The Frugal Lifestyle: Are We Missing Out on Life?
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
Frugal living means to appreciate the finer things in life because you work for them. To me, it means to make the finer things in life by making them myself. Ensuring finer quality in the finer things, lol.
I do feel that I have missed out on A LOT through frugality. I had an epiphany over Memorial Day weekend a few years ago when I realized that perhaps I was depressed and angry because of the resentment I felt towards those around me who were ENJOYING spending with abandon. I cancelled my subscriptions to all frugal sites (Hi Trent!), threw away my aluminum foil collection and started LIVING. And you know what? My 401(k) and Roth IRA both still got maxed out, I funded my other investments, paid all my bills in full and on time, continued to give to charity and the world didn’t end.
I agree that frugality for the sake of it is not something that I am interested in doing. We were extremely frugal to save to get out of debt. Now that we have accomplished it we remain frugal in some areas but relaxed in other. First, the peace of mind I have in knowing that I am debt free and own my own home is worth more that money can buy. But now I am concentrating on my next dream of travelling. I trip to Alaska is planned for August and I will spend a good amount for my room since that is important to me, however fine dining in not so I cut back there. It is a trade off that leaves me happy and balanced. I feel I live my life better than others even with my coupons, old car,sale or thrift store clothes.
Here’s the way I look at frugality: I save where I can so I can spend where I want. In 2010 I made nine trips, spending only about three and a half months at home all year. The travel was done frugally, and some of it was sad travel (visiting terminally ill relatives). But I am debt-free in spite of having to pay for my own health insurance and retirement (fellow freelancer here).
I can’t see how I’m missing out on life unless you consider “life” to be “the expensive goodies marketed to us by people who have an interest in us going into debt.”
If I want a nice dinner out, I can have it — but only if I want it badly enough. Otherwise I cook in my own kitchen and eat very simply while traveling.
If I craved first-class travel I could technically have it — but that would severely impact how much more travel I could do that year. Thus I stick with frequent flier tickets, bargain travel sites, the two airline buddy passes a close friend gave me last year, and hostels, house-sitting, or staying with relatives or friends instead of four-star hotels.
I’d rather go on nine trips than one or two. Frugality lets me do that and still take care of bills, insurance, retirement and an EF.
For me the prison sentence came after I’d purchased all the things I wanted and gone on the trips and eaten at the fancy restaurants. I started when the credit card bill started coming and I was having trouble meeting the minimum payments. Now that is years in my past and my credit card – note only 1 – get paid off every month. I agree with many other commenters who said that they’re willing to pay a little more for quality. I’ve also come to realize that all my stuff owns me – not the other way around. The more I have, the more I have to take care of it. And the things have never really made me happy. Spending time with family and friends is so much more valuable than some piece of fancy something that’s going to sit on my shelf and taunt me because I haven’t dusted it.
Get yourself a girlfriend who can live with romantic evenings (days, whatever) without having to go out and spend a lot of money. Grab your backpack, fill it with a nice bottle of wine and a couple of glasses, a corkscrew, a good piece of cheese and some great crackers and head to your city park. Surprise her when you arrive and start pulling out your treasures. Trust me, as a female who has been the recipient of such an event, it was fabulous and I was really impressed with my guy’s ability to make something great without breaking the bank. It shows good taste, initiative, and fiscal responsibility. All plusses in my book.
frugality IS like a prison sentence!
However hard I try to convince myself I am doing the right things by refraining myself from those little pleasures in life, I still feel unhappy and down.
I think part of the problem is that I am living in a big city, a city buzzing with “life” and distractions. In order to save easily, one has to go and live on a farm, but this is hard once you spoiled yourself in the city.
Unfortunately, I can only get a properly paid job in the cities, but again, most of my salary goes to c over bills, rent and travel.
I wonder how someone can have a $50-100 leisure monthly budget? In my experience only a night out with your girl can easily cost you that, and believe me, girls want to be pampered from time to time!
It is all complicated. I always believed if you cannot save a considerable amount of money per month, then the most sensible thing is to invest in yourself and try to sell your time for more. Of course, you can only do so until your inevitably hit the payment ceiling for your area of profession.
I completely agree with some of the above commenters. Living beyond your means, using credit cards to fund those vacations and not saving for retirement or to buy a place – or whatever your long term goals are give you peace of mind. And to borrow a line, THAT is priceless. Truly.
I know exactly how you feel! I, too, have a considerable amount of debt that I’m paying off as aggressively as possible so that I can finally start seriously saving for the future and purchase a home some day. I contribute to a retirement savings account each month (less than $100), but feel guilty about that, because it could be going toward my debt. I’ve had to turn down friends who want to travel for special occassions, because I’m so tightly budgeted and feel that if I save up $1500 or more, I should probably use it to negotiate a debt settlement on one of my accounts. But then I feel like I’m missing out on life. I know my debt is my own fault and my own responsibility, but I feel like a prisoner sometimes.
Being frugal to me means realizing that you can live without the nice cars, fine dining, etc. I don’t feel like I’m missing out by not having these things. I could blow $50 at a restaurant tonight, but I’d just rather not!
Alex, that is so true! I used to have girlfriends who never understood the driving enthusiast. I’d always hear “why do you go through so many cars?” Finally, I came up with a reply that always quieted them down: well, you know guys supposedly are not genetically geared to be monogamous. My nature is to have a couple at once and dump them after a little while when I get bored. Isn’t better to do that to cars who don’t have feelings?
Well, non car-enthusiasts cannot really understand all that big spending on old cars, but it is more like addiction in a way. I too have gone through this: I maintained and “built”(modified) my sport BMW back in the past and it cost me triple the money I had paid for it initially. Sometimes I wondered if a new car bought on 0% finance with good service contract can cost you less than a used classic car.
I live in a big city now, have also sold my bimmer and enjoy the careless and cheap public transport. I do feel the urge for driving sometimes and satisfy it by renting a car for the weekend(book in advance to get good rates). And yes, just before returning it to the station I make a short trip to the supermarket to buy all those heavy good-deals (water, soda, cans) which I usually feel lazy to cary otherwise.
This article reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend the other day. We could not be farther apart when it comes to saving and spending. All of his money goes toward buying stuff for his car. I on the other hand just can not understand it. Why would you replace perfectly good wheels because they are not the ‘brand’ you want?
Guess I will never understand.
Personally, I never deny myself any material thing I want. But this is not a problem because it turns out I really don’t want all that much.
Far from wanting a sports car, I regard the day I moved to a city with excellent public transportation, and gave away my car, as the single most liberating day of my life. Every day when I wake up I KNOW I won’t be buying new tires, or making a car payment, or paying a car insurance premium, or making a surprise visit to the mechanic. I don’t give myself “frugality points” for not having a sports car, because that would be claiming credit for doing without something I don’t actually want.
Likewise, I don’t give myself great credit for taking a pass on designer clothes: that would imply I wanted them but was good enough to sacrifice them. To the contrary, they simply exert no attraction to me whatsoever, and so I’ve not “given up” anything by not having them.
On the other hand, like other posters, I value my time more than my money, and so I am happy to pay someone else to clean my house.
“Frugal” to me means being able to separate the fluff from the substance, and then investing in the substance.
For example, a car is a necessary utility and nothing else. So I buy efficient and used (at auction); have a trusty mechanic; and combine trips. My total cost of ownership is about $3,500 per year driving 15,000 miles.
But I do like to drive a sports car! So when I travel for business, I rent a Mustang, Corvette or similar, and reimburse the company for the difference over a sedan. I get the same thrill for just a few hundred dollars a year. In fact, probably appreciate the thrill more than someone who owns one full-time. Try it some weekend (rates are lower!), then turn it back in on Monday happy that you don’t have to buy it to enjoy it.
I like to go boating. But a boat is a money-drainer. So when I go boating with my friends, I pay $100 for gas for the day. We all come out ahead, but especially me!
This article couldn’t be more well-timed. Last least SomeGal and I had a record-breaking year for income and she is leaning on me to indulge in one of my vices: cars. I am really torn about what to do — the classic now vs. later, carpe diem versus long-term wealth accumulation. Usually she is more likely to reel in spending than I am so there is definitely some role reversal going on. There is absolutely no doubt that cash/cashflow wise we can easily afford it. But I have to consider the opportunity cost of upgrading to something nicer and that is my major hang up. Using the money for another rental property would be a lot more profitable, even in the medium term. I have more info and will track my thought process and eventual decision on my own new blog at Hunting Happiness.
I really like the comment that frugality is first and foremost about setting priorities.
This post helps answer a dilemma we have been having.
My eldest girl will be graduating soon. To attend the graduation, I have to come up with some major mullah, as she is studying in the UK.
I can’t put the graduation off, and its once in a lifetime event for my girl and my family.
So I have decided to take option one. Forgo some savings or something else, but at the least my wife will attend this graduation, God Willing.
I agree with the comment saying that frugality is stretching every dollar you have to the fullest. I was a big spender before and I found out that it really didn’t make me any happier. The peace of mind of not owing money to anyone, and having money in the bank in case of an unfortunate event is priceless.
If there is a big ticket item I’m interested in, I can find a way to save up for it, and pay it in full. Frugality is not so much about sacrificing, but ofsetting priorities.
Personally I think frugality is a means to an end. For me I am frugal in order to save money so I can spend it on what I really care about most. Long term financial security is very important and my number one goal is to save money to be come financially independent. However I don’t want to go so far that I’m not enjoying my life in the meantime. In my opinion its healthy to put some of your money into a budget line for frivolous items. This keeps your budget in order but also helps you from getting burned out on being frugal.
And of course you can also always apply money saving frugal attitudes towards your frivolous expenses. I really wanted to get myself a sports car. I looked at Corvettes and BMWs. I finally came onto the idea of buying a classic car since they don’t depreciate like new cars and can actually appreciate. I bought a fully restored less fasionable classic muscle car era car for a reasonable $7k and got a bargain. I had a $10k cash offer on the street for it and it should be worth more than that now.
All things in moderation, frugality included.
Having recently gone through the death of my father last year, I can tell you that you want to make sure you enjoy some of your money while you’re alive. I say this not only because if you pass away that you missed out on utilizing it, but also because when your relatives get your life insurance money, it’s money that they won’t feel good about spending, (unless they’re materialistic and never really loved you :-).
And to defer enjoyment of money is bad for other reasons too. As you get older, you can’t have as much fun with the money. You don’t have the energy or the physical ability to make as good of a use of it. Plus, the world changes and opportunities to travel to certain places go away. Think of The World Trade Center or the Buddist statues in Afghanistan which were both destroyed. With global warming, whole islands might disappear.
My strategy for saving and still enjoying my money is to force yourself to invest in your 401K or IRA and then watch your budget to make sure you’re saving enough other money to have an emergency fund. With the rest, go to town, (as long as the stuff you buy doesn’t become a burden on you in terms of responsibility and eating your time.)
Sorry for the ramble, but that’s another point that has been alluded to already which I want to reaffirm. Some people spend so much time trying to save a few bucks that they lose time which you can never get back. My motto is… “You can always make a dollar later, but you can’t make an hour later.”
I’m not completely against debt. I know that I should have been smarter in the past about using it, and I’m trying to get down the debt I have, but that doesn’t mean that I’d do everything differently if I had the chance and I still value debt as a tool for getting ahead.
But you have to ask yourself if what you’re buying is worth not just the initial price, but also the interest you’ll pay — and ask yourself if you’re getting in too deep.
I definitely believe in investing in one’s career. That doesn’t mean to go crazy with it and buy the latest and greatest of everything. You can learn a lot online for free and you don’t have to have an expensive work wardrobe so long as fits your needs. But if $1000 is keeping you from making $10,000, then spend the $1000.
There are other times where spending a little can save money in the long run. For example, I love avocados, but the tiny ones here are $1.25 a piece. I’ve been keeping my eye out for an opportunity to get a free tree, but rather than keep buying avocados, I recently decided to pay about $30 now to get a tree that will produce 2 pound avocados come this summer.
When it comes to family, you may want to make sooner than later. I hate to be a pessimist, but I’ve lost a lot of loved ones unexpectedly. You never know how long you have. And while that doesn’t mean that you should go all out and spend half the year traveling the globe, it may be well worth it to cut back in other areas so that you can afford to spend more time with family and friends.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I think debt complicates matters a lot. I have about $16,000 in “bad debt” (not of the credit card kind, thank goodness, but still at 5-6% interest) and have an annual income of less than twice that. Additionally, given the odds of getting into a car accident and the miniscule value of my car, I feel like I should already be scraping money together for my NEXT car, which, even used, would be several thousand.
At the same time, I have close relatives in Australia whom I’ve never met, which I think is ridiculous and sad. The cheapest flight possible is about $1000 (on economy, which is pretty much torture for a 12-hour flight) and the trip as a whole would probably be about $1500 (including food, transportation, unforeseen expenditures). I know about frequent flyer miles, but I don’t have any as I’m not a frequent flyer (particularly on airlines that go to Australia), and even if I got a credit card that offered frequent flyer miles now, it would take me YEARS to accrue all the points I needed.
Now, I could save that $1500 in about a year, which according to most of your comments would be okay to spend: at least I wouldn’t be going further into debt. However, it seems imperative to pay off this debt completely before making such a lavish, non-essential expenditure. Like, even spending the cash I actually “have” now is still spending borrowed cash (i.e. I wouldn’t have it if not for those loans and interest accrues on every dollar I keep or spend instead of throwing at my debt). To pay the loans down though–even aggressively–would take 4 years, maybe 3 if I’m lucky.
Since I’ve never seen those relatives in my whole life, I suppose you could argue that whether I see them in one year or four makes little difference. But it’s still a drag. Traveling itself is important regardless of where your relatives are, especially when you’re young and don’t have kids, etc. etc.
Even more on the fence, I feel, are expenditures for one’s wanna-be career. To be able to pursue the field I want to pursue, I sometimes have to buy things to learn the business. As with everything, sometimes I can find them cheaply, sometimes I can’t. But if I don’t get them at all, it’s impossible to remain competitive, which reduces future earning power (as unlikely as it may be). But I feel like I must nix even these things with this debt hanging over my head. However, I really don’t want to wait on this one since I feel like I’m delayed in my career as it is and want to finally get it kick-started.
After having written all of this out, it seems to me that the solution is forgo Australia until the debt’s paid off (and in the meantime, to get one of those frequent flyer credit cards) and to minimize business expenses as much as possible without forgoing them completely. What do you guys think?
On the point about the sports car: I bought my Z, but now I am selling it. At the time it was more important to me than the money on the loan, but now having that cash per month is more important. I think its a fluid process for people…sometimes A outweighs B and sometimes B outweighs A…perhaps an even more common thing is to THINK A outweighs B but find out later on it doesn’t after all 😉
I’m in my mid-30s so I’m starting to focus more on retirement/rainy day savings. Therefore, I’m being very frugal right now, but I will go out for drinks, dinner, brunch, etc. I will also buy new computers, ipods, and pricey shoes when I want.
I will not, however, spend money on these things unless it’s within budget. I will also not buy computers and ipods unless I save for them. I’m saving for a suped up Apple desktop which will be $7K when it’s all said and done with. I could get it on credit or pay for it with the money in my savings account, but I choose to save the $7K instead.
I never thought I was frugal until I read this article. I personally don’t enjoy fancy vacations – I’ve had them…they ended…big deal. I’d much prefer an afternoon off at a baseball game (with no one else, just me) now thats a vacation!
The sports car I wouldn’t mind having. But if I really wanted one I’d have it, so I must not want it too much. I compromised anyway and bought an used sports sedan a few years ago – its no slouch on the road – and its paid for.
The fine dining I do indulge in – but not all the time – maybe once a month. It is the cheapest of the vices you mentioned so why not enjoy?
But someone earlier say striking a balance and that’s what frugality is to me. I’m striking a balance now so I can go “no holds barred” in the future (if I actually choose to do that when the time comes). And frankly I’ve had some nice things in my life. I used to live in the garage apt of my rich aunt & uncle. They included me in everything – nice meals, $80k Mercedes convertible, monster house, country club, yachting in Charleston, great parties. It was fun, but it was exhausting and I really didn’t get that much out of it for the long term except some good stories.
Now that I am responsible for my own house and cars I see Mercedes & BMW as a lot of hassle because of required maintenace to stay on top of their performance. I see the monster house and yard as a lot of crap to keep mowed and cleaned. To me most of it just seems like “keeping up appearances” or “keeping up with the Joneses.” But like I said, I do like to eat well – so I guess I won’t be frugal in that department.
Due to having had very little in the past, and having frugality in my bones, I do find it hard to overspend. I also vote with my wallet, which makes me stubborn and likely to act on principle, to the benefit of my bank account.
We may do without ever owning a home, because we refuse to pay interest, go into debt and make payments while saying we “own” something. We’d love to own a home if we could purchase it outright. We bought a new vehicle a few months ago outright, and it wasn’t difficult because we see it as a practical purchase.
I have felt very poor because we haven’t had cable TV. Expanded basic is $57 monthly here, and I highly object to the cable company’s exploitation of the community, especially the poor. No cable means little reception, and the property owner won’t allow anything put on the roof, like an antenna. We can’t get a Dish signal, but I think the cable company’s product is superior to it anyway. Now I’ve cut loose and ordered cable, and while I know we will love being able to watch TV and my husband will absolutely love watching the football draft, I’m going to continue to be irritated that the cable company is taking close to $700 a year from us, for something that should not cost at all. Chances are good that I’ll find a way to make cuts elsewhere in our budget, even though we already spend as little as possible to get as much as we can. We are value-conscious.
I agree with Trent. For me, frugality is about balancing future planning (my impact on the planet, retirement, emergency fund, home, investment) with sheer enjoyment of the present moment.
I have a sporty car, which I bought used and researched exhaustively before buying. It gets great gas mileage and provides me with a huge amount of enjoyment. Being in a LDR, I also travel cross-country a lot and eat out with my sweetie at nice restaurants in Manhattan (yiiiikes). At home, I splurge on some luxuries, but I also prepare many of my own meals, bike/walk around, use the library, and buy most of my clothes at discounters and thrift stores.
If the economy continues to go south, I’ll have to rein in my travel and eating out a bit. And being a single person, I’d obviously have to make huge changes to my lifestyle if I lost my job and had to spend time looking for work in a sluggish market. I know how to live enjoyably on a shoestring, but for now, I’m enjoying some of the fruits of my labors while they’re in season. 🙂
I don’t think that being frugal means cutting back on everything just to be frugal. Being frugal for me is about spending with priorities in mind. For example, it may mean cutting out daily fast food trips so that I can occasionally eat out at a really nice restaurant with my husband. My husband and I have made a lot of small cuts, and as a result we’re finally getting the debt down while still being to make upgrades to our home which mean a lot more to us than the extra cable channels, the overprices paper towels, or the gym membership we rarely used.
When you stop buying every “cool” thing that you come across, you may be surprised that you can actually afford those things that really mean something to you — which may be the sports car or awesome vacation.
Being frugal doesn’t mean denying yourself a sports car, fine dining, or an exotic trip. I just means planning ahead. If you want a sports car as a frugal person, cruise the classified ads for someone selling one on the cheap. A sports car for most people is a second car, does it really need to be reliable immediately after purchase? Most sports car enthusiasts spending alot of time modifying and customizing, here is your chance! Want to experience fine dining? Here in Boston we have Restaurant Week, which gets you into some really nice restaurants on the cheap. I’m sure there are similar events in other cities. As for that exotic trip, use your frequent flyer miles. A business class ticket to Asia might be $20,000, but it’s only typically around 100,000 miles. Hotel points go very far internationally (unlike US dollars). Instead of using the points for a yearly trip to see Mickey Mouse, save them up for the big trips, you get much better value this way. You don’t have to deny yourself anything by being frugal, you just have to plan ahead.
It’s a fair question to ask, simply because there isn’t a lot of talk of moderation… Many “frugal” people will save a nickel while sacrificing pleasure or time.
For me, I’ve come to value my time MORE than my money. With two kids and a busy family life, nothing is more important to me than time to pursue things that make me happy (some of which cost money but many of which don’t).
A big decision I made recently was to pay someone to finish our basement… According to most estimates, I’ll get maybe 50% of this money back when I sell the house. Out of the the 50% I “lost,” I figure 20% was justified because the guy I hired simply does better work than I, but the other 30% was TIME. Time that I can spend w/ my family, or training for marathons or being better on the job… I consider myself to be fairly frugal w/ my money, but I’m a MISER about my time. 🙂
I agree with Trent. I don’t believe in frugality just for the sake of frugality. I think it’s more important to focus on getting the most value from your money. I don’t eat out a lot (I prefer home cooking over mediocre restaurant) because I have no problem spending money on travel. I value travel much more highly than other expenditures.
For me, frugality means maximizing the value of every dollar. That does *not* necessarily mean always buying the cheapest thing and denying myself stuff that I enjoy.
For example, I cook a *lot*. I love to prepare my own food and create a great meal that my whole family can sit down and enjoy. There is value in that for me far beyond the mere cost of the ingredients, so I don’t skimp on them. I get fresh ingredients that I know are the best available to me, even though I could get “cheaper” stuff quite often. Why? The difference in quality in the ingredients adds enough value for me that the better stuff is a bargain.
On the other hand, I make my own laundry detergent out of borax and washing soda. It’s as dirt cheap as I can possibly make it. Why? Because I don’t see enough value added in buying Tide with Bleach Alternative, which is what Consumer Reports recommends.
A truly frugal person will ask themselves what total value they’re getting for their dollar and buy the thing that gives the most value. It requires a lot of personal honesty to do that.