Ever talk to someone who tells you that they’re interested in frugality, love to read about frugality, and their biggest role models are thrifty people like Amy Dacyzyn and Dave Ramsey? Then you discover that these people are not poor at all – perhaps they’re even richer than you’d ever hope to be, and they live in a mansion, to boot!
Some people are very resistant to the idea of being frugal. “I’m not poor, why should I be frugal?” they say. The thing they’re missing is that frugality isn’t just for poor people – you can be poor and a spendthrift, or rich and frugal minded. In fact, sometimes rich people get to be wealthy precisely because of their thriftiness, and if a poor person isn’t frugal, they’ll only become poorer and poorer. Frugality is suitable for everyone; there’s no one who wouldn’t benefit from frugality.
Upon hearing that, people often respond with something along the lines of “But I can afford to not be frugal – why should I have to go without things that are important to me just so that I can claim to be frugal? What’s the point of having money if you don’t spend it?” What these people aren’t realizing is that frugality isn’t the same for everyone – what can be a frugal move for someone can be decidedly unfrugal for another. A rich person’s frugality will certainly look different than the average person’s.
Frugality doesn’t mean going without. Frugality doesn’t mean a life of asceticism. Frugality simply means smart spending – that you’re conscious about where your money is going and that it is being spent in ways that reflect what is important to you. While at the same time, it also means spending less money than you’re earning so that you can have a savings account, or at the very least, not go into debt.
One of the most common and clichéd bits of frugal advice out there on the blogosphere is “Cut out your lattes – you’ll save so much money,” which, quite frankly, is stupid advice. Yes, there may be truth to that phrase, making a latte at home instead of buying it daily at Starbucks is cheaper, but it’s stupid advice for two reasons. Firstly, people know that their lattes are costing them money. They know they can make it at home for cheaper; they don’t need to be told that.
Secondly, the reason why people buy lattes instead of making them at home is often because of the way it makes them feel to buy that latte, perhaps pampered and special. Frugal advice to give someone regarding their latte is not “Don’t spend money on that!” but rather “Consider how much money you spend monthly on lattes, and then consider how much value those lattes bring into your life. Is that money worth it?” If the answer is yes, then they should pick something else to cut back on, something that they don’t appreciate as much.
And that, precisely, is the purpose of frugality. Not to deprive yourself of things that matter to you, but to free up the money wasted on things that you don’t even care about, so that you have the money available to spend on things that really matter to you. A frugal person, living in the mansion, is not being unfrugal by living there. If a big house is important to someone, and as long as she has the money to pay for it, and cuts back in other ways so that she can afford it, there’s nothing unfrugal about the choices being made.
Frugality isn’t austerity. Frugality just means thinking before you spend, so that you don’t look back and regret money wasted on things that didn’t matter all that much to you.
Penny is a mom, wife and contributor to the CareOne Debt Relief Services blog. She is also the face behind Penniless Parenting, her blog that is devoted to living within a budget.