Throughout this frugal journey, I’ve often mistaken frugality for simply trying to save more. In reality, being ‘frugal’ literally means being ‘smarter’ with the money I do spend, so I can spend more of it on the things I actually like.
You know, the old ‘if you skimp on one thing, you can splurge on another’.
However, the secret to frugality isn’t simply blanket-skimping on everything, but making some select adjustments in your life to effect real change, without disrupting your happiness.
So, we thought it was a good moment to consult some experts on what it truly means to be frugal and how it’s based around increasing your happiness, not just your wallet size.
As a long time dependent on audiobooks, I’ve consumed a lot more than I’ve read, so it’s been great going through a lot of these books point-by-point (instead of mid-snooze on the bus home):
Have we confused buying power with happiness? More than $1000 is spent by advertising companies in Australia on every man, woman, and child per year (or 16 billion in total). All to convince us that satisfying our natural desires for comfort, novelty, and pleasure is done by buying stuff. A lot of this book hinges on the forgotten ideals of delayed gratification.
There’s actually some pretty interesting research showing that although our happiness levels spike briefly after a purchase (even that new kitchen that you thought was going to change your life), they then return to norm faster than you can say “Maybe things will be perfect once we get that Mercedes?”
So what do they recommend? Remind yourself you don’t always need what you want, immediately. Things often taste metaphorically ‘sweeter’ if you’ve had to work for them in some manner. That walk home in the cold might seem annoying, but the warm shower feels better after a brisk walk in the cold, than a frustrating wait in the car.
Don’t let advertising win, convenience and necessity aren’t the same thing.
There’s a line in this that will resonate with most of us:
“Now that I’d experienced life living off $5 a day, and a life spending $40 a week on artisanal cheeses, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. What was the point of being able to buy whatever I wanted if I didn’t control my time?”
Controlling your time is a centrepiece for this book. I don’t think the route to successful frugality should mean brutally slashing everything from your budget, because that wouldn’t be fun. Or good. And I feel being truly frugal needs both to succeed.
Rather, the key is to identify less expensive options that’ll yield the same or a similar end result.
This way, you end up not feeling deprived, and save a boatload of money. Now I totally understand one persons ‘not deprived’ is another person’s ‘depressing off-brand biscuits’. The point is, I think we all have brands we ‘need’ and brands we can do without.
Me personally, I won’t eat off-brand tim tams, because they taste like dirt buckets, but I will definitely eat coles/woolies potato chips. They taste like oil and salt. So if they’re 99 cents or $7, they all taste the same (to me).
The point is you should shop around the cheapest versions of the things you like to see if you might like the cheaper versions, and if you don’t, keep buying the others. Maybe nothing changes, but at least you got to play scientist for a week.
This book is a bit different from the rest, it explores what simplicity means; why it’s supposed to make us better and happier, and why, despite its benefits, it has always been such a hard sell.
The book looks not only at the arguments in favor of living frugally and simply, but also at the case that can be made for luxury and extravagance, including the idea that modern economies require lots of spending to survive.
Ultimately though, you’ll have to see for yourself that the connection between simplicity and ‘the good life’ isn’t a guaranteed link, but a probable one.
Living a simple life promotes many values that are considered a positive in Australian society, but aren’t a guarantee of them. Similarly, living a luxurious life might point to some values that aren’t necessarily respected, but aren’t a guarantee of selfishness either.
In a nutshell, don’t expect frugality to make you nicer, kinder or happier, because the mere act of being happier must exist inherent with your desire for frugality, not as an outcome from it. Learn to savour the beauty in life, and frugality won’t seem like a chore at all.
Frugal for life
I’m realising with all of this, that you do not have to be frugal to be a good person, nor does a good person have to be frugal.
However, being frugal tends to encourage values that are considered ‘good’ in our society, and the natural crossover of values that people consider inherently ‘good’ tends to nudge people toward frugal living.
Rich or poor, simply trying to live frugally will help you see the value in things, give you confidence in your ability to deal with expensive life-curveballs, and teach you there’s almost always a second option to an emergent cost.
The content above does not represent any form of advice and Xinja has obviously not considered your individual circumstances in preparing this. It is simply a few thoughts on money to get the conversation started.