There’s no perfect time to start being frugal. Come to think of it, there’s no perfect time to start doing anything! Life, by its very definition and practice, is messy, imperfect, laden with surprises both quotidian and profound, and undeniably averse to our best laid plans. And that, my friends, is perfectly fine.
Frugality doesn’t magically descend upon your life in a crystal moment of divine, idyllic proportion where everything on your to-do list is complete, all of your children (and pets and partners and roommates) are behaving graciously with excellent manners, and you look like a super model chiseled from stone.
No, I’m sorry to say, that’s not how it works. Rather, frugality infuses into your imperfect, normal life at the precise moment that you decide to allow it to happen. You could spend years–YEARS, I tell you–waiting for an ephemeral, non-existent moment of perfection to commence your frugality journey. Or, you could just get off your butt and start right now.
Congrats To Our July Uber Frugal Month Challenge Participants!
Today is the last day of our July Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge (UFM) and I want to offer a hearty congratulations to the thousands of frugal acolytes who participated in this month’s Challenge and charted their way to a healthier relationship with their finances. More than 19,500 folks have taken the UFM to date and you can sign-up to start at any time. We take the Challenge as a group twice a year–in January and July–but you can take it on your own any old time you want.
I received quite a few messages from folks about how they couldn’t take the Challenge in July (or back in January) because of any number of life events they felt would prevent them from donning the mantle of frugality: vacations, new babies, weddings, kids being out of school/in school, home renovations, and the list goes on. But the entire point of embracing the wholesale frugality that I peddle is that you make frugality work for you no matter your circumstances.
Frugality doesn’t happen to the exclusion of the rest of your life–it happens concurrent with your real, messy, wonderful life. Successful, joyful, longterm frugality–which is what I practice and preach–is continuous, daily, and constant no matter what else might be happening in your world. Frugality blankets your life, becoming a comfortable lens through which you view the world. It doesn’t happen on the sidelines, it permeates everything you do. My worldview is frugality; ergo, everything I do is frugal.
They Day I Decided To Be Frugal
Was a very ordinary day. In fact, as I made my decision, I was sitting in a coffee shop with my husband drinking a latte and eating a scone I’d purchased for a very hipster-like, un-frugal sum of circa $11. So, you know, maybe not what you’d immediately think of as the birthplace for a worldwide movement of extreme frugality. But hey! It’s where I was and it’s when I started.
It was March 29, 2014 and it was the day Mr. Frugalwoods and I decided to change our lives. We were unfulfilled and unhappy with our spendy city lifestyle of working all the time and spending money in a futile effort to make ourselves feel better about our lives. We realized that, rather than mete out money every week trying to soothe our discontent, we needed to simply (hah!) change everything about our lives.
We wanted to move out of the city, live on a homestead in the woods, and quit our traditional office jobs, all of which we did in May 2016. We started on our plan that very day. That moment, in fact. We had plans to go out for dinner that very night and we cancelled them. Instead, we stayed in, ate a frozen pizza, and started reviewing all of our finances in order to calculate how much we’d need to save and how long it would take us to reach our goal. It wasn’t like we chose some ideal, pre-ordained time to get started, it was just some random Saturday in March where we decided we’d had enough with living a life we didn’t enjoy.
There’s nothing to gain in delaying your start on a goal. What does that get you? Lost time, regret, wasted effort. If you want to change something in your life, start now and don’t look back. You have nothing to lose by tackling a goal immediately, but you have quite a lot to lose by continuing in a pattern that makes you unhappy and doesn’t drive at your true purpose.
This mentality extends to quite a few things other than how you manage your money–you could apply this approach to how you eat, how you exercise, your personal relationships, and more. Right now, I’m applying this principle to my herculean (if I do say so myself) effort to clean out our wretched pit of a basement. So trust me, this is an ongoing philosophy you can bring to bear in your life over and over and over again (I have to re-learn this lesson, oh, every few months or so… ).
I’m Frugal No Matter What
The frugality that we practice is one of consistency no matter what else happens in our lives. And quite a few things have happened in the intervening three years since committing to living out extreme frugality.
Here’s a brief list:
- We had a baby, something notoriously considered ridiculously expensive but which we found a way to frugalize to the extreme. Our daughter is now almost two(!!!!), thriving, happy, and totally oblivious to the fact that we spend barely a dime on her.
- We bought a new house and moved, another commonly touted over-the-top expense. And yeah, we spent more money the month we moved than we did the month before we moved, but we maintained our ethos of frugality throughout.
- We’ve gone on vacation. Quite a few vacations, in fact. But we spend very little on these delightful jaunts because we apply our lens of frugality to everything we do.
- We’ve celebrated anniversaries, birthdays, family weddings and parties, and countless other life milestones. Here again, our frugality guides our spending and facilitates our enjoyment of these events without spending a load of dough.
These are some high water marks of the past three years but we’ve had countless other normal things happen to us like car repairs, illnesses, unexpected home repairs, vet bills for Frugal Hound, stupid mistakes, etc. Throughout it all, our philosophy of frugality coursed through our decision-making (most of which is chronicled here on Frugalwoods) and enabled us to weather these storms with nary a scratch to our net worth.
So Wait, You Never Spend Money?
Quite the contrary! Frugality doesn’t mean you never spend money, it means you only spend money on things that matter to you. It means you are conscious of your spending and aware of your longterm aspirations and how they align with your spending. What the Uber Frugal Month challenges you to do is identify your goals. Not just your goals for tomorrow or next month, but for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years. When you know what you want out of life–what you truly want to do with your time on earth–molding your spending to match those priorities becomes a straightforward proposition.
The minute Mr. FW and I articulated our dream of moving to a homestead in the woods and quitting our jobs, it became–dare I say–easy to give up our pointless spending on road-bump opiates like lattes, clothes, and fancy haircuts. That stuff didn’t hold a candle to our hope of one day living in nature, working side by side on our land. And your goal probably isn’t to move to a homestead in the woods, but I’m willing to bet you want more out of life than simply slogging through it as a mindless consumer. You have dreams. You have goals. So start spending your money in service of those aspirations. Prioritize what you want your money to do for you and then only part with it when you truly want to. When what you’re buying facilitates those deep-seated hopes.
Identify what you want to do with your life and your money will follow. Spend on your values; let the rest fall away. When you reach that point, you are frugal for life because you’ll realize there’s no other way to live. Frugality yields tremendous benefits beyond merely saving money and when you unlock that magic? There’s no turning back. You’re in it. But in order to get there, you have to start. You have to put in the hard work upfront.
These days, my frugality is easy. I rarely even think about it, it’s so ingrained in my daily actions. But it wasn’t that way from day one. People, I had to first physically remove myself from the chic coffee shop I was sitting in (drinking latte; eating scone) in order to get started. Clearly I had some work to do. The first month is the hardest, which is why I created the Uber Frugal Month Challenge. If you can get through an Uber Frugal Month–and actually complete all of the exercises and read all of the emails and posts–then you are golden. You will have all of the tools, resources, and motivation you need to make a permanent, lasting change in how you manage your money.
But What If Something Expensive Happens To Me????!!!!
Don’t stress, I can almost guarantee it’s going to. I am in the fortunate position of receiving mountains of feedback from Uber Frugal Month participants, which I love reading!!!!! A recurrent theme are panicked emails about an expensive, aberrational thing that popped up. A car repair, a broken water heater, an unexpectedly complicated birth of a child, a dog’s illness, etc. And my response is always that it’s OK. These things are the stuff of life. Pretending that expensive, random events will never occur is folly of the worst proportion.
Accept and acknowledge that something expensive is gonna happen to you at some point. Sometimes–as happened with the revenge of our appliances last year–all in the same month. Don’t stress about it. Just because one expensive thing happens doesn’t mean you’re doomed to non-frugality in perpetuity. Extrapolating one expensive event as an excuse to spiral into an abyss of overspending is very much a ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ situation. Pay for the thing and move on. Don’t wallow in grief and comfort yourself with a new pair of shoes and a dinner out. Pay for the thing and move on. One expensive episode does not a budget break (or make). Pay for the thing and move on.
Frugality, here again, will help you weather this storm–whatever it may be–in two fabulous ways:
- Since frugality is ingrained in your psyche, you’ll look for the most economical method of dealing with the problem. For example, let’s say your car dies an irreconcilable death and you need another vehicle. Since you’re frugal, you won’t rush out and buy a new car on financing. Rather, you’ll search for a reliable used car–which you can pay cash for–and that’ll cost you a fraction over the lifetime of the vehicle (here’s a full post on that math).
Since you’re frugal, you’ll have enough money on hand to deal with the problem. Frugal people have more money saved up than they need. Hence, when something catastrophic occurs, we don’t have to go into debt in order to cope with the issue. We simply withdraw cash from our robust account and take care of the issue. We pay for it and we move on.
Frugality = An Endless Gift You Give To Yourself
Frugality compounds goodness in your life–you spend less money so you have more money and you don’t have to stress about money because you don’t need very much of it in order to live the good life, but hey, you have more of it anyway! You can only get to this place if you start now.
So if you skipped out on the Uber Frugal Month Challenge in July, or last January, now’s your chance to take it. You can sign up for the free UFM at any time–today included–and start right away with charting a path towards a happier, more sustainable future. And oh yeah, you’ll save a ton of money! Don’t wait for a perfect time to start–it’ll never come.