Every now and then I read something that aligns so closely with my own philosophy that I literally scream out an approving “YES – that’s it!” upon reading it. That’s exactly what happened a couple weekends ago when I was catching up on a few of my favorite blogs.
Donna Freedman (MSN Smart Spending fans will recognize that name) submitted a fantastic guest post to Get Rich Slowly, Reader Story: Surviving and Thriving (the title also happens to be the name of Donna’s new blog).
Donna’s story was inspiring enough, but within the post I found a brilliant line that perfectly sums up my feelings on living frugally – something I’ve struggled to put into words in the past, but Donna did so eloquently.
“And it’s not that I don’t ever indulge myself. Frugality means saving where I can so I can spend where I want — on frugal travel, say, or the occasional therapeutic massage. But it’s not about who cuts the most corners. It’s about using money intentionally.”
Yes, that’s it! Living a frugal lifestyle is about using money intentionally. It is not about using the least amount of money to fund your lifestyle, rather it is about maximizing the money we do have by making its spending a reflection of our values.
This goes much deeper than my previous attempts to separate the difference between being frugal and being cheap. This goes to the very heart of the frugal spirit. People often ask me how I could be frugal and drive a late-model truck. How could I be frugal and dine out occasionally, or buy organic foods? How could I be frugal and spend money on books when I can get them free at the library?
While each of these representative items from my budget could be obtained cheaper (cars, food, and books), by increasing my spending in these categories, and lessening it in others, I am intentionally spending money on those things that matter most to me.
I don’t mean to say cars themselves mean much to me – after all, I’ve driven beaters most of my life. But now that I have a family, I value reliability and safety when it comes to a vehicle predominantly used by my wife and kids.
I enjoy the occasional splurge of eating out. The kids get a chance to practice their manners away from the usual dinner table at home. My wife and I get a night off from cooking and cleaning. It gives us all a night to look forward to every couple weeks.
I like books. There are a number of books that I like to keep on my bookshelf for future reference, rather than return to the library, so I buy them (I still like to use Amazon.com for the best prices, so the frugal side of me never totally disappears). I could borrow them from the library for free, or search yard sales looking for a copy, but I don’t.
Some people like to travel. Others see every new movie that comes to the theater. Some invest heavily on making upgrades inside their home, or to their outside landscaping, or on jewelry for themselves or their significant other.
The point is that everyone has a different value system, and their spending is a reflection of their personal values. This leaves little room for others to criticize others perceived lack of frugality. Your coworker who espouses frugality in the office, but may be found at the golf course every Saturday morning may brown bag lunch throughout the week to offset his cart fees.
A friendly contest of “out-frugaling” your neighbor may appear won after you discover she receives a manicure once a week. However, you later find out she dropped her gym membership to keep her monthly budget balanced.
It’s not fair to judge others value system. The only thing we can control is how intentionally we spend our money. Are you currently spending your hard-earned money on the things that matter to you, or is your paycheck funding credit card interest and bad habits?
It’s up to you to decide where to spend your money, and the more intentional you are about spending and investing your money, the better.