How Making Luxuries Rare Increases Our Happiness
Going to Portland, Maine for three days to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary last month was transcendentally idyllic. Mr. Frugalwoods and I strolled the streets hand in hand, popped into funky shops, and hopped from one culinary delight to the next (you know, beer, coffee, beer, coffee… ). My in-laws watched Babywoods and Frugal Hound for us, which meant we were completely removed from our typical daily responsibilities.
Usually while on vacation, I unpack our suitcase and hang everything up in the hotel closet (always requesting more than the two hangers they provide… ), fold socks in a drawer, and arrange our toiletries by size like so many toy soldiers on the bathroom counter. But this time? I did none of that. We lived like unrepentant bohemians, pulling clothes at random from a disheveled suitcase, munching on cheddar popcorn and Reese’s Pieces peanut butter cups I made us buy before getting to the hotel. And it was divine perfection.
The reason we found this trip so refreshing is that it represented a rare–and therefore, unique–experience for us. And the rarity of something’s occurrence serves to enhance its enjoyment.
Over-saturation, Over-stimulation And Why It Makes Us Unhappy
Repeated exposure to stimulants deadens our ability to derive pleasure from them. These stimulants range from shopping for stuff we don’t need to sugar to dining out. Anything designed to deliver jolts of dopamine and excitement are best if used sparingly.
Take sugar for example. I used to need–nay, require–three packets of Splenda in my coffee every single morning. Try not to gag. Over the years, I’d increased my taste for faux sugar to a near-ridiculous level. I’d acclimated myself to higher and higher levels of need for that saccharine influx and I came to crave it and depend upon it. It’s not like three packets of Splenda make coffee taste good, it’s that I’d become accustomed to it and so I dumped them in every morning on total autopilot.
After embarking on our extreme frugality journey, I was suddenly awakened to a slew of behaviors that I performed ritualistically without much consideration for whether: a) they were good for me; b) I needed them; c) I actually derived any true, lasting pleasure from them. I was a consumer automaton, ritualistically buying new clothes every season, automatically getting a latte if I happened to walk past a coffee shop, dumping a ludicrous amount of ersatz sugar into my coffee mug.
My awakening to frugality started as a focus on areas where I was spending loads of unnecessary money, but it evolved into an awakening of how I use my time writ large and what activities comprise my life. It became–and endures as–a wholesale transformation of how I live. I realized that three packets of Splenda every morning was expensive, probably unhealthy (what’s in that stuff, anyway???), and only served to deaden my tastebuds by repeated overdosing of sweetness. So I scaled back. I reduced my intake to 2.5 packets, then 2, then 1, and finally, I stopped using it altogether.
I was alarmed by coffee’s natural bitterness at first, but I gradually grew to appreciate this natural flavor and enjoy my cup with just a splash of cream. By constantly over-saturating my senses with Splenda, I’d eliminated my body’s ability to appreciate small amounts of sugar. I also used to be a major soda drinker (apparently I had a beverage problem… ) and consumed at least one Coke Zero per day. I was totally reliant on it to get me through an afternoon.
Frugality, again, was my prompt for giving it up because buying flats of soda at the grocery store is freaking expensive! Now, I drink plain seltzer water (made unbelievably cheap by our hacked Sodastream system) with no sugar or flavors and I’m perfectly content. Back in my hedonistic Coke Zero/Splenda days of decadence, plain sparkling water tasted like dirt. Actual dirt. But now, on the rare occasions I do have a sip of soda, I can barely tolerate the overpowering fake sweetness.
The More We Buy, The More We Think We Need
Spending money works in precisely the same way and impacts the same pleasure centers in our brains. We humans have the remarkable ability to acclimate ourselves to almost any level of comfort or deprivation. We can all craft a reality in which we’re deprived or in which we’re surrounded by abundance (with caveats for privilege and the understanding that not everyone enjoys the basic necessities of shelter, food, and safety required for this exercise). Abundance denial is exactly what it sounds like: a failure–or inability–to appreciate our blessings.
The more we treat ourselves–with Splenda, soda, or designer handbags–the more we’ll need in order to achieve our baseline level of happiness. If buying one pair of shoes per month makes us happy, wouldn’t we be even happier with two pairs per month? What about three or four? Hedonic adaptation is the concept that we become accustomed to whatever treats we provide for ourselves and we then need larger and larger doses.
When we sign-up for our culture’s materialistic consumer carousel, we’re signing up for a lifetime of spending money. There is always more to buy, more to crave, and more to convince ourselves we “need.” There is no path to lasting happiness through excessive consumption because you’ll never reach a point of enough. You’ll never look around your home and experience the gratitude of wanting what you already have; rather, you’ll look around your home and constantly identify more things you can buy. Marketing is designed to continually create these false needs for us and to continually convince us that we are lacking and deprived and uncool if we don’t consume at the level that’s advertised to us.
“But buying things makes me happy!” you might be thinking. And you’re right, it does make you happy, but only for a brief period of time. That’s the key–the adrenaline and pleasure of making a purchase fades quite quickly and leaves you casting about for something else to buy. There’s a deeper, more permanent happiness to be had when you stop this cycle and instead start to focus your energies on people, activities, and experiences that are meaningful to you.
It’s also true that you’ll have more time. I often hear the complaint that frugality takes too much time, but I find it’s quite the opposite: frugality takes far less time and frees up your physical and mental energy for fulfilling pursuits. Imagine for a moment if you didn’t have to run a million errands this week: no dry cleaners, no haircuts, no manicures, no dog groomer, no shopping (other than for groceries)… that’s what my weeks are like. I’ve created time and space for myself by ceasing to participate in the consumer carousel.
Rarity As A Virtue
When we instead acknowledge that we do, in fact, have enough, we surrender to a default position of gratitude. We look around our house–that very same house–and think “I am so grateful to have a couch for my kids to snuggle on. I am so thankful we have a roof that doesn’t leak.” We no longer notice the stains on the couch and the scuffs on our furniture or our non-trendy-looking appliances. Instead, we see all of these things as benefits in our lives and evidence of how fortunate we are to have running water and electricity and the ability to safely cook inside our home–all things that many people in the world so desperately need.
If Mr. Frugalwoods and I went on little vacations every single month, I am willing to bet that we wouldn’t enjoy them as much as we did our rare Portland getaway. Since this trip was such an anomaly for us, we were able to delight in every aspect of it. We don’t eat out very often (usually once per month) and so the novelty of dining out for every meal for several days was positively revelatory.
Our thrill at novelty isn’t stymied by overexposure. In this way, we not only save money, we also enjoy a lifestyle in which we appreciate treats in a reverent, almost awe-filled way. Rarity is what yields this capacity for unbridled enjoyment. And the great thing is, anyone can create this space for rarity in their lives. Mr. FW and I used to eat out at least once every single week and it wasn’t until we stopped doing that and started treating restaurant meals as rare exceptions to our routine that we began to truly appreciate them in full.
We can acclimate ourselves to the expectation of dining out weekly; or, we can calibrate our lives to delight in such a treat on an infrequent basis. We’ve also smoothed out our happiness curve by creating a lifestyle in which we’re consistently content. We’ve eliminated many of the thrill and expense-related spikes from our lives–gifts, constant dining out, treating ourselves–which has instead enabled us to experience greater, lasting happiness on a regular, daily basis.
Why Our Consumer Culture Militates Against Happiness
Happy people don’t buy as much stuff. Happy people don’t seek to fill voids in their lives through purchasing things they don’t need. Happy people know that material goods aren’t stand-ins for human emotions. Happy people are aware that their happiness stems from how they use their time, their impact on the world, the experiences they have, the people they surround themselves with, and the daily routine they follow. Happiness has nothing to do with spending money. But marketing fights against this reality in an effort to convince us to fill manufactured needs.
Research has proven that more choices make us less happy, and yet, everywhere we turn, we’re inundated with an endless ream of choices–everything from toothpaste to cars pours in on us in an inexorable deluge of options. This prolific ability to choose is marketed to us as liberation, but I (and research backs me up here) find it an exhausting, defeating proposition. And so? I allow my frugality to cure the paralysis by analysis that starts to creep over me as I face a wall of material choices. I disengage from the consumer machine, I say no, I realize I don’t need it after all, I buy the cheapest option (works with stuff like toothpaste), or I buy it used (works with stuff like cars). By reducing the number of choices I face on a daily basis, I liberate my time as well as my brain–so much energy can be funneled into making the decision of what to buy. For me? I’d rather funnel that time and effort into something meaningful, something tangible.
Our culture writ large doesn’t encourage temperance or restraint. Frugality is viewed as miserly and boring. But in reality, it’s the golden ticket that delivers us off the hedonic treadmill and out of the “you never have enough” mentality and away from the buy-your-way-to-happiness prompts that we’re all old enough to know are empty, false promises.
Frugality is not about depriving yourself, it’s about reconstructing your worldview so that you need less, want less, and spend less in order to achieve a higher level of happiness. Spending is a vicious cycle of always feeling that happiness is out of your reach whereas frugality engenders a virtuous cycle of knowing that what you have is indeed enough.
How do you experience rarity in your life? Does it make you happier?
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Wow- this post is beautiful and very pertinent today.
“Abundance denial is exactly what it sounds like: a failure–or inability–to appreciate our blessings.”
This sentence hit me hard. We have so much, are given so much, yet it is so often hard to acknowledge or appreciate life’s great blessings and gifts when we are constantly taught to seek more… that the abundance we have is not enough…
I have experienced rarity in several ways that has made me happier in life. Following your blog for years now, my husband and I have worked to limit small indulgences to rare occasions. We rarely buy clothes, go on vacations or out to eat. Not only has this made these events more special when they do take place, but it has made us become more creative and find exciting and adventurous alternatives to the typical spending pitfalls!
Thank you for reminding us to look to gratitude. Your thankfulness and joy is truly an inspiration.
I totally agree will you that if we indulge ourselves on luxuries all the time, we will experience a diminishing rate of return to our spending.
Mr. FAF and I don’t go on fancy vacations and can’t afford to do that anyway, so we feel happy evening going on a three hour road trip from DC to New York!
Seriously awesome post! And you’re totally right, the more we buy, the more we think we need stuff. If you simply remove the clutter from your life, you’ll see how easily your mind adjusts and you won’t even think about that stuff again.
Wow, I could not agree with this post more! The more frugal I’ve become, the more I’ve noticed in my parents the need for a constant stream of luxury because it’s been the norm. If there’s one thing that humans are excellent at, it’s adapting to our environments and when that environment is an immediate satisfaction of desires, that becomes the norm. I think that sort of baseline actually ends up causing more unhappiness because there are always going to be times when you can’t have everything you want. Much better to become used to contentment in the simple things and, as you’ve described, the rare luxuries then become that much more pleasurable; rather than the alternative where the unavoidable absence of luxuries becomes a source of pain.
Andy, your comment about your parents resonated with me. I see my dad purchasing unnecessary items like Bluray discs left and right, and I think… you could retire NOW if you reduced your spending! But it’s really tough to talk to him about it, sadly. He considers financial decisions to be very personal. Does anyone have suggestions about how to gently approach less-than-frugal family members?
Yes. Yes yes yes all of this.
A latte from the store every morning is nice and all, but at about 120$/month it’s… not that nice. But on that rare day where the toddler is at daycare (subsidized, even on maternity leave, and she loves it, so…) and my mother takes care of the baby and I can go sit in a coffee shop with a latte and a book and read, alone and uninterrupted, for a full hour? That’s 5$ of sheer luxury right there and it’s worth every second and every penny. Granted that happens like 3 times a year, so. I can justify a luxurious 15$/year on coffee shops.
Absolutely! Those rare indulgences are just so lovely 🙂
I tend to pay the $5 for coffee if I need to study closer to home instead of driving to my campus 23 mi each way. This way my husband can visit me too.
Right?! I used to purchase a coffee every day, and after a while, I didn’t even enjoy it. It was just something I did because… it was something I *always* did, and the thought of not doing it stressed me out. I was addicted to the ritual of that (expensive) experience.
This is such a good post! It is true, every word of it, and very well put. I can look at my own life and see how this is true for me.
For example, we were fairly poor when I grew up, due to huge medical bills. My mother only rarely could give my sister and me a nickel so that we could walk to the corner grocery store and buy a popsicle to split, back in the day when they all came with two sticks. It was a rare, wonderful, summertime treat, and we spent the walk debating which flavor to buy. The anticipation was almost as wonderful as the popsicle was. At Vacation Bible School, though, the church gave us a popsicle every day at snack time, a whole popsicle to each child. By the last day of VBS, popsicles were boring to me.
In my recent mission trip, our team was struck by how happy so many of the people were, even though they had so little. Their lives weren’t idyllic — they had many problems– but they took joy in small things and in their relationships. The young mother living in a pieced together shack on a riverbank, tenderly braiding her daughter’s hair as we approached, was happy to see some of our team visit, and eager to show us how she was using the water filter we’d donated to her family. She was so pleased to have clean water for drinking and cooking. It made our team so much more appreciative of what really counts in life, which is, as I understand, a common reaction for those who go on short-term missions.
A side note: I have a family member who is in marketing. He’s good at it, but the funny thing is, he himself is one of the most frugal people I know. Perhaps being an “insider” makes it easier for him to resist the lure of consumerism and marketing’s ploys?
Thank you for sharing these insights! What wonderful reflections for us all to keep in mind. And, I love that your relative in marketing is frugal–indeed, perhaps seeing behind the curtain decreases the allure of all that unnecessary stuff!
Nice use of “writ large”. Had to actually look it up because I see it so rarely.
Yes, Liz! And “ersatz”. I am studying for the GRE and “ersatz” was one of my vocabulary flash cards!! Such a beautiful way with words.
Why thank you! I do have a great love of words–my dad and I used to read vocab books together for fun when I was a kid!
Love this post so much. I am trying to embrace more frugality (hello pantry, we are going to eat all of these weird foods that are stored here) and we definitely have cut back on going out to eat so it feels so much for special. Everything in Portland is fabulous. My husband and I stumbled into Allegash Brewery last weekend and they have free tasting flights! We then were less frugal at the next brewery and bought some beers but we had a great day!
Mostly yes to this, only I do still feel happiest when filling my life with those things I love most, even when they cost money! For me this is travel: I stopped travelling for a few years to improve my finances and – although I’m glad I did it – it definitely made me unhappy. Now I’m back to travelling different places each month and I truly appreciate it and don’t see myself getting bored!! However I am pretty mindful about my travel choices to make sure that each trip is something I REALLY want to do, and seeing it as a choice to do this instead of something else, so maybe having a quasi-rarity mindset helps too.
Thanks for saying this. We travel every long weekend, every vacation, any time we can. Honestly, I don’t get less enjoyment out of our trips than I did when we were paying off our first house and only traveling once every few years. That said, we used to eat out a ton pre-kids and now we don’t. When we do go out, it’s a rare treat and we definitely enjoy it way more than we did when we went to Chili’s every Friday night out of habit. It just depends on what you value I think. Travel isn’t mindless autopilot, but a very deliberate choice we make on where to spend our money.
This one hit me hard!! I love your blog so much not only for your transparency, but also for your gentle urging not only for your readers to save money, but to focus more on the important things. What a great reminder for Friday morning.
I just experienced the joys of Rarity the other day. I hadn’t seen my friends in a few months (went on a long hike). 2 days ago I met up with them and we played softball. It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. I realized that I probably had more fun than any of them since most of my friends live with one another and see each other daily, where as I hadn’t seen any of them for 5 months. But something tells me I shouldn’t purposefully wean myself off of friends to make the experiences with them that much more special lol. Thank you for the article!
I agree seeing friends after a long absence is really great.
But I don’t think you need to wean yourself from them. If anything you should see them more. Like Mrs. Frugalwoods just said. It’s the buying that is the issue. Letting that go gives you more time for important stuff. Like friends and family.
Mrs frugalwoods I totally hear you on the sugar. I gave up soda in high school for cross country and my experience with it has never been the same. Even when I get a rare crave for it about 2 gulps (2oz )is enough for me.
I also tested dropping the sugar from my oatmeal. Now I can eat it plain and enjoy it. But I can also add a bit of cinnamon and sugar and really shake things up.
I’ve really found this to be true. For example I rarely shop much nowadays, which used to be my main source of fun. Whenever I do shop, it’s a really neat activity, but I know that it’s not something I can do all the time.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately with things that I just use regularly, which are not really unhealthy, but are they THAT necessary for myself or my body? I mean even vitamins, which are expensive, and it seems everyone is on the fence about it. I know you mean other kinds of things mostly, but I’m challenging everything. I think eating out is that one rare thing for me. I don’t do it often so when I do it feels really nice.
I wholeheartedly enjoyed this post. In addition to the UFM Challenge, I am also partaking in a couple of other challenges and one of the major revelations I had from one of them was precisely this post.
A big reason I undertook this challenge and the others is because I noticed I was losing control of my spending and how I was treating myself. I’d eat an entire PINT of ice cream and tell my husband, “Well, I had a bad day and it’s just this one time.” But, lo and behold, I’d be back at it the next week. At $5.49 for EACH pint, at four a month, that’s nearly $22!! That’s nearly $264 for the whole year!! And it sure as anything is NOT good for my waistline. The solution? I started a personal challenge to cut out all forms of sugar (including fruit) for two whole months (so this means no cake or ice cream for my birthday next month!). I am also participating in a challenge to help me appreciate what I already have and helping me focus on taking care of myself. I’m only week two already but my mood has already drastically improved (to the point that my husband has been eyeing me suspiciously and asking me constantly why I am such in a happy mood) and the only time I’ve been cranky is when I let myself slip and ate junk food for two days. Well, back on track I go. I wager that I am going to have more money and a better appreciation for natural sugars when this challenge is over.
A Reece’s Pieces Peanut butter cup eh? I’ve been eying those, but my frugal and healthy habits have stopped me. Was it good?? Please say no. Ha ha.
It was amazing. But, by the same token, I’m glad I don’t eat them all the time! A nice, rare treat 🙂
Portland is the best! I live and pursue most of my frugal endeavors in NH, but usually travel to Portland once a year. Did you guys find any frugal gems over there? Or any less-than-frugal must-sees? I totally agree that the beer-coffee-beer approach is the most effective way to experience the city! (This seems to apply to most of our Northern New England cities actually… Burlington, Portsmouth, etc…)
Since I started reading your blog, we now go to restaurants even more less but what I found is that I like home cooked food even more now! I dont miss going to restaurants at all, if anything after a restaurant meal I think I would have enjoyed this meal more at home!)
I totally agree! Bill and I experience this most strongly with eating out at restaurants, I think. Back when we ate out much more frequently for convenience sake, it was tasty but it wasn’t an exciting, celebratory occasion each time. Nowadays we tend to only eat out once a month, and it’s an exciting thing that we look forward to! I think Bill still misses restaurants sometimes, but I know I definitely appreciate and look forward to them more now that they’re a rarity. Whereas when a treat becomes a habit, it isn’t a treat anymore!
A good read for me today as I’m leaving for Washington State on Monday. Visiting the in-laws and headed to Seattle with my SIL for a girls trip. Living in the midwest, I’m anxious to be near the ocean and in the big city. Looking forward to what I consider treats – – museums, the space needle, meals out, a few cocktails, and most of all, a ferry ride which seems like such a simple thing but one I completely enjoy.
You’re so right – – when we allow our self a treat on occasion, it is much sweeter! Thanks for the reminder.
Hmmm… this post deserves some thought. On the one hand, I agree with you, especially about buying stuff. Right now, our spending priority is remodeling our future home, so spending on things outside of that are kept to a minimum. This means that those rare indulgences are much more fun, and every purchase is more carefully considered.
However, if you really love doing something, then it shouldn’t be relished just on occassion, but your life should be designed around enjoying it as much as possible. For example, I love going out for coffee, and I love everything about it – the taste of the coffee, getting to people watch, the feel of the chair, the chance to read or write in my journal. I manage to keep my spending in check so that I can enjoy this indulgence as much as possible (2-3 times a week usually on my lunch break and I get a filter coffee + refill for $2.12 each time).
Goodness, I might even need to write my own blog post on this. Thanks for getting me thinking!
Yes! I call that luxurious frugality and that is 100% how we live! It’s all about prioritizing that which is most important to you. More on that idea in this post: Smoothing Out The Happiness Curve.
Yes, I have been reading your blog for awhile now and I know that my basic view of this is aligned with yours. I guess the further question is about where you draw the line for things you prioritize (with your $ and with your time). Although, I would also totally admit that I might be so keen on thinking about this because one of my favourite indulgences (going to a café) has been villainized by the personal finance world!
Thanks for replying!
So I outline how we choose our indulgences in this post: Strategic Luxury: The Difference Between Frugality And Miserliness. But, of course, the luxuries are different for each of us and we all have to decide where that line gets drawn.
That’s a really great post – I love reading about your selzer and beer habits, and how you fit them into your modest budget. I have written an initial post about my obsessive-frugal tendancies on my blog (not posting the link here because it seems that might be outside of good blogging etiquette!). Thanks for inspiring me to think!
Heather, this is something I have been turning around in my mind, too. When is luxury ok? Isn’t it ok to enjoy what is important to you, maybe even often, if it is within your budget and life financial plan? I suppose as long as it isn’t a ridiculous splurge, then adding beauty to your life is part of what life is about. And beauty can be something that you experience, like your coffee shop trips, or something like an aesthetically pleasing and comfortable home (my “weakness”).
That’s it, Lisa. When does the thermometer turn from “indulgence” to “anticipated luxury”?
My husband and I love (and I do mean LOVE) to travel. That is our biggest expense every year and we do consider it a luxury as it is not necessary to our daily living. We go on an average of 3-5 trips each year; some 2+ weeks, some over long weekends. We are able to indulge because we travel frugally. We enjoy tent camping and hiking which is a pretty frugal way to vacation! We cook all of our meals and our entertainment is watching the local wildlife or enjoying the scenery on top of a mountain we just hiked. We also do the shorter trips in hotels and, in those cases, treat ourselves by eating out. I always pack a lunch for our travel days so that we don’t have to pay for airport food (it’s far too overpriced and not very good). We have often thought of cutting down on our travel each year to obtain FIRE (financially independent/retire early) a bit earlier. Every time we consider this, we end up reminiscing on our trips and find it far better to enjoy the journey to FIRE as opposed to hurtling towards the goal without enjoying life along the way. I think that a luxurious lifestyle is all in how you perceive said lifestyle. I find my frugal life to be a very luxurious one (tent camping included) but many do not agree with me. It’s all in your perspective!
I recently told the wife how much I like shopping at Aldi’s partially because they have fewer choices. It actually makes shopping more pleasant! I don’t NEED six types of Ketchup.
It’s probably been mentioned ad nauseum, but the frugal/FI community will really like Stoicism if they haven’t already encountered it. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine and Letters from a Stoic by Seneca are two of my favorites and the return on my effort.
Well said! There are many elements of stoicism that I think apply well to the frugality lens. I also greatly appreciate the reduced choices of frugality. More on that here: The Sneaky Way That Frugality Fixes Paralysis By Analysis.
I would love to see a reading list related to frugality. I know it in itself would be an unnecessary indulgence…. but just once!
I actually came to the comments section to see if anyone had posted anything about stoicism. Love that book! If you haven’t read it, you’d also enjoy the Paradox of Choice based on your feelings about ketchup 🙂
I couldn’t agree more about Aldi. It’s the same way why shopping at BJ’s vs. shopping at Costco can be overwhelming. Costco is just as large but has significantly less choice. The amount of choice on everything at BJ’s overwhelms me and means I only go there for specific items (their fresh sliced cold cuts are high quality, on-point, and cheap) and dash out.
I wonder if this is part of the key for shopping at Costco as well – how often do you have more than 1-2 choices on an item there? And everyone loves Costco!
I feel the same way about Trader Joe’s. Between Costco and TJs, there is literally only one item I ever go to traditional grocery stores for (and it’s a weird one – spray cheese! It’s the best thing for giving our dog his pills.)
So true. Frugality becomes sort of addicting as you develop the contentment that comes along with it. The more content you become in life, the more habits of frugality have a freeing impact instead of an impact of deprivation (a concept an outsider member of the rat race might not understand). Thanks for another great post!
Appreciating the little things is the true key to happiness. You’re right that abundance steals our joy.Turning the concept around just a bit, we like to travel and visit new places quite often but we take our frugal ways with us. On a recent trip to Mackinac Island and Lake Michigan, we camped in a horse trailer, gathered beautiful rocks, took lots of pictures, and brought our own healthy basic foods to cook. We spent money on the ferry and a carriage ride, then hired our own horse and buggy for a few more hours of memories and pictures. Yes, we packed food for the day of sightseeing and we found some great beer on tap along the way.
I was so happy every single moment, just waking up to a cup of plain black coffee and watching the geese parents swim up to our campsite each morning. Then cleaning up in a rustic shower and making oatmeal on a camp stove. Best breakfast ever! Who needs souvenirs? I’ve got nature tumbled rocks!
Lovely post this morning! Very applicable and inspiring for many aspects of life, not just frugality! Thank you!
As someone who loves to travel, this post really hit home. My trips have gotten longer, more frequent, and more expensive in recent years – and I haven’t had enough space between trips to enjoy them as I used to. While nearing the end of a 5-week trip in late May – I was tired of traveling, and dreaded the thought of the 2-week road trip I had planned for late July . So – I cancelled it! I am still committed to a few weekend trips this summer, as well as two big trips in the next year – but they are ones I really want to take. I will try to focus more on the anticipation of my upcoming trips – rather than look for something new to plan down the road.
Is that lobster roll from Highroller? We recently went to Portland for a weekend getaway as well and had their amazing lobster rolls! And so true how having more choices makes us feel worse, especially when we start to analyze which will be the “perfect” choice and then regretting the choices we didn’t make.
It is indeed from Highroller Lobster food cart! So delicious and much cheaper than a roll in a restaurant!
I definitely see this in my every day life.
Mostly in things like cars and vacations.
We don’t vacation very often. I certainly *need* a vacation right now – time off work to unplug. I find that I perform my best if I take a week every 3 months, but the school schedule really doesn’t allow for that. We have a vacation planned soon, and I’m not really looking forward to it. Because…it’s with the kids. It’s always with the kids. My goodness, just a few days without the kids would be awesome (I love my kids, but shoot they are WORK).
Anyway, our vacations tend to be simple. Staycations, short drives within California where we stay at a cabin or condo. Every 2 years we visit family on the East Coast for 2 weeks. Once a year we *may* do something more exciting. Last year: road trip to Utah. This year: flying to Colorado to meet friends and hike.
In my friends and acquaintances, vacations are big business. I have a friend who mentioned that they hadn’t had a “real” vacation in forever. But a “real” vacation is at a resort with a pool where you eat every meal out. It’s a very specific requirement. Flying to Australia didn’t count. Renting a house with a pool in San Diego didn’t count. Ski trips to Mammoth, and weekends to the big city didn’t count.
I have other friends who get engaged in really fancy places, so then the honeymoon MUST be better. Get engaged in Paris? Let’s go to the South Pacific for our honeymoon (each of those trips is $8k to $10k, and that was years ago).
The same thing goes for vehicles. The next one has to be bigger, better, and newer.
Eating out, same thing. Some of my friends eat out so much, it’s just usual for them. And now they are used to variety. I am trying to train my 11 year old to cook. And one of my friends said “we eat out a lot, because everyone usually wants something different”. So? You eat what I make.
I love this post and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it as a palette cleanser for our lifestyle. The idea of even naming something as a luxury that is only enjoyed on rare occasions is so opposite of the culture, but it’s so important!
Also, thanks for sharing about your trip – it sounds heavenly. :o)
Beautifully written. At the heart of true frugality resides our humanity.
Enjoyed this post and the comments so much. Hubby and I retired, sold our house and have been traveling nomads for the past year & half out seeing the world. It is liberating to live with a carry-on suitcase and backpack each. You only keep what you really love when you have to carry it all with you. Choice is usually not an issue for us these days, and I do agree that lack of choice causes less stress and makes you appreciate things more. For example, we could only find roll-on liquid and gel deodorant in Taiwan where we are now, and in Japan before Taiwan, until I spotted this Nivea solid roll-on deodorant on the shelf of a drug store in Taiwan this week, and I almost yelled out loud in when I spotted it, because I was desperate for a solid (very hot and humid here). It made me so joyful to finally find it and buy it (it was even no-scent so we can share it-yay again)! I am sure the clerk was wondering why I was smiling like a fool while I bought that one item. It is much more of an adventure when we go on the hunt for something now, because it is so rare that we buy anything at all anymore, and it really makes me even more appreciative when I find something I need that I also prefer. And we are just talking about toiletries that need to be replaced here and there! It is amazing how little you really need when it comes down to it, and how “spoilt for choice” we generally are these days (to quote a British friend)! We also loved Aldis before we left the states for the same reason as others stated above. I don’t need more than one choice in ketchup either, but I really DO need a solid roll-on deodorant right now, haha!
In day-to-day life, I avoid Dunkin’ Donuts and other cafes. I also don’t eat out. However, when my daughter comes to stay, we treat ourselves (sometimes) and often invite my sister along. It is a nice, rare treat. Lately, my daughter and I have been making some of these visits happen at home. You don’t need to always go out and spend. She and I are both pretty frugal.
I love posts like these! Embarking on a frugal journey requires a certain mindset (which is easy to loose after one scroll through instagram), but posts like this remind me to stay far, far away from the consumer carousel 🙂 I just love the benefits of the frugal lifestyle…
Great post. I really enjoy your writing style, generally, but with this, you outdid yourself. I’m sharing this with everyone I know. The experience of becoming used to luxury was called Hedonic Adaptation by the Stoics and is as real today (and as much of a problem), as it was then. Your recognition of the need to step back from the ever rising escalator of consumption is a credit to you. Keep wowing us with your insight.
Such a good low-down on the culture surrounding instant gratification and consumerism. The rampant consumerism in our society (I live in Canada, but I feel like it’s similar enough!) is causing so many problems. There’s so much to be enjoyed when you start ignoring the media and people who tell you how or what you ‘should’ be. Thanks for the post 🙂
What a great post! Several comments: 1. Clearly you have married your soulmate! 2. Your readers/commenters are all so intelligent and insightful. 3. Thank goodness you’re off artificial sweetener! That’s poison. Sugar, too. Which leads me to… 4. Sometimes the more expensive choice is the least expensive, meaning that some food and personal care items are cheaper dollar-wise, but more expensive in later ramifications health-wise. Environmental Working Group helps me choose. I’m happy to pay more for healthy and quality, and am working hard to align my spending so I can do so with intentionality. Example: just cancelled TV – yay! $1500/year saved and no more mind-junk! I’ve been in bed by 10 both nights since, so synergistic win all around. Thank you for your beautiful inspiring blog; your writing gets better and better.
This resonates with me so much! Like mani/pedis. There was a point in my life when I had never had a salon manicure because of the expense. Then I started earning more money, treated myself now and then…. and then I hit a point where I was getting gel manicures twice a month! Among my friends, I remember noticing this “treat yourself, you deserve it” thing. When we had a major change in our financial situation, I was sad at first to give up the salon but quickly realized that gel manis didn’t define my happiness, and also, I had stopped appreciating them. It’s been a year since then. I had planned to go to the nail salon on my birthday, as a genuine treat… and on the day of my birthday, I realized I already felt treated, with some very small token gifts from my spouse and a day off work and a coupon for a free krispy kreme. I painted my own nails at home and didn’t feel deprived, but a sense of abundance!
There is so much truth here. Homo sapiens are wondrous in their ability to adapt. We can adapt to the worst of conditions (which is why you sometimes hear laughter and see boisterous, joyful games being played in the worst of slums and in refugee camps). The flip side of that is that we can also adapt to plenty as easily just as easily, and then yearn for more. As an immigrant to this country, I feel this acutely. The things that filled me wonder, that seemed like such abundance when I first moved here, now I barely notice at all, and sometimes even catch myself complaining about them!
It’s funny how your perspective can change when you’re not feeling grateful for what you have. There was a point when I felt crappy that we couldn’t afford to eat out at fancy restaurants and I admit that I sulked here & there. Now after discovering how many people are being frugal with their choices like us, I actually feel great about our lifestyle and don’t miss dining out at all. We may dine out once a year and sometimes even longer. I love our home, my husband is a crazy good cook, we eat like kings at home on Saturday nights with good wine & often good friends we are entertaining. Now I feel like my life is so bountiful and I’m so very grateful for it all.
Great post! Frugality is anything *but* miserly and boring. Frugality is *freedom* from the consumer machine and the hamster wheel of spending that drives our modern lives.
The power to say ‘NO’ to spending is an amazing change that turns on the spigot of happiness. Quite the opposite of what most people expect.
If you think about it, most of the things we take for granted (like sleeping in beds, heating in the winter, fresh food in the winter, hot water, etc) really are just luxuries.
I’m experiencing this right now with going out to eat, a luxury that’s been hard for me to scale back on (but I’m doing it!) I feel like I’ve been programmed – or I’ve programmed myself – to think that weekend nights require a meal or two out. There’s a part of me thinking, “This is what we DO. Everybody does this, because we deserve it after a long week.” But then when we do go out, much of the time the experience doesn’t feel in any way special or meaningful. It feels… robotic. Though breaking this habit isn’t easy, I look forward to getting to the point where I’m happy eating our meals at home and enjoying some truly special, carefully selected restaurant meals a few times a year.
Thank you for this article. It encapsulates many important ideas (sustainability, materialism, happiness, planning) into one coherent statement. Insightful and thought-provoking. Thanks again
Thank you for a beautiful essay on resisting our culture’s disease of over-consumption and lust for luxury.
It is tragic to realize that in rich Western countries we have progressed in fighting diseases and lengthening lives for many, securing food and making education available (free library books and online courses, folks!), only to have the majority of people devote themselves to chasing luxuries and shallow entertainments, needing a greater and greater “fix” of these things to feel satisfaction, as we know happens in hedonic adaptation.
All we can do is continue to espouse how much more fulfilling the simple, frugal life can be.
And be an example by living it.
We have just returned home to Scotland from a fabby week in Portugal. All paid with the Frugalwoods Philosophy. Everyone eating packed lunches, own brand groceries, less visits to family (motorways do go in both directions….),less clothes buying, hair allowed to grow and inch or four, water instead of dizzy juice (as we call it)……..No one saw this ad “giving up”
……then a week in Portugal. ……..
all inclusive, meals, wine, ice cream and dizzy juice on tap, sunshine, heat, lovely pool, sea and days out at water park and pirate ships. A
All thanks to the January Frugal Challenge.
Now home……..back to normal. …..
Next two years, holidays will be back to being UK based in the tent bought in North Face seconds sale in 2005 for £47……more frugal antics…..then Florida 2020!!
Lovely post. I wonder have you read the art of frugal hedonism by Annie Raser Rowland and Adam Grubb? I have just finished it and it’s hugely enjoyable
Lorna, I just loved listening to Annie Raser Rowland on the Slow Your Home podcast with Brooke McAlary. I loved it so much I’m listening to it again for the fourth time! I got the book out of the library after the first time I listened to the podcast, but truly, listening to her speak is so delightfully gorgeous and inspiring – she is so full of joy and life and enthusiasm. Here’s the link http://slowyourhome.com/151/
“I used to need–nay, require–three packets of Splenda”, love your use of interesting English!
This is another excellent post. Many wonderful points brought together. We have taken a similar path, and when we do have those rare treats, they are so enjoyed. I have to tell you, I enjoy your writing similarly to the wonderful Tightwad Gazette books by Amy Dacyczyn, which helped kick off our path to frugality man years ago. (This is very high praise!) Frugality can bring us more joy, truly. Keep up the good work!
One of my cousin’s friends gave me a certificate to get a pedicure and I happily took advantage of it since I have not gotten one in years! It was a very rare treat and it was a lot of fun. <3 But since it costs so much to have another person give you a pedicure, I'm just going to give myself one from now on. I can learn all of the steps from YouTube and get a wonderful pedicure for free! : ) But having a pedicure done for me was one of those rare treats you talked about in your post, so it was that much more special. <3
I realized a few months ago that Pinterest, of all things, was making me unhappy with my life, how I spend my time, the foods I make. It was absurd. I haven’t looked at the site in over 3 months and dropped Instagram and feel much more content. I have always been able to resist ads, in part because in the 6th grade I had a teacher who had us each bring in 5 magazine ads and then she analyzed them for us–the target, how they were manipulating emotions and so on. Then she brought in a tape of TV ads and did the same thing. I have thanked her in my mind many times for those few days of class. But, instead, I was reacting to web stuff blindly, without analyzing or thinking about how she might make a terrific wedding cake but I can make babka with my eyes closed. I lost perspective so I have removed those temptations.
Great perspective on what creates a happy and fulfilling life. I tend to call it “rightsizing” rather than frugality because like the word downsizing, frugality can carry some negatives along with it. But the idea is very, very similar in that the focus is on embracing what makes us really happy and eliminating everything else. And yes, rarity can enhance and experience but so does gratitude. Whatever works to remind us that we don’t need all that stuff and we are just about always more content and satisfied when we focus on what we love. Oh, and I’m glad to hear you got off those artificial sweeteners. It’s not just the money, they are very bad for your health!
Very timely – a friend told me today that he doesn’t know how I afford to travel so often. I replied that we all have our priorities, and his is his Porsche. We are currently in a debate over whether you get more joy out of a luxury you experience daily or one you experience rarely….and we both think we are winning the debate!
In my life frugality has led to a much better and healthier way of eating. Cooking from scratch is so much cheaper! But at the same time, when we do go to a restaurant it is just an awesome experience! Just one meal out is like a vacation in itself! All the little details of the meal (and conversation with a loved one!) are extra special. In this simple and frugal way, “rarity” creates its own blessing.
I couldn’t agree more and your blog has been such a catalyst in my frugal journey, so thank you for that! I find that now, I am so happy and I feel like I live the most luxe life ever, even though I spend a significant amount less than I used to. I realised it’s because when I do spend money, I enjoy it so much because I spend it on what truly matters to me. I now also take this approach to things like watching TV, spending endless hours trolling the internet and other ‘wastes’ of my time. I prefer now to focus on the blogs and information that is of benefit to me directly, and leave the rest. Great post thank you!
I SO agree with you! We went to the planetarium tonight for a short IMAX style show matter and guided stargazing. We haven’t been to a movie or the planetarium in over a year, so it really felt like a treat. It really made date night a lot more fun, since we typically just do dinner outside and a bike ride in the summer.
It’s so nice to take some time away and then fully appreciate the luxuries.
Love it. We recently moved to Portland, from the country, and love being frugal in a city ( free shows, public transportation…). Have to know where you got that lobster roll, we have a staycation coming up where we plan on indulging in the eating out etc. that we don’t normally do! Did you make it out to any of the islands to explore? Amazing!
Wow! You sailed it out of the park, with this post! Remember how a relative raised 8 kids or more, in a house that was 1200 sft or less? And there was 1 bathroom? They had television-the free with antenna ears kind. There was the library for reading, the backyard for playing, and maybe a once a year family vacation. Now? Newly married 25 year olds want a 2800 sft starter home, with all of the latest appliances, brand new furniture, a full surround room entertainment room, and a 3 car garage. (At least in California.) If you don’t get to Aruba this year, you are behind the learning curve, and your children are being deprived. So many of us, myself included, have allowed advertising to destroy family relationships, put pressure on the family budget, and stifle creativity. All in the name of buying more, more, more!! How my grandparents, older aunts & uncles, enjoyed day to day living with time to listen to their children at the dinner table. Budgeting your time, money, and expenses is really an exercise in pleasure and not deprivation.
Hiya, I recently came across your website and wanted to say how much I enjoy your writing – you articulate many things I am experiencing around frugality and simple living in a really clear and inspiring way and this post again really resonated. I also appreciate the acknowledgment of the inherent privileges many of us have in being able to choose this lifestyle. I look forward to reading more!
I totally agree. Happiness is not defined by luxuries.
Congratulations on the wedding anniversary! We can definitely relate to the sugar. That stuff is everywhere, and we feel like we’re on a never ending crusade to reduce our sugar consumption. Then again, as you point out, we’re on a crusade to reduce our consumption of just about everything, in an effort to find our ideal level of “enough”. Thank you for sharing!
Really can’t agree with this article. I believe happiness comes in the simplest form. Coffee was a good example, the true beauty of coffee lies within its beautiful flavors not by sugar or creamer. I personally don’t eat out much, but when I do, it’s like a treat for me and I would be easily satisfied. It’s crazy how we are bombarded daily with ads to buy more stuff we don’t need. I believe going a little minimal I am able to create room for more.
Very wise words Mrs FW. I love ballet, but, can only afford 1 or 2 a year. I save and look forward to them and savour them all the more because they are rare treats.:)
Buying is so temporary. I’m trying to cut back on sugar in coffee too. I used to put 3 packets of domino sugar into a 10oz mug. I’ve cut back to 1 1/2 and eventually would like to be at zero someday 🙂
Mrs. Frugalwoods, killin’ it as always!
“Repeated exposure to stimulants deadens our ability to derive pleasure from them”
Wonderful! This reminds me of a science fact I learned in middle school – if you are subjected to a constant audio tone of the same frequency for long enough you eventually filter it out and become unaware that it’s there.
I love the concept of making these things more rare so we appreciate them more. Gratitude is one of the keys to happiness!
Such a great post with so many truths! I found that the times I felt the least anxious about buying stuff or being able to afford stuff were actually times when I was unemployed and just didn’t have any money! Everything during that time was a very deliberate choice to treat myself. I still try to keep spending to a minimum, but having money sometimes stresses me out more since the choices of when to be discerning increase!
I cant agree enough with your blog post here! When you take away the stuff that was the norm you tend to enjoy it more when it is only done once a month or even every 2 months.
This morning, while on our daily morning walk, I had a bit of an anxiety attack.
One of my best friends is getting married this weekend, another just had a baby and another just announced their second child is on the way. Every week, friends of mine are buying houses, going on holidays, purchasing new cars and have disposable income coming out of their ears.
I’m in my mid 20’s. My partner and I share a rental property with my cousin to save on rent. My partner has just gone back to university full time to pursue engineering. I am chipping away at a Masters Degree while working full time, but despite having a good industry job and a solid salary, it feels like we are just making ends meet. I haven’t been on a proper ‘holiday’ since 2010 – simply because we can’t afford it.
I find both inspiration and solace in your blogs – a reminder that no one is perfect, and to focus on continuously chipping away and improving our spending habits to achieve a comfortable level of frugality. Three years ago, if you told me I would have given up buying brand name clothing and shoes, I would have laughed in your face. If you told me I would spend less than $100 AUS per person a week on groceries, I wouldn’t have believed you. I shop around for the best deals, and I don’t purchase things unless they are necessary items. I’m still working on our eating out budget, but all in all, our spending has reduced dramatically and I thank you for inspiring me to do that. One day, we want to own a house with a proper backyard, have a puppy and some chickens, a proper space for a vegetable garden and work to become more self sustaining. You remind me it’s a goal worth pursuing, even if it means ‘giving up’ on the short term pleasures.
Yeap! That’s hedonistic adaptation for you. Human can get used to anything, luxuries included. That’s why we try to limit our luxury expenses too. Put off lifestyle inflation as long as possible. Once you’re used to nice stuff, it’s hard to go back. 🙂
Great post! It is easy to get trapped into wanting material things. My wife and I try to limit our luxury expenses. Honestly, I enjoy saving more than I spend. Just do not care about material items anymore. It was not like that growing up. I guess it just comes down to what you value. I value financial freedom.
I really enjoyed this post.
I will say that frequent travel has helped me discover what items I can do without. I travel light to avoid baggage fees and because I’m not very strong – lugging a heavy suitcase around is not an option for me. So in a weird way, travel has helped me pare down in other areas of my life. But I totally get what you’re saying about the frequency of luxuries.
This post resonates with me deeply. After we cut our incomes, so I could work 2 days to raise my son, I had to give up luxuries. We love eating out and would before, once a week or do it once a fortnight, now we are lucky if we get takeaway once a month. However, I appreciate it so much more. I too notice how much extra time I have, because I don’t ‘need’ a mani/pedi/hair cut/new clothes….I’d rather spend my free time bush walking or at the beach.
Just found your blog after listening to the 2 frugal dudes podcast – just wanted to say that you did an amazing job, easily the best episode I’ve heard so far! You’ve gained a new reader for sure!
I love this post. Getting out of credit card debt made me frugal. Twice a year I use a pen and notebook and using the alphabet go from A to Z and think of all the area cities and all the day trips I can go on when weather is nice. I pack food and drink. I play a game with myself called :”creative frugality”. Now after 2 years I paid off the credit card debt and I have more than twice that amount in savings. I love it.
This post was just gorgeous. I love this blog so much that I hang onto the emails to read “later” (as you can see by the fact that I’m responding a year later!)
My SO and I go on ONE major trip per year. ONE. We pick somewhere we are excited about going, and we spring for a B and B for a week in that location. We spring for pet sitters to come to our house and take care of our menagerie, and we spring on eating out pretty much every day we are on vacation (unless we have a fridge and microwave, in which case we do leftovers a couple of times while vacationing.)
This year, we are going to Cape May, NJ for a week.
We also visit his family up in Vermont, but not every year.
We were able to start a travel fund this year, and we each contribute a certain amount each month. This is how we afford our trips. Also, most times, our destinations aren’t super-fancy. They are just places we both think would be fun to go.
Our trips are one of my deepest joys.
These articles are full of GOLD! I love all of them. Last night I was reading them till 1 AM and I still had several more I wanted to read…