The 10 Commandments For Frugal Living

The Ten Commandments are widely recognized in the Judeo-Christian faith as a list of moral imperatives that believers follow. As someone who also follows the concept of frugal living, I thought I would attempt to generate ten similar imperatives, loosely based on the original commandments.

Disclaimer: I am a Christian. In no way is this post an attempt to mock, or make light of, the original Ten Commandments. It is meant to be a light post, and I hope you will read it with that perspective in mind.

The Ten Commandments for Frugal Living

1. You shall not put money before happiness. So many of us make the mistake of putting money ahead of happiness. Whether it is declaring a major in college because of the promises of a high salary upon graduation, or accepting (or putting up with) a dead end job we hate simply because we make a lot of money.

We all have to suck it up occasionally and work through something we don’t want to do, but for the most part, look at the opportunities in life as chances to increase your happiness factor.

2. You shall not idolize things. By things I mean inanimate objects. These things have no inherent value. They are only worth the value you assign to them. Do not worship these things and be consumed by them. When I was 16 I had a picture of a Ford Mustang on my wall because it was “the car” I desperately wanted. Though I never got that particular car, “car idolatry” followed me for a while until I did finally make a new car buying mistake around twenty years-old.

3. You shall not take the name of Dave Ramsey in vain. Alright, so that’s a bit of a joke. But seriously, if you do not agree with something you hear from a “financial guru” there is no need to endlessly bash them. Simply take the good with the bad. No one says you have to adopt every piece of advice these financial personalities share.

There are many things I like about Dave Ramsey’s personal finance advice, and a couple areas where we differ. The bottom line is, develop your own plan after doing a little critical thinking over the idea of others.

4. Remember to rest, occasionally taking breaks from ultra-frugality. My grandfather wrote a letter to me when I turned 20 years-old, and it is something that I still treasure today. He said, “Stop and smell the roses. Life is to be enjoyed.” What great advice! I’ve used it over the years as a reminder that while living frugal, saving money and reducing debt have been my top financial priorities these last few years, I also have to make time to enjoy life. Take vacations; enjoy a football game with your family; take your wife out to dinner. But do it all with cash!

5. Don’t blame your parents for your financial problems. I hear a lot of people today blaming parents for financial problems, or their lack of financial education. Personally, I find that a lazy excuse. There are too many libraries, radio and television shows, blogs, and similar resources on the subject of personal finance to not be able to educate yourself.

If you ran up credit card debt because your parents never taught you about debt, guess what, you just learned a painful lesson. Consider it tuition to The School of Frugal Living, because after you work for two years at night five days a week part-time to pay off credit card debt, you will have a new respect for debt, and for the struggles your own parents went through.

6. You shall not kill your dream of financial independence. Tell someone at work you dream of retiring at 45 and watch their reaction. They will give you ten reasons why your idea is crazy. What about health insurance? How can you afford it? What if you live to be 80? What it social security isn’t there in your sixties? On and on and on.

So, many of us hear those objections, believe them, and subconsciously find ways to scuttle our plan for retiring early. Ignore those people. They have already given up on their dream, but you don’t have to. Never let anyone kill your dreams.

7. You shall not commit financial adultery by hiding money issues from your spouse. For a long time, my wife knew little about the credit card debt I had accumulated while trying to finish my online degree. I thought I was doing a good thing by not burdening her with the worries of mounting debt. I was wrong. I resented her for spending money when I was trying to pay off debt, and she didn’t understand my reluctance to spend because she thought we were living with more than we had. It was a recipe for financial, and relational, disaster.

Thankfully, I wised up and came clean about all of our finances, and together we developed a plan to attack our debts together to realize our dream of debt freedom. I’m proud to say we are nearly there, and I never could have done it without her help.

8. You shall not steal money that doesn’t belong to you. No matter how desperate you get, resist the temptation to steal money. I’m a big fan of the film Cinderella Man. One moving scene depicts the aftermath of a son’s decision to steal meat from a local butcher shop to help feed his starving family. His father discovers what his son has done and makes him return the meat. He tells his son that no matter how desperate things get, he is not to steal something that does not belong to him. It was a powerful lesson about an agonizing decision – the decision to steal to feed your family.

When I worked for a bank, I saw several employees get in trouble for stealing money. Later, we found out they were having financial problems of their own, and stole the money to help pay their debts. If you find yourself in a serious financial bind, resist the temptation to steal in an effort to get out. It will undoubtedly cause many more problems.

9. You shall not attempt to swindle your neighbor. Much news has been made of the recent Ponzi scheme busts around the country. These things have been around for a while, but with the help of technology they seem to be more prevalent than ever. But you don’t have to be running a Ponzi scheme to violate this commandment. Letting your neighbor in on a “can’t miss real estate investment opportunity” you know to be garbage violates this same commandment. Falsely pumping up a stock to neighbors to solicit their investments so your own shares increase in value is also violation.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s BMW. Be happy for others. Don’t be overly judgmental of the purchasing decision of others. And whatever you do, don’t be jealous of their possessions.

We once lived across the street from a guy who bought a new car every other year. He also had a huge RV, and all the toys a guy could want – jet skis, an ATV, a huge, plasma television, etc. For all I know, he could have been $100,000 in debt! Who could be envious of that?

Comments

  1. Number 10 I think is the best one of these commandments. If we can learn to accept what we have and enjoy it, we will be less likely to spend frivolously. While the BMW may be nice, my paid for Altima is so much sweeter..

  2. I strongly disagree re the Dave Ramsey item, Frugal Dad. And you were one of two people who caused me recently to come to an understanding that I was letting Ramsey down by not being more forthright about the points re which I believe he has gotten it seriously wrong.

    Your recent blog entry re Ramsey was followed by a blog entry at the Bad Money Advice blog where the author pointed out the weakness of Ramsey’s claim that people can expect a 12 percent return on stocks even when they are purchased at times of insane overvaluation. I have felt for a long time that I should have been speaking up in opposition to that claim but have held back because I too think that Ramsey has done a great deal of good in the saving area.

    I was wrong to hold back.

    Ramsey is like all the rest of us. He understands some things well, some things not so well, and some things not well at all. He continues to learn only if the rest of us are willing to be forthright in pointing out his weaknesses. Pointing out weaknesses in the advice offered by people we generally like is not “bashing.” It’s helping those people (and all their followers) out.

    After reading the Bad Money Advice blog entry, I recorded a podcast entitled “Dave Ramsey Is Not a Straight Shooter.” He’s not. Not today. Not on the stock return issue. I didn’t record that podcast with the intent of bashing anyone. I recorded it because I feel respect and affection for the man and I think he needs a push to do better work than he is now doing.,

    We all need that from time to time. I think there’s a big problem in the personal finance field of people feeling that it is “bashing” to take on popular figures. If the popular figures really have good intent (I certainly believe this to be the case re Dave Ramsey), they will come to see that those pointing out weaknesses are engaging in a great kindness, one that it unfortunately takes a bit of courage to engage in today.

    Rob

  3. Remember to rest, occasionally taking breaks from ultra-frugality
    I needed to hear this today FD! I’ve been working toooooo hard at frugality and lately have found myself exhausted from trying to save and spend wisely. I think a little rest from the mental job of mindful earning and spending will help me feel refreshed!
    Thanks for the funny, insightful post!

  4. Great post. The easiest way to follow all 10 of these commands is by GIVING! Giving/Tithing what ever you want to call it has a way of putting things in perspective and setting our priorities straight. Maybe if more of us Americans gave and more of us Christians tithed we would not be in the predicament we are in now and would not be looking to the government to solve our problems!

  5. Have you ever read “Angela’s Ashes”? (Excellent novel.) The boy steals bananas to feed his twin toddler brothers. He had several siblings die from starvation. I don’t blame him at all.

  6. I just want to point out that the Ten Commandments are a prominent feature of the shared Judeo-Christian tradition. Since they originate with Moses, there’s no need to relate them back only to Christianity.

    Love your posts. Keep up the great work and thank you for this blog.

  7. This is a great post and so clever. Not idolizing things, blaming parents for money mistakes, and not coveting….I think those 3 are such important commandments.

    Speaking of 10 commandments, I’m actually blogging about God’s Word this week and how it can be so many things for us–including riches and wealth. If you’re interested, I’d love for you to visit.

    http://www.burningbushes.org

  8. On point #5, I think you kind of gloss over how much of an impact parenting can have, either good or bad on a young person’s start in life. Yes, it’s true that there are lots of resources for the motivated but people don’t know what they don’t know. Yeah, after you’re in debt up to your eye balls some people are able to have a “coming to Jesus” moment and figure out that debt is bad and then start on the road to fixing it. But all of that could have been avoided if they could have gotten their ounce of prevention at the start.

    A good financial education as a teen is a lot like good sex education as a teen. We don’t want our kids to burden themselves with massive debt at the start of their lives no more than we want our kids to have a teen pregnancy.

    Sorry so long winded.

  9. I’ll add to ’8 (theft), ’9 (swindle) and ’10 (envy) that you shall not vote for politicians who do a good amount of theft, swindle and envy for you. Most of modern welfare state can be summarized as such. Theft outsourced to IRS is still theft.

  10. This is actually great advice, not just for frugal living, but for everyday living, as well.
    I have to admit, I winced at a few of the items because I saw myself there …
    Anyways, this has reaffirmed that I will be driving my 94 Tempo for a few more years.

  11. So, how do you deal with parents who totally disagree with you on item #1? My parents are immigrants and they insist that I have to major in either engineering or medicine in college because they make a lot of money. I know it’s my life, but they are so pushy! They say that once I make the big money, I’ll be happy, but inside I know that’s not true.

  12. And to Doug @ #9, I say “Now that’s the way to disagree – gently, respectfully, yet clearly.” Its possible to correct someone’s errors, or disagree with them, without resorting to “bashing” or other self-indulgent rudeness.

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