Deprivation Or Abundance? Turns Out, It’s Your Choice
Seven years ago, Mr. Frugalwoods and I moved to Washington, DC so that I could go to grad school (while working full-time) and Mr. FW could advance in his career. For the previous three years, we’d lived below ground in a sunlight-challenged basement apartment in Cambridge, MA. We were ready to upgrade. Our underground existence made us feel deprived and we thought we deserved something better. We wanted to be above ground, we wanted more than one bedroom, and we were ready to spend on it.
In an ill-advised financial move–one I shudder at today–we decided to rent an entire townhouse on Capitol Hill. True, it was a good deal for the amount of space we got, but did we actually need that much square footage for two people? No, we most certainly did not.
We stretched our budget in order to get the luxury we craved: natural sunlight, two bedrooms, and quite a gorgeous home. And we did love living there the two years we spent in DC, but it was a classic example of completely unnecessary, entirely too expensive, and wholly unwise lifestyle inflation.
We could’ve saved heaps of money had we instead chosen a more reasonably-priced smaller apartment. However, we allowed ourselves to be lured into thinking we deserved such a nice townhouse. That we’d worked hard and should reward ourselves. It is so easy to fall victim to this predilection because it’s the example we’re inundated with. This mentality is piped into our televisions and radios (admittedly both of these are actually streaming over the internet… ) and newspapers and–perhaps more relevant–our Facebook feeds: everyone else has something better, so we should too!
A Caveat On Privilege
Before we delve into everything that’s wrong with our consumer-obsessed culture, permit me a disclaimer. Research has proven that there’s a threshold of income a person needs in order to be happy. A person requires enough money to meet their basic needs: a safe home, adequate nutritious food, reliable transportation, health care, etc. Without these prerequisites, it is difficult–though not impossible–to achieve higher order aspirations such as self-actualization.
For people in poverty struggling to meet such basic needs, the below treatment of consumer culture would come as an insensitive affront, which is certainly not my intention. Rather, understand the below through the lens of plenty that most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy. It is with the full knowledge that not everyone has these essentials that we proceed.
It’s also true that Mr. FW and I are profoundly privileged. Sure, we worked hard and made some good financial decisions, but we also got lucky. I never want to lose sight of the privilege that’s inherent to my elective frugality versus the challenges inherent to required frugality.
If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on privilege and its role in financial independence, you might enjoy:
- The Privilege Of Pursuing Financial Independence
- Starting The Thanksgiving Season With Gratitude
- Striving For Compassion In A World Of Judgement
- Why I Won’t Judge Your Spending
And now, back to today’s topic…
Are We Deprived Or Are We Fortunate?
We all have the power to construct a reality in which we’re deprived or in which we’re surrounded by great abundance–not by changing anything about our physical surroundings, or our material wealth, but by changing our perception. A number of different metrics calculate that we in the Western world currently live in one of the great eras of prosperity. There are certainly individual experiences to the contrary, but on the whole, we are in a profoundly privileged epoch.
And yet, many of us find that we’re trapped in cycles of unhappiness. Whether we’re endlessly comparing ourselves to others, or striving for perfection, or consumed with worry over what people might think of us–we set ourselves up for discontent. It’s what author Gregg Easterbrook terms “abundance denial,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: we’re awash in plenty yet we perceive that our lives are inadequate. We trick ourselves into believing that we are, in fact, deprived. And that belief leads us to spend and consume in a vain effort to fill a void that we’ve fabricated.
Why Ignoring Advertisements Will Make You Happier
What I’ve found–and plenty of research backs this up–is that our materialistic society militates against happiness. The very framework of a consumer culture necessitates that we constantly want more and that we’re never content with what we have.
Marketers are forever dangling the latest and greatest for us to crave. Without this persistent feedback that we are somehow lacking, we might do something crazy like go three years without buying any clothes. The ratio of things we buy out of sheer need versus the things we buy because we want them is radically weighted towards the latter. That’s how our economy works. If we all bought only what we needed, we’d all be financially independent frugal weirdos.
In addition to the drain on our money, this constant desire–I’d even say greed–for what we don’t have makes us perennially unhappy and unable to experience satiation. Research demonstrates that more choices don’t make us happier–yet that’s what we’ve come to expect in stores and online: endless options for everything from toothpaste to trucks. The notion of rarity as a good thing is all but absent.
When we step on this consumer carousel–and accept the belief that buying yields happiness–we sign up for a lifetime of spending, of wanting, and ultimately, of feeling deprived. Conversely, when we acknowledge that we have ‘enough,’ we can experience peace. Enough food, enough clothing, enough handbags, enough decorative candles, enough shoes, enough greyhound costumes, enough.
It All Comes Back To… Lifestyle Inflation
The end result of all this striving–and being told over and over again that what we have is not enough–is lifestyle inflation from the inside out. When we choose–and it is very much a choice–to see the world through the lens of what we don’t have, we’re setting ourselves up for deep disappointment.
Because there will always be something we don’t own: a newer car, a bigger house, prettier clothes, people who are in better shape, people with better hair, people with less ridiculous-looking dogs. Furthermore, the more we buy, the more we perceive we need and the more we require in order to attain the same level of pleasure–that’s the insidious hedonic treadmill at work.
There’s literally no end to the number of material goods and lifestyles we can lust after. And it’s not just marketing and advertisements–social media wields this same power. It can make our otherwise perfectly fine life feel bland, anemic, and subpar. Why aren’t we on vacation in Hawaii? Why aren’t our kids perfectly dressed? Why isn’t our home breathtakingly Instagram-able!?!
To an extent, jealousy is useful. I used to be jealous of people who wrote for a living, which motivated me to get myself organized and make it happen. But too much jealousy poisons us. It makes us bitter and spiteful. It clouds our ability to see how much good we have in our own lives.
I wrote the other week about finding contentment with a less than perfect home and then last week about owning less than perfect stuff and today, it’s about finding that same peace with a life that’s less than perfect. Because try as we might, and spend as we might, our lives will never be perfect.
Gratitude, Not Greed
I’m sitting at my dining room table right now, which you all well know was $75 on Craigslist (chairs included) and I’m wearing my black “house” pants, which have so many holes they’re about to cross over into the rag bin. Mr. Frugalwoods and Babywoods are reading a hand-me-down book together in our worn leather armchair, another Craigslist artifact, and the floor is strewn with second-hand baby toys.
I could nitpick everything that’s wrong in this tableau–or–I could express gratitude. That choice is entirely within my power. Now, there are numerous elements of privilege that have contributed to my life, for which I’m grateful, but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to consciously choose gratitude over greed.
It’s also a question of how I define myself. Is it through the stuff I own? Or through the stuff I do? I used to do the former, I now try to do the latter. We live in a culture where we can purchase an identity. We can plaster ourselves in brand names and thereby announce to the world our wealth (through the car we drive), or our intelligence (through the laptop we use), or our hipness (through the brands we wear), or our sophistication (through the paper coffee cups we drink from). When we choose this route, we’re enrolling in a lifelong quest for belonging. For meaning. For the ability to prove ourselves. And, as a result, for lifelong purchasing.
Long Term Goals = Gratification
What do you get from a lifetime of always giving in to short term pleasures and never delaying gratification?
Very likely, you get: no savings, quite a bit of debt, and a failure to realize any significant long term goals. Yet this is precisely the myopic pursuit marketing encourages us to follow: treat yourself, indulge your senses, and buy, buy, buy whatever you like!
Frugality, on the other hand, is not about hewing to the path of a miser. Or depriving yourself of every worldly pleasure. Rather, it’s about creating an aim for yourself that’s larger than simply swinging from one credit card transaction to the next. Don’t let instant gratification kill your ability to realize a monumental, long term dream. And don’t spend your way out of the life you’d like to be living.
How do you manage the desire to compete, to compare, and to lust after more?
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I think in answer to your question, I found that “trying” to fit in didn’t bring me anymore success or happiness. In fact it brought me less happiness because I didn’t get the ROI I had hoped…a boyfriend, better job, friends, fame, etc. I realized that when I stopped trying to please, really the results are exactly the same. People are going to love you for who you are or not like you for who you are. You can’t change that no matter what designer brand you are wearing. And if you do, you found the wrong people. It’s not easy…at least not for me. I feel the constant tug of trying to people please or fit in, but I know at my core what I want and what is important to me. As long as I check in with my goals and values each day, I should be OK.
Thanks for this post. I tell my husband, ” The greatest luxury is contentment.” Contentment with my Craigslist furniture (better made and much less expensive than the West Elm down the street), contentment with our plant-based diet sourced at Aldi, contentment without cable, and contentment with used clothing. It is a privilege to be able to buy what we want, and largely avoid what we do not want. We are able to buy things new, but actively choose not to. In doing so, we have both been able to cut our work time to 9 months per year, which allows us to spend time traveling in our van and visiting family. We are contributing 10% of my husband’s salary to his 403b and his company matches 9% (day one of employment).
We have family members and friends who have spent millions (seriously) on their homes and cars, and they will readily admit that they are not happy or wish that they could work less. In the end, we all make choices. I am not going to judge you on your choices, but I will take full responsibility for my own.
I highly suggest that people make a list of ranked priorities. If you are making choices that don’t line up with those ranked priorities, try to figure out how to make responsible changes. This has helped me immeasurably–less comparison with others, more happiness. Some of these priorities have shifted somewhat as we have moved (from the northeast to the south, as we have paid off debts) but they largely remain the same.
Thanks for your work, Frugalwoods!
Are you not able to contribute to your own retirement plan?
Love what you’ve had to say here. Especially ” The greatest luxury is contentment.” Thanks for sharing!
Agree 100 percent!
As I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped lusting over what others have. The reality is for a while I chased those things, but once I got them they brought me no more happiness. As such these days what I want and have is driven by my values, not others. I do still use other people’s career success as a benchmark to drive myself harder. There is a limit there as well that can lead to unhealthy behaviors. That being said I’m not to that point as of yet, so the competition to be more financially successful is actually a positive driver in my life.
I used to always be unhappy comparing myself to others (and truth be told, I still am many times), because I was not “privileged” to have parents who paid for my education, a well-paying job, or many of the things I really do want, honestly.
For me, getting over the feeling of deprivation was two-fold: I work harder to achieve the things that I want, and the act of working towards a goal in itself makes me feel like it is possible. Also, I write a gratitude journal each day. You’d be surprised the things you can notice to be grateful for, especially when you think about what others have. I’m always struck by how grateful I am for the heat to kick on in the winter and for running water (especially after living for several years in a dry cabin in Alaska!). When you look at it that way, I am very privileged even though I did have to take on a ton of debt to finance my low-paying job.
To be fair, I think everything should be balanced to avoid a skewed outlook on life, so I always write one thing that I’m not grateful for in my journal too 🙂
Thank you for this amazing post! I’ve run the gauntlet a lot of people have–very few ‘extras’ during my teen years due to my dad’s serious illness, going crazy with spending and credit card debt after college, and now learning to be more intentional and content with what I have. My hubby and I don’t NEED a bunch of things (although internet shopping and boredom during long Minnesota winters can challenge that belief!). We don’t NEED to eat out at ‘the’ places in the area every week to feel good about ourselves. When I think back, my most memorable Christmas was when Dad was first sick and ‘all’ I got was embroidered pillow cases Mom did and half a pound of gourmet jelly beans I liked. Honestly, it was probably more than my parents should have spent, but it is still the Christmas I treasure most, next to my first Christmas with my husband. We’re not very far along on our frugal journey, but I think learning to be grateful for EVERYTHING we have instead of being bitter about what we don’t is a big first step.
While I’m a frugal weirdo in some categories (I NEVER pay for haircuts and almost all my home/workout clothes have holes in them), I’m a total lifestyle inflater in others (I ADORE going out for drinks and food and love to splurge on experiences). Gratitude is what helps keep me grounded. It’s the ultimate antidote to dissatisfaction.
What’s tough though is when I get a taste for luxury, either through a business trip or freebie, and then I want to make that luxury more of a staple in my own life. For example, if I get a free pass to a nice gym or a gift certificate to drybar or something, I love the experience so much, I want more of it. While I still practice gratitude to stay grounded, that seed of want is hard to root out sometimes. So I have to train myself to selectively indulge 😉
Nice article! I’m pretty lucky in that I’ve always been very independent and cared less for what other people think. This is a huge benefit in pursuing early financial independence. Coupling this with some introspection on what is truly important has helped me cut spending on many categories. And the great thing is that it was pretty painless!
If you try to cut spending before you realize it doesn’t make you truly happy, then you just feel deprived and you’ll be unhappy. But you’ll happily cut spending in some areas once you realize you don’t get much happiness from that spending. Nicely, you’ll also be at peace (no guilt or buyers remorse!) with spending on the things that remain, because they will truly give you personal value.
What an apt article for right-now-this-minute. One thing I virtually never do UNLESS I am going to actually be in hospital for any reason (such as having a baby – I have 3, so clearly it’s not *never*), is buy any of the ”women’s magazines” one sees. I do love them, I enjoy various articles, recipes, that sort of stuff… but I always end up longing for the cosmetics and clothes and holidays and… and… portrayed within, especially if they are in what I think of as ”mom and wife” type publications. So not grandiose, Mustique and Prada etcetera, but just ”normal” (ie comparable to me) people who somehow, somewhere, appear to literally have wardrobes to die for, incredible lives, homes, everything.
My mom is in hospital – nothing exciting – so I bought her a magazine. I have just paged through it and have been sitting here *feeling disappointed that I cannot afford the shoes in the shoe feature*. Do I need shoes of that sort? No. Do I have several, very decent pairs of shoes and boots? Yes. Yes I do. More than I can regularly wear.
The trick is to work out your triggers and be mindful of them / avoid them largely.
I’ve said this before but it does truly help me personally to regularly witness the real struggle and hardship of many living in my country, within a short distance of where I’m sitting, people I know, who do not have a fraction of what I do, who could never dream of comprehensive medical aid, two cars, a great school for my kids, plenty to eat and everything that opens and closes. Their struggle is ”will my roof be watertight for winter” and ”how can I make my last few Rands last till next week and still feed my children?”. This helps me enormously (selfishly).
I have known people who buy those magazines, then rip out the pages that are just ads. Then the only remaining ads are those with articles on the backside.
HI Caroline, where are you in South Africa? I’m in Cape Town (Somerset West) and would love to connect with a frugal mom here!
Great post!! I am completely on the side of being happy with where you’re at and what you have.
My husband and I are on track to make very good incomes. However, we constantly discuss how more money will NOT make us happier. We are perfectly happy and content right now. If nothing ever changes, we’d be happy.
However, goals are important. We want to make more money so we can save more for the future, travel more, and just experience more in general. None of that will make me “happier,” but it will make a life a tad more fun! 😉
Fantastic post, as always!!
Volunteer for a month in a developing (i.e. poor) country and be amazed by how little they have and somehow get by. Sometimes they are happier than those who have much more back home.
Living in a developing country is a great attitude adjuster too, though incredibly, it does also work the opposite way, where those who ”have” (even quite modestly) are completely blinkered and flatly refuse to get involved or see anything untoward. I don’t think it’s necessarily selfishness, it’s just ”too much”. It’s horrifying, what happens within a few miles of our comfortable homes, it’s relentless and always there, and no matter what you do, it will be there and worse. It can leave a person feeling apathetic and unable to do anything at all. Before volunteering, be sure what you are doing is actually reaching the target group, not just fattening the wallets of the NGO organising it… and that you personally can cope with what you will see and deal with AND that it’s not just a feel-good exercise, but will make a real difference, a hand up, not a hand out etcetera.
I help out at an incredible, tiny, local refugee assistance NGO and I have come home in tears. Even now, the sheer cruelty and hardship blows me away, so it’s important to be clear about your boundaries and abilities or real depression and misery can set in.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Paraguay and think there is a misunderstanding of the wants and needs of someone that is impoverished. The people that I worked with had the same material wants as we do. They also want the latest phone and the newest clothes. They also compare themselves to those that have more than they do. So no matter your financial situation you can still fall prey to these feelings of deprivation. I disagree with the trite notion of “They are poor but yet happier than us.”
I spent time in South America for my graduate research and gained a whole new level of appreciation for the fact that certain needs are often taken care of with little thought of my own (i.e., water, shelter, heat). Even if people can’t or don’t want to travel to places that have less access to things like basic services, just being aware of how much we already have just by being born into a developed country can help put our wants vs. our needs into better perspective. When we are surrounded by lifestyle inflation that has been normalized, it is easy to adopt an attitude that we deserve X, Y, or Z. But if we step back and look at all the amazing things we currently possess, we can re-calibrate our perspective.
I’ve kept a gratitude journal for the past several years I regularly try to reflect on all the little wonderful things that I’m surrounded by. It takes about a minute each evening, but it boosts my happiness because it shifts my focus to what is going well or how I am already very fortunate.
Money definitely does not make me happy. And stuff, makes me unhappy since I have to store, organize, maintain, etc… I am a person who thrives on an abundance of experiences.
Love your article. Friends think I’m stingy sewing my own curtains and pillows, but it’s so therapeutic and cost saving as I use old pillows. On my 40th birthday I decided I had to become debt free. It was a tough journey but the feeling now. Amazing. A heart of gratitude towards my Heavenly Father.
Love that amazing feeling of being debt free! Much better than a new purse, shoes, or clothes. Even better than travel and great food! Enjo your life each day.
I totally agree with your point about ignoring advertisements. I’ve told my kids since they were very little that advertisements are trying to get you to buy stuff you don’t need and might not even want. This after years of zero or limited screen time and then shows on DVR, when we had cable–none of us ever saw TV advertisements! But now they’re 8 and 10 and have a slightly wider world-view. So far, this approach has paid off in that we can (and continue to) have conversations about the goals of advertising, about tuning in to what *you* want and need.
My 11 year old will turn to me during a commercial and say, with impressive sagacity for a kid, “That is probably mostly a lie, all that stuff making that look so awesome, isn’t it?” Just that knowledge lets me know we have taught him something worthwhile!
Damn, I love this blog. You’re wonderful. Thank you so much.
First of all, I love your blog (english is not my language, I am Dutch, so forgive me my mistakes;)) I have been reading everything from the beginning and am keeping track now of all the new posts. Baby Frugalwoods is adorable and so is frugal dog. I like you guys to, 😉 but hey, babies and dogs (and cats), I does not get much better. 😀
On topic, yes I think gratitude is an old fasioned word but very meaningfull. If you cherish what you have, and do not want everything there is out there, your life is a better life. Not so many people understand this, they work and work to buy what they want, but does that make them any happier? I think not. It is a challenge, and a happy one, to make a good life with little money, but enough to have the basics covered with a bit of extra. I live alone with my 5 cats and they are not cheap, but the are worth it. Everyone makes their own choices in what is ‘worth it’. The trick is to pick something beyond, flashy cars and expensive watches, but something that makes you truly happy. Advertising created a wanting that is not natural but fabricated.
Yes! Agree with all of this. When we moved to New York we rented an apartment we could afford but that was ridiculously expensive – it started at $2,500 a month and is now almost $3,000 a month. But why wouldn’t we want a brand new, swanky apartment in NYC? We were living in New York freaking City!!! We were living the dream! Oh, how wrong and wasteful we were. It really hit us last year when we decided to pursue financial independence how much we were wasting on rent that could be funnelled into our brokerage account to accelerate our early retirement plans.
It’s a process – we’ve improved our mindset and attitude so much since last year and ultimately are SO grateful that we’re even in a position to pursue financial independence.
Thanks for acknowledging privilege. 🙂 It’s so easy to assume “just cut out the Starbucks!” is a money-saving strategy for everyone, but for people living at or below the poverty level, that’s a slap in the face.
I’ve found I get into a “me me me” greedy phase when I’m stressed out. I’m more likely to binge eat and shop online. The best way is for me to avoid feeling stressed–I get extra sleep, work out, take a nice hot bath, and meditate.
It’s always a challenge because I feel like Mr. Picky Pincher and I have different definitions of what “deprivation” looks like.
That is an excellent point, Mrs. Picky Pincher. Mr. ETT and I are always doing the concession dance to be able to reach level ground.
Also, I think that a changing mindset is something that needs time to grow, and encouragement/nurturing. Som people are naturally more grateful, others need to work much harder to see the glass half full.
I am profoundly grateful that I don’t have to work hard to face each day with gratitude and be certain that I am surrounded by abundance. This isn’t because I am a zen master. It is because I immigrated to this country from a much poorer one and spent many years surrounded by levels of poverty I have never witnessed in my new home. As long as I can remember, I suspect I will be grateful. As long as I can remember, I will feel too ashamed to complain about my distinctly non-instagram worthy life.
Jesus said it long ago, “…for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Isabella, I read the latest Frugalwoods article, and I just love each one. I’ve read all the replies, with a bit of sadness….and now, just got to yours and had to respond! In this life, it isn’t what we own, isn’t the size of our portfolio, not where we went to college (or whether we did it didn’t.). It isn’t the size of house or other possessions (most of which eventually become future garage sale items or landfill!). Your reply tells me you’ve found the secret of peace, joy, love, and the promise of life beyond this physical shell we presently inhabit. There are many religions, but knowing the Creator of the universe personally, having a relationship with Him, is by far the most important. It’s not about a religion, it’s about having a personal relationship with the Living GOD that gives meaning to life! John 3:16, 14:6.
That’s great for you of course, it makes you happy, but there are many who wildly disagree about belief in a specific god that makes life meaningful. Me for example. I am a hardline atheist and I find it astonishing all the incredible (factual, evidence-based) stuff that is being discovered about our world and our universe, it’s quite thrilling to me to think that we are all literally made of star dust, to be so fortunate to be here for this short time is incredible luck indeed!
Thanks for the great stories and sharing. I have found freedom headaches and tension because I took myself out of the consumer world. I found peace of mind and joy just spending days of not spending. 😊 I work as a school librarian and tell my students about my spend thrift shopping. They laugh at first but now they want me to take them on a field trip to a thrift store. I tell them nowadays I am keeping up with the Frugalwoods. Thanks so much for inspiring me. God bless.
I remember when I was first on my own. I was making $10.25/hr, which was around $21k/year. I didn’t have a car at first, and walked/biked everywhere I needed to go in my small town. I rarely shopped, and if I did, it was at Goodwill or Macy’s clearance sales. Eating out was reserved for weekends, and even then, only at cheap places like taco trucks (mmmmm tacos). I was thrilled when I reached $1000 in savings.
For awhile, getting a raise did mean better things: I could have more of an emergency fund, I could buy slightly higher quality things that would last 5x as long as the cheap things I was forced to buy previously, etc.
When my now-husband and I moved in together, he made about twice as much as I did. We agreed to split joint expenses proportionally to our income (so he paid ~66% and I paid 33%). I was so excited about how much more disposable income I would have. And yet… after awhile, the temporary high was gone. We got married and discovered the concept of retiring early, and were excited to start saving. I began to dream about how much better off we would be once we made over $100k, because think of all the money we could save! Or when we hit $100k net worth. Or, or, or…
When I think about it, I am not much happier now than I was when I lived in my first little apartment, with thrift store clothes/furniture and no car. It was sort of a horrifying realization, that even though my household income is 6x what it was then, I’m definitely not 6x happier. The hedonistic treadmill is truly sneaky, and even when I know it exists, I still find myself falling into the trap of thinking I’ll be happier with more money.
I’m with you on the hedonistic treadmill. I also wonder how much age goes into this equation though. Like, as a younger person of course you were thrilled to have 1k in savings, that was huge given your income at that time! But when you get to the point where your paycheck is big enough that 1k in savings isn’t that much of an accomplishment, that changes your POV. I work as a financial counselor I talk to people who are in their 40s or older and have very little in savings and still living with roommates (this is San Francisco after all, very common) and they are highly dissatisfied with what they are able to accomplish with their small incomes. My main point is that there is some degree of getting older, setting higher goals for yourself, and needing to show some level of financial accomplishment to be satisfied. And I’m not even talking about needing to be flashy once you reach a certain age, but I think people feel very strongly that when they get older there is a level of financial security that they need to have attained to be happy.
That’s a good point about age. I agree it definitely factors in.
Such truth in this post. I was having a conversation with a good friend the other day, and I made a comment that revealed my yearly salary to her (which she hadn’t known before). She was aghast, “HOW do you LIVE on that?” I was surprised by her reaction and responded with the first thought that came to mind: “Well…I feel rich, to be honest.”
It was the truth. I am so fortunate to have gotten to a place where all my basic needs are met, and I even have money left over to save and think about pursuing FI. Such abundance! Once you’ve reached sufficiency, riches or deprivation is a state of mind.
Contentment is so individualized. From capsule wardrobes to modest houses to rust bucket cars to homeschooling instead of sending kids to either a poor performing school or a spendy private school, it never ends. I know people that tweak their lives to optimize their contentment in so many different ways. I know just as many that pursue more and more and more money so that they can have all the things. My biggest challenge is hoeing my own row. Not judging the friend that does things I would not do and not succumbing to feeling judged by the mere act of someone doing something I cannot or do not do. In front of me are the things I have to work with, the people that matter to me and the things that I want and don’t want. I have to focus. Focusing is hard for me. I am very “SQUIRREL!!!” by nature.
Your posts are thought-provoking. I appreciate that a great deal. Thank you.
I’m with you on “SQUIRREL”! 😀
I’m running into this issue right now. My husband and I are on the path to financial independence and have accepted a life of frugality and wise spending/saving. We have two children whom we adore and provide an amazing life (in my humble opinion). However, our families aren’t always on board and that makes things a bit tricky. You see, my husband Mr. Barracuda and I both had very privileged lives – our parents paid for college outright and we both were active in afterschool programs, had the every best toys – never a lack of wanting. Well, fast forward to now, when our oldest child is 4 and ready to have some summertime activities. Our parents don’t understand why we wouldn’t send her to a camp that costs somewhere between $4,000 and $12,000. I mean it makes sense – we both make good money and our child should have “only the best,” but for us “the best” isn’t a camp we send her off to, to learn about lanyard. For us, “the best” is taking off a few weeks during the summer to take her and her baby sister to museums and camp grounds. Why spend all of that money for an experience that doesn’t include us? Anyway, juggling your own personal vision of what happiness is with the views of others (especially when its family) is always a difficult balancing act. Keep up the good work and thanks for consistently keeping me motivated. xoxo
My husband and I just went through his over the past week. The decision of whether to do some modifications to the home we have lived in for 8 years that has plenty of equity or to upgrade to a more expensive mortgage that only meet some of our needs. It was a rough week of debating and considering options but I kept going back to just what you have written. Needs vs. Wants. Expansion of lifestyle and for what? Right now, we are perfectly comfortable financially and in the best place our family. Just because our income has increased over the past 8 years doesn’t mean our lifestyle has to. I live in the shadow of the DC area (30 miles out) where that push to buy more and bigger seems ever present. But for us, we don’t want to live life like “everyone else.”
Wonderful article! I have found that the less I own, the less stress and responsibility I have to manage. This provides me with more free time to hang out with my kiddos and workout!
The wife and myself are quite different when it comes to this kind of thing. I DON’T want things just because everybody else has them.
I love my 7 year old car because i own it.
My wife desires a SUV because everybody else has one.
The thing is most of these cars are not even owned by these people. They are owned by the bank.
I must admit I do desire experiences and that is when i can crumble and spend excess money. Oh well you can’t win them all!
I love this article, and it’s so true! I remember watching TV ads as a little girl and deciding I just HAD to have that kissing doll shown on TV. My mom and dad finally got it for me for a birthday present, and probably paid more than they should, as we were always tight for money. I was ecstatic — for about 2 days. A kissing doll is boring, I discovered. I had a ton more fun with the free chalkboard my dad got from a school that was getting rid of it, and a big pack of cheap chalk.
I’ve spent too much of my life being envious of others, as most of my life has been characterized by not having enough money. I finally got over that envy, but it took time and sincere self-examination. I now rejoice in ways to save, and while I still love being generous on others, I find I just don’t need that much for me. My husband has pretty much always been that way, so I feel sure I learned some of it from him. We get thrilled now when we are able to donate to our church and to good causes. I find it’s a much better frame of mind to have!
I’ve noticed a big difference since we cut cable. No longer are we constantly bombarded with advertisements trying to convince us our lives are not complete without their product.
Having specific long term goals for money also helps me. Every purchase that is a want vs a need is weighed against my goals. If it’s something that doesn’t help me reach my goals, then I don’t but it. Simple but it works. It all comes down to defining what you want and figuring out how to get there.
My daughter came home from her intro to finance class (high school) and reported that we see 3,500 advertisements per day. My reply, “no way”. Then we started counting…it’s sooo true!
We don’t have TV either. It helps. A lot.
Convivial Supper I love that your daughter’s school teaches finance!
We talk often about what we truly want out of life (namely retirement). Why do we work so hard now to provide a lifestyle later on. There’s definitely a need for a good balance there. We like to daydream about what retirement will be like, but we definitely don’t want to waste it away doing nothing. We have plans for our hobbies, travels, etc. But we also remind ourselves to enjoy life in the moment now. We plan fun activities with the family and strive to create memories for our child(ren).
From one already (early, securely) retired, after some struggles:
Good thinking. Enjoy the present, too, gratefully and gracefully. Anyhow, you can’t plan your child’s memories…
Also consider… the future experiences that seem attractive now, may not be the same ones you actually turn out to want later on. Almost certainly not… if your brain is still working, you’ll change over the years. With luck, change for the better.
This post, I think, shows Mrs. F at her very best. For me she has no tips or tricks of much value for improving MY life; but I delight in her precocious wisdom, and hope to watch her deepen over the years, as she’s already started to do.
Love this post! I had picked up on the theme of an abundance mindset reading a few of your other posts and actually made a mental decision to alter my own way of thinking–and I can’t believe how much happier I’ve become! Before, I’d look at my life and think, “This house is dank and uncomfortable, we don’t have any food, and my clothes are ratty.” Just by shifting my perspective a little, suddenly our little house is charming and cozy, I feel lucky to have the essentials in the fridge, and my clothes all function perfectly for my job (which consists of kneeling in the dirt, taking pictures of shelter dogs). So thank you for spreading this idea! A couple of things I’d add are that there are tools to help you make this perspective shift, namely gratitude journalling (I know, it sounds cheesy, but it really works–there have been fairly robust studies that show gratitude journaling makes people happier) and meditation.
The best thing for me to cap forms of lifestyle inflation is to figure my finances and if something I want to do will not fit in the budget, then I do not do it. I live just a step above the poverty line and I am on a limited income, but it helps that I live with somebody though or I would really be in trouble each month. But I’m not without additional savings at the moment and I only use that savings money for emergencies or an item I really need at the moment and not just for a wanted item.
I usually am grateful for everything I have and I am thankful I do not have expensive tastes besides liking designer purses I peruse at discount stores sometimes, haha. 🙂 Helps that most items that make a person successful in the hygiene area of life come from Dollar Tree. 😛
It’s simple. Do you see the glass (your life) as half full or half empty………….I wake up every morning with an attitude of gratitude.
I really enjoyed reading this post and the comment s too. My husband retired a few years ago and we have decided to downsize. We will leave a beautiful, large house that shows how successful my hard-working husband has been and move to a much smaller house that will suit us better for the next stage in our lives. We don’t need a big, family home for just the two of us and we are already living a more simple (frugal!) life. It is great!
John D. Rockefeller said, “There are two kinds of money–none and not enough.” We mortal beings always want more and naturally struggle with contentment.
I sometimes get cranky because my 20 year old car acts up (today) and I have to spend money to have it repaired. But then I switch to gratitude because I PLANNED to afford maintenance/repairs and thus the cost doesn’t impact other areas of my savings.
Though (come to think of it) it will eventually. 20 year old cars don’t suddenly start getting better. Anyone want a pretty good 1997 Ford Mustang convertible? Cheap and freshly repaired!
Wonderful post Mrs. Frugalwoods, and very well written. I have a wonderful trick for finding happiness without spending money….
Anytime I feel unhappy and ungrateful for the things I have in life, I remind myself that I can go buy absolutely anything I want in this world. Fancy italian sportscar? Sailboat? The latest electronic gadget? Yes, I could go buy all of those things tomorrow. But I simply *choose* not to.
Having that choice reminds me how filled with abundance my life is. I could have absolutely anything, but instead I choose to optimize for long term happiness.
We fight our urge to inflate our lifestyle and buy more/better stuff by ridiculing ourselves for ever wanting more. Our house is already too big. Our cars too fancy. We have too many clothes, even though they’re all many years old. We have a much better life than our parents and grandparents did at our age. How could we possibly want something EVEN better? That’s just obscene.
This applies to nearly anybody in the modern world. We’re beyond blessed. Be glad you’re alive today instead of even 50 years ago.
This was beautiful. Thank you.
Thanks Mrs. Frugalwoods, I’ve been loving your posts all the way from Australia. Your words have really helped me cut down costs over the last few months and thus, have instigated me changing jobs, into something more meaningful for me. Thank you. I’d been struggling with having 2 lives – one, as a home mum, where I grow vegies, cook, make toys/craft with kids, and then another ‘life’ where I was busy working too many hours and somewhat prone to more takeaway, convenience, general busyness. I decided to follow the home life, and find another job that fitted in with that better. Although my salary has dropped for the interim, I know it will balance out in the long run and I can trust my frugal weirdoness to get through any obstacles. You are such a gem 🙂
That makes me so happy to hear! I’m so glad you’re pursuing a life that’ll be more fulfilling for you. Thank you for sharing 🙂
No problems Mrs. F, thank you again 🙂 I realised I was a wanna-be-frugal-weirdo, maybe a half-baked frugalweirdo, doing all the good stuff but then blowing it on the fast life/days. I’m an all-in-frugalweirdo now and love being part of your online community!
PS Following my passion for writing too 🙂
I’m very much content with my partner, our two cats and our home. The only time I feel envy is when one of my friends made a succesful career move, or just bought an enormous house, or started working independently. For me, it’s not so much the material possessions I’m jealous of, it’s more how other people seem to achieve their goals and I’m not there yet. But by being frugal, I’m saving money in order to make a career switch in a few years and have a more creative job.
I had an enormous house for 10 years . Never bloody again. Bought a smaller house no w, and much happier. Dont’ be jealous – living in a large house is not as much fun as people think. Still shudder remembering all the spare bedrooms that were never used, but still required cleaning/ dusting/ filling with furniture. Heating and cooling bills are astronomical, and just walking from a laundry to the bedroom took a few minutes .
No thanks. Enjoy smaller living space : )
We live in a commercial society. We need to change mobile devices, TVs, cars every a couple of years even though we still can use them. In order to pursue instant gratification, young people have to apply loans. The result is that they do not have savings to invest. They do not see hope in their life. They live in a cycle of paying off debts and applying for loans. Frugality brings benefits not only to individuals, but also to our whole world.
Wow, what a post! Keep it up! This phrase especially hit home for me, it’s exactly where I am at: ‘And yet, many of us find that we’re trapped in cycles of unhappiness.’
How to manage this desire ….. that’s the magic question. I was ~25 years in before I ‘woke up’. So I have 25 years of earning, and spending with very little to show for it. So, I have proof of where it gets you, or actually where it fails to get you. I have 25 years of proof that the rush of something new is temporary and does not bring any long term joy. You are left with piles of stuff to manage.
Also, if you take a world view, then suddenly you realize that your next task of replacing a failing toilet is a privilege. A significant portion (maybe 1 in 3) of the world does not even have ACCESS to a toilet. Another significant portion would gladly drink out of the tank, since there is no water that clean anywhere around them. And I get it all, right in my house ….. twice! It’s pretty hard to complain if you really contemplate that.
That’s a great point about the privilege of owning a toilet–sadly, very true.
My wife and I did some similar financially unwise lifestyle inflation activities also. We’re now in the process of scaling back and looking for our own rural property to raise our 5 month old son in.
Thanks for the encouragement you always provide!
Hmmm.I grew up definitely lower middle class. I went to college and to law school, thanks to hard work, student loans, and kindness of relatives. I have always driven lower end cars, lived in very cheap housing, even for this part of the country, and have never been out of the U.S. I had four kids immediately upon graduating from law school, and worked full time while I raised them. I was divorced from their father when they were fairly young. I did not spend on expensive trips, in fact, the only trips I took with them, were work trips, and they always complained that I would not stay an extra day at the location for them to extra fun at the beach. My view was they had fun there when it was paid for and I was not going to pay for extra. I was a single parent and needed to make sure my bills were paid and I was not about to compromise on that. I was actually on my way up, career wise, and financially, when the financial year of 2007 hit. Then, it was a complete and total financial disaster until 2011. I still have not recovered financially from those years, and probably never will. In addition, mother ended up with alzheimers, I am an only child, and I was responsible for her care. All my savings ended up being used, and I was always conservative, but four years of the recession, plus momma’s illness, depleted everything. My point is this, even the best plans can not survive one disaster after another. I now have a chronically ill grown child who is aging out of my insurance. Life is not fair, sometimes, and I am not whining, but I have always shopped second hand, since college, and second hand and careful penny pinching does not always cover huge medical bills in the U.S., and prolonged financial recessions. I am thankful that I have had the fortitude and health to keep on working, now as I am nearing (and actually at) retirement age.
Your post makes me grateful to live in a place with universal health care. I wish you the best of luck and hope things work out for you.
I really appreciate your subject today. As I write this I’m staring at stacks of boxes, pictureless walls, taped up glass on cabinets, lights with no lampshades-while sitting on the only piece of furniture left in the room. We have retired and are moving. The process of packing has brought up the same subject deprivation or abundance, and I have to say we had too much stuff. We’ve managed to sell, donate and throw away many things that we thought we needed. The moving process has brought the needs vs. wants subject to the forefront of our lives. And now we find ourselves looking for a new place to live in another state, moving to be closer to family. And in the process of looking for the new place to live, the same subject comes up-needs vs. wants. And it’s all in how we look at it. Your writing today has encouraged me to listen to what my husband and I need in a new place, not what is marketed as the perfect house for a retired couple. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us.
Great post, Mrs. FW! We are so incredibly blessed and there is such abundance all around us, but it’s so easy to get caught up in our current consumer culture that constantly tells us that we (and the so, so many things we already own) are not enough. I needed this kick in the pants this morning!
I love my house. I think it is so beautiful. But we are thinking of moving to another country in a few years, so I invited a real estate agent to come over and assess what needs to be done before we sell it. We walked around the house and she pointed out all the imperfections, all the repairs, all the things we need to “fix.” That made me feel down for a day or two, and I started walking around, looking at all the holes in the walls. But then I decided, whatever. We live here now, and no, it’s not perfect. But it’s the most beautiful house I’ve ever owned and I just love it so much. Thanks for this lovely post because we live in absolute abundance and I’m trying to ignore the holes so I can remember that.
I have just faced this issue with a vengeance this week. This can be combined with the abundance of information that can be found on the web. The sun is shining with the desire to head outside. So I decided to look for a free RV show to dream about the future (trying to be frugal while paying of a bunch of debt). Of course, the events page showed a really cool dance kick of tour that I know my daughter and I would LOVE to attend ($150 for 2). Then I discovered the weather would be perfect in the grand canyon to hear the astronomy talk, but can’t go because the trip is unplanned (would need a room for 1-2 nights, but the campgrounds are not open yet. approx $150-250. Then I found a local comic convention is taking place ($80 + spending) and that I can get twilight tickets to Disneyland (approx almost $150+spending). The net… advertising… yes, if I didn’t know about any of this I would be much happier for not have knowing. now I hit a path of depression that I can’t give these things to my child. but she doesn’t know about all the above. so she is good. it’s just my inner guilt giving me a hard time.
If you haven’t done so already, I recommend installing an ad-blocker for your browser. It won’t remove exciting events, but it’ll at least minimize other advertising. 🙂
Unless you’ve had early training by your parents, the frugal life must be an earnest and very personal choice. Although Mrs. Frugalwoods’ inspiration is like having a great life style coach she can not be at everyone’s elbow all over the world at the same time. So we have to commit to walk a different path. This can be hard, especially when we are young and everyone in our group is getting $6 coffee. But the rewards are so great! And it does get easier. One thing I did that helped me was to commit to not judge others…in turn I no longer had to receive their judgement. This was very freeing and a big blessing!
I love the reminder to focus on your long term goals. I think that’s what I (and others) love so much about your story. You used frugal living to achieve a difficult, highly personal goal, showing that it is possible. to achieve your dreams with focus, prioritization, and frugal living. Spending on “‘things” doesn’t make people happy, but spending in alignment with your ultimate goals and dreams does. Love the perspective in this post!
I agree with you 100%, living within my means makes me far happier. I cannot enjoy blowing money on something I do not think is worth the expense. I have been told I should splurge and enjoy myself and go to a fancier restaurant or buy a better car, but I prefer eating at home, where I know what is in what I put on the table and my car is paid off, I don’t need a monthly payment. I look long term at my budget and financial well being, wasting money would not make me happier, just upset at myself for making a foolish choice. You and Mr. FW are looking at things objectively and investing rather than spending. We are planting a garden this year, hubby bought fruit trees, berry bushes/plants. He is setting up raised beds and fencing them in. We consider that a long term investment of fresh fruits and vegetables. Worth the cost of lumber, fencing and posts as well as the plants. We too have our homestead we moved into last year and I look forward to canning and freezing the produce this fall. I told my husband we will need to invest in a larger freezer though, as he put three deer in the freezer last fall he took on the property. Love reading your blog. So many good ideas.
I never got the material bug. Not sure why, perhaps it had to do growing up in a household of 5 kids and my parents always making bad choices and struggling with money. I gave them very good unsolicited advise, that they completely ignored.
I am way more frugal than my wife, who wasn’t wealthy growing up bad had her needs fully provided for by her parents. I wonder if I had grown up in a financially stable household, if I would have the same material desires as people around me? Not having material desires hasn’t kept me from somehow obtaining a six figure income, despite growing up with government cheese in my house, along with food stamps and you name it. I am very happy with used and everything I have is a blessing. I mostly ride my bike to work but my second car, an automobile, is 16 years old and runs very well. I have no intention of EVER upgrading this lightly used two door couple (we have a family of 4).
One day as I watched my husband leave for a job he hated, with insane hours, dead tired to the point I was afraid to have him driving, it struck me that despite earning an upper middle class income we were trapped in bad choices by our materialism and the bad financial choices that entailed. I resolved to take control of our life back. We cut out wants and focused on the needs. Examined each expenditure, especially the monthlies, and asked if this was making us happy? Was it moving us towards our goals? Was it necessary? And every penny we cut went towards freeing us from our debts. We focused on building a life we wanted to live as opposed to funding a lifestyle. It wasn’t easy or quick, but now we are back in control and it’s the best feeling EVER!
Big fan of the blog and love the pictures! I definitely agree it’s best not to fall into the trap of thinking we “deserve” anything – but the one caveat I would add is factoring in the relative value of the purchase. When I originally moved out of my parents house I got an apartment for roughly $2k (I live in Tokyo). Other apartments I looked at ranged from $1500 to $3k, but going down under $2k meant I was getting half as much space as my current apartment. Making the jump to $3k, however, meant marginally larger apartments and generally newer buildings with luxury appliances. For a place I was going to be in for the next 4-5 years it was worth it to me pay the extra $500 to have the larger space, but it also wasn’t necessary to really splurge for luxury’s sake. Since I moved into my apartment 4 years ago my friends in similar jobs have since “graduated” to paying $3.5-5k for their apartments, but I’m perfectly happy in my place knowing I don’t need anything more.
I think I echo what a lot of others are saying with the fact that as I get older I require less luxury. Sure there are things I treat myself to because they make me happy, but for the most part I don’t buy luxury items. I haven’t bought any non work cloths in at least four years, except for a pair of shorts because I forgot my gym ones at home and Goodwill is right next door. I drove my old Maxima into the ground before the electric control module died and the recycled replacement had some issues with it so it was finally time to trade it in and upgrade to a three year old car with 20,000 miles on it. I live in a two bedroom apartment with one room as a home office and it fits me just fin. Material inflation is an uneccessary part of life and I find that ownership in things that pay me to own them much more rewarding than that shiny new toy.
Fantastic post! It can be so difficult to stay grounded when we are surrounded by this consumer-driven culture. I love to invest, so when I am tempted to buy something I don’t need, I think about what that money could do for me if I invested it instead. This works especially well for monthly costs, like a better cable or satellite TV package, because those little monthly costs ultimately accumulate to a large sum!
From one word nerd to another with love : What is the difference between envy and jealousy? Envy is what you experience when someone has some object or some quality that you wish to possess. Jealousy is what you experience when a special relationship that you have with a person or a special connection with a pet is threatened by another person.
Sounds like, in general, you are admirably immune to both. “Go forward confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life that you have imagined.”
Excellent post regarding perspective on what is truly important. Your writing is brilliant. So glad I came across this blog.
“If we all bought only what we needed, we’d all be financially independent frugal weirdos.”
Haha. Here’s to all of us frugal weirdos out there!
Love the article! We feel like people
Need to figure out what makes them happy whether it’s taking the dogs for a walk, woodworking, or just hanging out with company they enjoy and then come up with a plan to maximize those activities! Keep up the great work !
The Beard and The Bohemian
We are at a point in our young lives (31 in a couple days) that our friends and people of the same age dream they could be at right now… but it wasn’t without sacrifice and hard work and often times that is over looked.
I was always a saver and at 20 I was working a full time job, going to school full time and doing it all without loans. I didn’t live with my family for other reasons I won’t go into, but i always lived like a broke college student when I had full benefits and a pension growing. I found the money to max a roth ira out and I started saving to buy a condo in one of the most expensive places to live in the country. It started with $16 at the end of one month and overtime it grew. Because i planned ahead, i was able to take advantage of the market down turn and buy a 1 bedroom condo and have a home of my own. I remodeled it in cash because i chose a cheaper older place that was a foreclosure… then refinanced it a few years later when prices stabilized and got rid of my mip and entered into a 20 year mortgage for the same monthly price.
Fast forward 8 years and im married with a 2 year old and we are still in that same condo. We gutted a walk in closet, paired down our belongings and made a small nursery for our little dude. We didn’t move because we wouldnt be able to afford it. Daycare was a huge expense for us to figure out ($450 every 2 weeks) but we managed it and we stayed in our small condo… and we saved, we paid down our mortgage agressively and waited to build equity.
Now it looks like we will be able to sell it and get a 3 bedroom place that will be our “forever” california home until retirement…. at 31….
Im grateful for the opportunities frugality has given me. If i hadnt saved when i was young, we wouldnt be able to live and work in this area with my insanley good job with benefits and a pension.
Were walking distance to a park, good schools, friends, and none of it would have happened without frugality.
We are blessed. Sure we took a lot of flak when we made our decisions to stay since it went against the culture, but our kid is happy. Hes healthy. Were not iverlaiden with possessions, its easy to clean our small place and i dont worry about tripping over a room full of toys.
This is one of my favorites of all you have written. Great job! How happy people would be if they discovered these truths.
From someone who has just entered into the realm of our early retirement it is true how much your perspective changes as you are not tied to the survival mode anymore of work and well taking care of kids while the other is working. We have always been frugal and our family always made fun of us and called us cheapskates lol. However we are 34 and both retired and so I don’t know being a frugal wierdo is kind of awesome! We are able to live by the beach, homeschool our three kids, pursue our calling to volunteer more at our church and help kids in need. We feel very fulfilled and content every single day and we work as a team together in everything. Being a frugal wierdo has really been a blessing given to me by god to help pursue the things we really want to do in life instead of chasing after the proverbial desert oasis that never quite is. It may seem when you see my friends or relatives they are more successful outwardly but inwardly I am happy odor every moment of every day
I do not deny that I WAS guilty of spending my hard earned money just because I wanted to fit in and live with the current trends of this society that we live in. Then I came to a realization that being “IN” doesn’ t really add genuine log term happiness to my life.Having expensive stuff like my friends doesn’ t really make me the happiest. Thanks for sharing your stories and constantly reminding us to become wiser with our finances and our lives.
Greetings, I continue to really appreciate you and your work. Since I know you love to use your archival works. You’re missing “I” at the beginning of the sentence right under the picture of Mr. FW reading to Babywoods. “ x could nitpick….”. What an appropriate sentence for me to highlight. Have a great weekend.
THis article was so helpful- in my case I feel discontent for having “too much” I have the big house, I have a nice car, so I’m to the point where I’m not happy with this because I want “less” now that I’m pursuing FIRE; but the worse part- is that I’m unhappy- what a shame- I need to practice more “gratitude” –