Children!
Really?! I mean, seriously? I would be aghast, but I know this is a common refrain parroted at frugal parents.
First of all, woe betides the person who thinks a child can be loved through material possessions. Full stop. Many of the parents I know who embrace extreme frugality did so in part to enable them to stay at home with their children (me, 1500 Days to Freedom, Root of Good, Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache… the list goes on). Sure their kids (and mine) might not have brand-new clothes and mountains of toys, but they do have parents who spend lots and lots of time nurturing, teaching, loving, and listening to them.
Now you certainly don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent in order to provide these benefits to your child, but I will say that the cycle of working longer hours in order to afford more stuff for your kid is perhaps a flawed approach. Kids don’t need designer clothes and opulent birthday parties–they need caring adults who value them and spend time with them. There’s zero shame in choosing to modestly celebrate special occasions and rein in the panoply of presents at Christmas.
And since I simply cannot restrain myself here, allow me to point out that not showering a child with endless gifts and stuff yields far-reaching benefits (beyond, ya know, saving loads of dough). In the absence of a materialistic deluge, kids are less spoiled, more self-reliant, more self-actualized, more creative, more aware of their privilege, blah, blah, blah. These are merely my opinions on the matter. I’m sure some actual experts have written about this, but for the purposes of this exercise, you get the gist.
However, let’s be tactful here and respect this divergent, non-frugal viewpoint. What I like to say in response to the child-deprivation argument is thus: “Thank you for expressing your concern. However, we’ve chosen to raise our child(ren) with a certain set of values and those values do not include extravagant gifts/parties/vacations/ponies.” Through this phrasing, I’m focusing on the values frugality espouses and not the mechanics; because at its core, this argument addresses the notion that you need to spend a lot of money in order to raise your children right. And obviously, you don’t. Choosing not to throw cash at childhood is about a great deal more than saving money and I believe that argument resonates more soundly with the non-frugal.
Boom. Done. Next…
2) You Never Treat Yourself!
Au contraire! I have in fact treated myself to early retirement in my dream home in my dream location (the woods!). So uh, yeah, I don’t miss all those lattes and lunches out and haircuts and new clothes I didn’t buy…
This rebuke stems from the assumption that money buys happiness and that if you’re not spending on yourself, you’ve obviously entered into some sort of monastic destitution cycle. Yeah, no. As my friend Cait Flanders says, “You can’t buy happiness at a store; I know, I’ve tried.”
I’ve discussed at length the erroneous logic of the ‘treat yourself’ culture. It’s the belief that lasting, permanent happiness is out of our reach and so we’d better soothe our discontent with repeated, small hits of consumerism. As in, my daily latte and new car help me get through a job I don’t enjoy. This, we frugal weirdos know, is the road-bump opiate approach to life.
But we are being tactful! Hence, my preferred statement is as follows: “I appreciate your concern. But actually, I’ve discovered a new life path that’s quite fulfilling to me and that makes me happy. So I’m fine with not buying this _____.” Cheers.
3) Aren’t You Ashamed Of Your _____?!
So very many of my possessions could fill in this blank… my used furniture, my old clothes, my home-cut hair, my… oh the list is endless. Part of feeling confident in my frugality is feeling confident in my appearance and in my possessions.
These things don’t define me. I am not my sofa or my hemline. I am not the sum total of the things I own. I am much more than that. And accepting this was a challenging trek for me. Once we awaken to this higher plane of consciousness, we can disavow our culture’s clarion call to continually upgrade our possessions. Finding contentedness with what we already own is revelatory.
My response is any amalgamation of the above. Principally, the key is that this argument is about whether or not you calibrate your self-worth off of material goods. Hence, a response that drives at the heart of why we frugal folk don’t define ourselves so narrowly is strongest. I define myself by what I do, not what I own.
4) Life is short; live it up!
Another version of the treat yourself meme, this is our friends’ frank concern that we’re not taking time to enjoy our lives. And this is the one argument that does give me pause. The core point of frugality is to enter into a savings regime that will enable you to pursue a higher purpose.
That purpose can be as wide-ranging as working fewer hours in order to coach your kids’ baseball team all that way up to early retirement. But the point is that frugality facilitates your version of the good life. As it happens, I believe that frugality in itself creates a good life. However, if your frugality makes you a miserable, bitter, angry person, it might be time to reassess your spending priorities (the gross exception here is if you have pants-on-fire debt that you need to pay down–if that’s the case, then hang in there and pay it off!).
Life is short and unexpected, which is the precise reason why Mr. Frugalwoods and I decided to live a life of frugality in order to live the life of our dreams–on a homestead in the woods. While our frugality was in some ways a means to this end, it’s also our chosen mode of existence for the duration.
This anti-frugal contention hinges on the old trope that we can engender happiness through material possessions. While I find that premise profoundly false, I do believe that your money should bring you happiness. My money brings me happiness by remaining invested for the longterm to provide for my family’s future. So while I’m not spending it per se, my money is still a contributing factor in my overall wellbeing.
Shocking Newsflash: Money Is A Contentious Issue!
I feel it’s prudent to add that sometimes the best way to navigate such a conversation is to avoid it entirely. In much the same way as we are perhaps wise to skirt religion and politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table, if you know your frugality is going to rankle Great Aunt Hildegard, then just don’t bring it up. Trust me, it’s super easy to make it through social conversations without mentioning frugality once–I’ve done it for years. Then come share all your bottled-up frugal thoughts here in the comments section!
Since frugality pertains to money, people often leap to the conclusion that you’re doing it wrong if you don’t do it exactly as they do. And that is precisely why Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone. Although I espouse a certain frugal philosophy, I don’t impose it on others. I don’t expect readers to follow what I do exactly and I also don’t judge people for their diverse spending approaches. Who am I to say that my way is the best?
I firmly believe that you don’t have to impose your frugality on anyone else in order to fully live it yourself. I have plenty of friends who know I write this blog, but who know little else about my frugal outlook–and that’s completely fine. I’m always happy to share my money philosophy with anyone who is interested, but I don’t delude myself into thinking that everyone is just dying to jump on the frugality bandwagon. Part of being secure in my frugality is knowing that it’s not the right thing for everyone else. I do me; you do you.
There’s no fervor like the converted and so those of us who’ve unlocked the incredible dividends that frugality pays want to evangelize our awesome money-saving, goal-reaching lifestyle. But guess what? It’s not for everyone. Hence, sometimes you might save yourself a world of hurt by simply talking about the weather instead.
I’ve also found that, more often than not, jealousy is the underlying motivator behind a personal war on frugality. Those of us who save massive percentages of our income each year have unlocked a third way–a wholly unconventional and liberating means of progressing through life.
But not everyone has the advantages, or the privilege, or the circumstances, or the marriage, or the abilities to follow in these footsteps. And so I understand how disheartening it might be to someone who feels financially trapped and who feels they can’t turn frugal–for any number of reasons. Keeping compassion at the forefront of my interactions with the non-frugal is perhaps the most important tenet I can share. We don’t know the struggles or trials of even our closest friends and so I never like to assume that people are “out to get me.” I’ve found what works in my life, but that doesn’t mean other people want it shoved down their throats.
Let Go Of Caring What Others Think
People are going to judge you (and me). No matter what. So why twist into a pretzel of consumption to try and avoid it? If you are living a genuine, authentic life in which you try to put good out into the world, then who gives a greyhound’s booty if people whisper maliciously about your frugal choices? In a sea of conspicuous consumption, we frugal weirdos happily paddle our own little handmade canoes.
Also, can I be honest here? If you have friends who don’t respect your frugality and your life choices, then I kind of think it might be time to find new friends. A friend, by very definition, is someone you enjoy spending time with and who respects and honors who you are as a person. And don’t go telling me you’re the only frugal person in your town, because I guarantee it ain’t so–I’ve lived in some of biggest (New York City; Washington, DC; Boston) cities in the country and in some of the smallest (semi-rural Kansas, rural Vermont, suburban St. Louis) and there are frugal compatriots everywhere. Plus, I have plenty of non-frugal friends who respect my choices while choosing a different path for their own family. And it’s all good! Sidenote: for more on how we frugally socialize with our friends, check out: Maintaining Friendships And Frugality.
At the end of the day, I put this question to you: What matters more to you: living your life as you see fit and as you enjoy–or–constantly working to impress other people? Living a life to impress others is exhausting, futile, and expensive. Hoe your own road, embrace your frugality, and don’t be ashamed of the (dare I say freaking awesome) financial choices you’re making.