Why Frugality Doesn’t Work
The word “diet” means the foods you eat regularly. So technically everybody is on a diet. And your diet may not work for me, and it might not even work for you. And telling everyone to diet or about your diet, well that’s annoying.
The same is true for frugality. Frugality doesn’t work because everyone has a definition of frugal and none of those definitions are right or wrong. We spend so much time and energy judging other people’s definitions, but if it work for you, it works. Once we start realizing that, we can all go back to watching TV. =D
What Frugality Isn’t
Don’t you hate it when you share something with a friend and instead of mindlessly complimenting it, and you, by extension, they offer completely valid criticism?
Me too. Please keep mindlessly complimenting this blog. =D
So anyway, I was a little gaga over The Minimalists’ documentary, which I told my friend about. He texts back: “Lol I’m watching it. It’s funny.”
Um, it’s not funny. It’s deeply moving and profound, I say. So he says:
All these guys are doing is chasing happiness from a different angle.
I was initially taken aback because this wasn’t a clear compliment regarding either me or the film. But after my initial shock and irrational anger subsided, I realized that he wasn’t wrong (ugh! friends who aren’t wrong!).
Though The Minimalists’ minimalism was a rejection of consumer culture, there isn’t as much difference between minimalism and consumerism as I had initially thought. Whereas consumerists may compete over who has the most or the nicest stuff, minimalists can compete over who has the least stuff.
And both of these competitions are, let’s face it, kinda stupid.
Defining Ourselves by Our Frugality is Stupid
Defining yourself by how much stuff you own is weird (“Hello, my name is Lisa and I only own 100 things”); equally weird is defining yourself by your lack of stuff (“Hello, my name is Lisa and I don’t only own 100 things”). One person has a lightly packed backpack and the other has three overstuffed suitcases. If both people enjoy their respective luggage and both get to the same destination, then who’s to say one way is better than the other?
I think a similar line of thought applies to people who define themselves as “frugal.”
Dictionary.com defines being “frugal” as “not wasteful.” But “wasteful” is a subjective term. I see articles by bloggers bragging about their uber-frugal lifestyles and dismissing unnamed others for their perceived extravagance. Spending on designer clothing, going out for drinks with coworkers, having a nice house – these are seen as anti-frugal. Meanwhile, “frugal” people apparently shop at used clothing stores, avoid get-togethers that cost money and flaunt the modesty of their homes – so they can retire and travel the world. If that’s the only way to be frugal, then I’m not interested – because I love get-togethers.
The purported difference between minimalists and consumerists is that minimalists think stuff is wasteful, but experiences are not. But you’re not saving money choosing experiences over stuff – you’re just making different choices. If I save money on travel in order to have a nice house that I get to enjoy with my family and friends everyday, why is that not considered frugality?
Why Everyone is Frugal
There was an article awhile back on Iwillteachyoutoberich that reasoned that spending a lot doesn’t necessarily mean one is wasteful if the amount spent is conscious and aligned with one’s values. One shouldn’t assume that spending on what others may perceive as frivolous is unwise if it’s meaningful to the person who spends it. And MixedUpMoney once proclaimed: we are all frugal.
I’ve never met a person who tries to be wasteful – who tries to pay more and get less, who finds loopholes to pay MORE in taxes, who creates trash because they like the feel of plastic clogging the Earth’s landfills. Everyone tries to use their dollar to get the maximum good. After all, there are 83 million hits for “how to save money” on Google because everyone is looking for ways to save money and there are at least 83 million different ways to be frugal.
Everyone is frugal. They just might not be frugal in your eyes, according to your values and judgments. Everyone is trying to obtain the right amount of “stuff” so that they can achieve their goals – but their number of items will be higher or lower than yours. It makes us all look stupid (and sad) if we are trying to out-frugal each other.
Why Frugality Doesn’t Work
The idea of “frugal” v. “unfrugal,” minimalists v. stuff-ists, makes it seem like we have fundamentally different values than people who define themselves differently. Some may negotiate a deal on a luxury car, some may buy a cheaper model, some may lease and some may go car-free. You may argue about which is the most “frugal” option, but in the end, isn’t the type of car less important than where you’re going?
Minimalism and frugality aren’t the destinations – they’re just different cars we drive as we figure out where we’re going.
In the new year, in a very divided country, we don’t need more reasons to be divisive. Of course, tips for saving money are always good and can be helpful. But there is no reason to put down some people’s choices or elevate others’. Personal finance is above all else, “personal.”
How to Avoid Judging Among Your Friends
We are all striving for the same things – happiness, security, love, meaning. Our decisions are different, our values are different, our stuff is different, but overall, we are very similar, more similar than we care to remember most of the time. To quote one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou:
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike than we are unalike.
Conclusion – Frugality Doesn’t Work
Faith, freedom, finances, even failure, and other F-words are useful from time to time. But I’m done with “frugal.” “Frugal” is used as a term to judge one set of personal finance choices as better or worse than others. I’d rather err on everyone having the freedom (best F-word) to finesse their finances to fit their own life. And we can all just fire (another good F-word) each other up along the way.
I think frugal is a weird word, like it’s hard to say and gets caught in your throat. But I think it’s an ethos, and it can be aspirational.
Like maybe someone drinks bottled water every day though their tap quality is excellent. They might not consider this activity wasteful, but many people would.
By espousing the ideal of frugality, one can commit to finding where one wastes, and strive to improve upon it. And I think we can do this in a million small ways.
The ultra frugal have gotten wildly different results, and that has made for interesting and sometimes inspirational stories. Do I think of Mr. Money Mustache when I bike to work? I do. He has inspired me to eschew the car every once in a while. Though I don’t calculate how many cents in gas I saved.
Sometimes inspiration is found in the extreme. And you have to take extraordinary steps to leave an extraordinary life IMHO!
Frugal IS a weird word. Not as fun as Fraggle. Sounds a lot like scrooge, not ironically.
I believe in reducing waste, according to whatever definition of waste you have. And when we’re living our lives according to our ideals, it can be inspirational to others – especially in a very wasteful world. Biking to work brought me so much joy, it didn’t even seem frugal to me. I’m glad you were inspired to bike to work.
Thanks for reading!