I’m currently reading a book called Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. Early on in the book, she quotes Christopher Lasch, a cultural historian. Lasch says, “The tired worker, instead of attempting to change the conditions of his work, seeks renewal in brightening his immediate surroundings with new goods and services.”
In other words, if we are stressed and dissatisfied with our work, we rarely attempt to improve our situation. Instead, we often buy things to make us feel better – whether it’s a new sofa, a coffee machine or a Netflix subscription.
This quote really resonated with me because of its implications. When we buy things to make us feel better, we then need to earn more money in order to cover those costs. That means working more at that job we dislike. So our attempts to make ourselves feel better are keeping us in thrall to the thing that made us unhappy in the first place. Surely there must be another way?
For me, that’s where being frugal comes it. I think a lot of people have negative associations when it comes to the word ‘frugality’, assuming it’s about being cheap.
But being frugal is about being smart with your money, not cheap. It’s certainly not about giving up the things that truly bring you joy – but it is about realising that those things are often free or very cheap anyway.
For me, frugality is about weighing up each purchase to see if it’s really worth it. For example, I could afford a better phone – but I would have to do extra work to pay for it, which would mean more stress and less time to spend on things that make me happy. Is it worth it? Often, the answer is no when I look at the bigger picture.
There is a common perception that being frugal means compromising on fun things and on having a social life. That hasn’t been my experience. For example, I adore picnics in the park, movie nights and going to free talks or workshops. It’s important to have friends who are on the same page as you, however. And you may have to explore some new activities if the ones you’re used to are costly.
As far as I’m concerned, frugality is just common sense. Why would I spend £20 on a dress when I can get a similar one second-hand for a quarter of the price? Why buy a big brand when the store brand is often identical? Does it make sense to buy expensive ebooks when I can get limitless free books from the library?
Living this way has brought unexpected simplicity into my life. Instead of shopping when I’m bored, I might go for a walk in nature or do some painting. Rather than buying expensive speciality foods, I take the time to make my own. And having hugely reduced my expenses, I can afford to spare time every day for these activities.
So frugality is really about changing your mindset. Many of us feel trapped in the system, but we may not be as trapped as we think. For me, frugality is almost spiritual. It has made me realise that some of the things I previously valued were not really benefiting me and that my time is the most precious thing of all.
There can be some psychological barriers to frugality. For example, paying for something yearly often works out cheaper than paying monthly. But it can be painful to see all that money leaving your account at once, especially if there isn’t much coming in. I spent ages paying monthly for my Pinterest scheduler before finally biting the bullet and getting a yearly subscription last week. (Although I generally avoid subscription services altogether unless they are really necessary.)
So for me, frugality absolutely has been a route to freedom. It has allowed me to start my own business, work on projects like this blog and spend lots of time with loved ones. It makes it relatively easy to maintain some savings for the future too. I’m planning to spend June travelling around Spain, something which wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t live this way.
Frugality has helped me to find happiness, contentment and fulfilment. There are certainly times when I stress about not having much money coming in, and I would like to earn more than I currently do to take away some of the uncertainty in my life. But I mostly see working towards that as a fun challenge rather than a source of stress.
Over to you – do you live frugally, and what do you see as the barriers to doing so? Do you think it would increase or decrease your quality of life? Let me know!