Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why Frugality?

Over a year after starting this silly little blog, I figure I should address why I chose to talk about frugality (among other topics). I've read so many online comments about how people who are frugal "deprive" themselves, or miss out on life. I've even heard a few comments from friends to the effect that it's not really worthwhile to save money, or even to manage it well. (Thankfully, those comments have been few and far between--most of my friends and family are pretty savvy about this stuff already.) I always feel a little sad about those comments, because the people who make them don't really understand what they're missing out on. They're the same ones who will be complaining that they'll never be able to retire a few years down the road. Or even worse, they really won't get to retire.
Our old lady dog, enjoying a well deserved rest in the sun.
Everyone deserves the same relaxing, carefree time
in their old age.
No one should be stuck working when they don't want to, and a life spent like that just seems like a waste. Do you really want to drag yourself to a job every day, no matter how old you are? And for what? It's not like most people who mismanage their money spend it on things to make their lives better. The odd vacation, sure. But will that brand new, expensive car really make your life better? Or is it just going to be a thing that schleps you to your job every day and you won't notice it after a while? How many clothes have you bought in the past that really, really stick in your mind? How much opportunity for things you really want, or even need, to do are you trading for kitsch and the momentary satisfaction of a purchase? When you think about it, is it really worth it?
The economist Keynes believed that we would have a fifteen hour work week by now. That would be aweome...if it had actually happened. However, what we tend to see is that people work longer hours now than they used to, while others experience a shortage of jobs. It's a disconnect which, frankly, has a whole host of social, political, and economic problems attached to it. But the reason he figured we'd have such a short work week is because we wouldn't need to work any longer. With our needs met, people would put in fewer hours at a traditional job and spend more time in leisure. How many of you just read that and thought of all the ways a fifteen hour work week would improve your life? Yeah. The problem is, people began finding so many ways to spend themselves out of that shorter work week. It's not all our fault, there is a lot of creepy psychology behind marketing. But, if we're honest, a lot of it is also our own fault. No one makes us buy unnecessary stuff, we do it to ourselves. How many purchases have you regretted soon after making them? And how much is that in terms of your salary? Did you waste an hour on the silly purchase, two, four? Taken all together, how much of your life have you spent on silly purchases? Putting it in real terms like that tends to up the stakes. When I was younger, my best friend and I calculated everything in terms of books. "No, that's way too expensive. I could buy at least three books for that amount!" It was an easy way for us to determine what was really important, and what was an impulse purchase we'd later regret.
My love of books is well documented.
I'm not immune to marketing and the desire for stuff. Even as what Gretchen Rubin would call a "compulsive under-buyer" (someone who routinely doesn't buy stuff, even when it would improve my life), I still have the want of things. I just don't take the next step and actually buy them until I've thought about it for a long, long time. As an example, there's a purchase that HusbandX has approved, but it's thirty whole dollars and I'm just not sure I'm ready to spend that money right now on anything except food. As a consequence of this tendency, which HusbandX has to a slightly lesser extent as well, we end up saving far more of our income, percentage-wise, than most people. Not even most people in our age and income bracket, or family situation, but most people in general. As a consequence of that, I can reasonably expect that we will be essentially financially independent by sometime in our forties, if not a little earlier. Not that quitting work will necessarily be something that happens when that day comes, but we won't have to work unless we really, really want to. It might not be important to others, but being able to choose the course of our lives without worrying about money or work is very important to both of us.
HusbandX and I don't have a specific dream we're working towards. We don't want to retire super early, like these people or these people or a whole bunch of others. We don't want to take a few years to travel the world (although we do want to travel, just maybe shorter time periods, thanks). There's nothing pressing which is driving us to frugality. However, being good with our money and resources gives us options. There's so much freedom inherent in being able to make choices, and so many people spend themselves out of these options.
Frugality isn't just about how much you can make over and above your expenses, it's also about how much you can save. I've heard it described as offense and defense, which well describes what HusbandX and I are doing. He's the offense, earning most of our money, while I play defense at home. I do what I can, within reason, to save money so that the money he's worked hard to earn isn't frittered away wastefully. This isn't a model that works for every couple, there are as many ways to do frugality as there are people, but this is what's working for us. For a while when we lived in Fairbanks, the roles were switched. I expect that, at some point, they may switch again, but maybe not. Maybe they won't need to. Being open to changing as circumstances demand, however, is crucial to our smooth operation.
A little bit of defense: home canned applesauce from
free apples. Doesn't get much better than that.
Frankly, the biggest thing that having a bit of money put aside gives us is peace of mind. I know that when times get tough we always have options. There have been times (such as, uh, right now) when we've kept ourselves in less than ideal circumstances so that we can give ourselves better circumstances later on. Do either of us want to be living with my parents? No. But doing so is allowing us to save up the money we need for a down payment on a house of our own. (Soon....) Yay! If we rented, particularly in this crazy market, it would take us years more before we'd be in a position to buy a place. For us, the trade-off has become worth it. Others might not see it that way for themselves, but this works for us.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this... and you are not wrong on any level. Frugality is often seen as being cheap or boring, etc... but as my financial counsel said to me a few years back when I started to be more frugal, and lived out of a camper two summers in a row, (because I wanted to buy a home,) "Pay yourself first!" Words to live by, that allow for far greater satisfaction.