First off, let’s get this out of the way: ‘frugal’ and ‘cheap’ are two different animals. A ‘cheap’ person (known by the scientific name, Cheaposaurus) is single-mindedly focused on spending as little as possible without regard to other costs or benefits (i.e., value, quality, time). As for someone who is ‘frugal’ (otherwise known as Homo Frugalis), think of them as an evolved Cheaposaurus.
Darwin’s Theory of Homo Frugality
Similar to Cheaposaurus, Homo Frugalis (HF) also watches spending and likes saving money but – and here’s the leap up the evolutionary ladder – these folks possess an advanced brain capable of processing a big picture, holistic view of money.
Meaning, low price alone does not determine what to buy or whether to buy. Rather, infused across the synapses of each spending decision are thoughts of whether the intended purchase lines up with personal values.
Between the extremes of indulgence and denial lays a path known as The Middle Way. This is a path of moderation; one that brings freedom and wisdom. Homo Frugalis consciously lives The Middle Way, striking a prudent balance between spending and saving.
Okay, let’s get more specific here and convert spiritual proclamation into a real world example.
Cutting the Cord and Loving It
Three years ago I cut the cable cord, figuratively speaking. My kids would click through tens of channels, complaining that there was nothing good to watch. When I stepped back and actually listened to their complaints, and considered that I rarely watch television, this allowed the proverbial light bulb to click.
Then I asked myself: why am I paying close to $1,000 annually for cable (do the frightening math – that’s $10,000 over 10 years!) when it’s hardly being used and certainly isn’t needed? The next day I informed the kids that I would follow through on my frequently invoked threat to get rid of the aptly named idiot box.
After allowing the kids to free fall into panic and various states of contortion for several minutes, it was then revealed that I, Maker of Rules of the Home, would allow Netflix to satisfy the all too common craving to sink into a passive vegetative state. The new cost for gluing eyeballs to screen: $9.99 per month or about $120 per year.
In shaving the cost of home entertainment by 90%, was I being cheap? Would I now be slotted into the category of the lesser evolved Cheaposaurus, knuckles scraping ground and all? Well, if I truly enjoyed watching shows on cable television and the only reason I cut the cord was to save money, then I would rightfully be relegated to roaming among my Cheaposaurus brethren.
But if I loved watching one or more shows aired on cable television, or let’s say that my job required me to review a variety of television shows, then a cable subscription would certainly have more value for me, the cost may be justified, and I could make a fine argument for maintaining HF ranking.
That said, cable offered me little value. And total cost (aside from dollars) was excessive because product quality was judged poor (by all supremely qualified judges in our household) and was of marginal importance (read: value).
So now, every year I have $900 more in my pocket that may be put toward savings and investments or spent on items that align with my values, safe in the knowledge that my knuckles comfortably rest a few feet from the ground. And that makes me happy. Knowing that I’m giving thought to how money is being spent, that I’m maximizing savings, not wasting money, and moving forward toward my financial goals.
Homo Frugalis Splurge
- Clip coupons? Good for you. Take in $10 worth of coupons to the grocery store once a week for 52 weeks and you’re looking at an additional $520 to your name.
- Bringing lunch to work? Then you now exactly what you’re eating and are likely eating healthier (feeding your brain leafy greens has been known to increase investing prowess, according to my unscientific study). Oh, and saving money. Right. Lots of money. If an inexpensive lunch on the town costs $10 and you’re dropping that money 5x/week, thats $50/week. Stretch out the work year to 48 weeks (hey, you have to take breaks, vacations, they’re good for the soul) and we’re talking $2400/yr. Sure, you’ll spend money on groceries that are used for lunch but not nearly as much as you will spend eating out.
- Make coffee/tea at home and not buy $5 coffee concoctions at the local café? Let’s see … 30 days per month, one cup of coffee/day @ $5 works out to $150/month or $1800/year. Hmmm.
- Bottled water. Even if saving the environment isn’t your thing, think about the savings to be generated for funding your financial freedom by buying your own water bottle and filling up at home. Give or take $20 for a good stainless steel water bottle that should last many years versus $2.50 for store bought bottled water times say 10 bottles/month = $25/month or $300/year.
- How about growing your own food in a garden? I assure you, the taste and nutritional benefits of garden grown food is so, so, soooooo superior to store bought fruit and vegetables. And, of course, with the California drought five years in the making and counting, fruit and veg costs are only going up.
- Maybe you prefer to dry clothes on a laundry rack or outside on a line instead of a drying machine. Good for you. Cut down on your power bill. More money for you. Kudos!
All of the above activities, and this is just a teeny, tiny, sampling of ways in which to reduce your spending, build your inner wealth (because your activities align with your personal values) as well as your material wealth (through more savings).
And the bonus is not only more money for you to invest, build your wealth, and get closer to your goal of financial freedom, but more options for splurging once in a while.
Can I do that?
What about staying true to frugality, true to the HF tribe?
Ach! The BuddhaMoney way is about balance, moderation, the Middle Way. Yes, frugal is good. Yes, fewer expenses is good. And yes, you can splurge once in a while. It’s not a crime and you will not be ex-communicated from the HF tribe.
In fact, you will be celebrated! Because HF folks live a conscious, balanced life, they align their actions with their values and their budget, which leads to a general sense of well-being and gosh-darn-blow-your-horn-the-sun-is-shining-life-is-good-happiness.
So if you want to buy that fancy shmancy pricey new camera, gemstone earrings, or front row seats to a show by your favorite performer, go ahead, do it! And feel good about your spending because you’ve earned it by making little changes in your lifestyle, by cutting out the fat in your budget, and by deepening your pockets and your spirit at the same time.