Life is short, and I believe it’s important to do and accomplish the things that make us happy while we can enjoy it as much as possible, healthily and with full wits. Is this philosophy at odds with the idea of frugality? A reader recently wrote in with this question for other Consumerism Commentary readers: Are you missing out? Here’s John N.’s email:
I buy into the importance of not living beyond our means. And there’s a great deal of comfort and satisfaction to be had in having money in the bank so that we’re not devastated by the next misfortune.
But, when it comes to living frugally, do you feel you’re missing out by forgoing the sports car, fine dining, and exotic vacation? If so, how do you make a place for those things in a frugal lifestyle?
Robert Kiyosaki’s (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) answer is to wait until you’ve saved the cash and then go forth and spend. But some of us, depending on predisposition and earning power, may grow old or die before that happens. Are there compromises? Can you make them and remain financially secure?
I say absolutely. Frugality is not my strong suit, but I believe it’s important to strike a balance. I try to do what I can now to secure a comfortable retirement so I can stop trading my time for money — working to earn a living — and to make relatively smart financial decisions throughout my waking life. At the same time, I strive to enjoy the time I have today that’s not spent typing at a computer in an office or in my living room.
Frugality and making the most of the present are not mutually exclusive. First, not everyone needs to spend on a sports car, fine dining, and exotic vacations to feel they are making the most of their life. Simple pleasures can often be the most satisfying. That’s not for everyone for a variety of reasons.
So, you want a buy a sports car because that would make you happy. That doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t be frugal at the same time. No, a sports car is not the most economical decision, but for people with the means, financial decisions can be weighed against other, somewhat more nebulous aspects, like the thrill of driving (known popularly as fahrvergnügen).
Whether fahrvergnügen exists as a reflection of a true feeling or only as a feeling created by a marketing term is an entirely different discussion.
To the point of John’s question, what if you don’t have the means to afford the thrill today? There are three options. The first option is to go into debt or forgo saving for the future. Obviously that’s not recommended and could lead to problems down the road. However, everyone is different, so if one understands the cost and risk of debt then one should be free to make that decision.
The second option is to wait as long as possible, but what if you never have the money to experience a safari in the Serengeti? What if by the time you could afford it, you won’t have the capacity to enjoy the trip? Life is for those who don’t wait.
The third option is to realign your expectations with the reality of your financial situation. This option is the hardest but the most rewarding. I’m not saying a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure & Wild Safari is a worthy alternative to the Serengeti, but there may be other experiences that induce a comparable level of happiness and satisfaction.
What do you think? Does a frugal philosophy necessitate missing out on life and how can one compromise?
Photo: Stig Nygaard
Updated September 8, 2011 and originally published April 10, 2008.