Those of you who have read me consistently over the years (thanks for nothing, mom) know I’ve had some anti-frugality views. It would seem I hate it as much as the average Instagram model hates pants. Finally! A joke relevant for 2018!
Too bad it’s not funny.
It’s not that I hate frugality, of course. Limiting your spending is an important part of every financial plan. It isn’t much sacrifice, either.
Anyone with a little access to the internet and the patience to wait for decent sales at the grocery store can learn to cook. There are hundreds of enjoyable things you can do that don’t cost much.
Video games can stretch $50 worth of entertainment out over hundreds of hours. I’m still playing MLB The Show 12, a game I acquired for about $10. Each hour I’ve played the game has cost me like 5 cents. And you should see how good my user-created player is. It’s probably my greatest accomplishment.
Many early retirees have taken this to the next level, starting blogs primarily designed to keep them busy, but then turning them into decent side businesses. This ensures they’ll have enough money to survive their withdrawal rate while conveniently explaining the gap in their resume in case they ever have to go back to work. A hobby that generates income is the ultimate frugality hack.
Ultimately, I used to downplay frugality because at the end of the day there’s a limit to how little you can spend. It costs at least $10,000/year to have a paid off house and a car, no matter how cheap you are with the latter. You might be able to get it under that, but not much. By the time we add in food, a little travel, and the rest of the categories that make up the average person’s spending plan, we’re up to at least $20,000 or $25,000 per year.
In short, it costs about that much to function in today’s society. There’s a minimum spend amount.
The challenge in keeping spending down
I firmly believe most people don’t have an earning problem. They have a spending problem.
Think of your friends who are constantly broke. Chances are they’re university educated folks with decent jobs. Many of them probably have a household income of six figures, or close to it. And yet for whatever reason, they can’t seem to get ahead.
The earning power isn’t really the problem here. These folks might think so, but at the end of the day they’re spending every nickel that comes in (and then some in many cases). If their income goes up, so will their spending.
If you’re reading this blog, you likely don’t run into that problem. You’ve got a healthy savings rate and you’re more interested in optimizing your finances. Also your wiener is GIGANTIC. Well done.
Still, we should all strive to constantly improve our financial lives. And the easiest way to start is to come up with a spending plan.
The beauty of a spending plan is it doesn’t have to be very complicated at all. You might set a nice round number of $30,000 annually as a spending goal. That makes the exercise pretty easy. Or you might get into the nitty gritty of each and every budget category, deciding that you’d only like to spend $500 per month on food and $100 per month to keep the lights on.
You can decide to make it as complicated or as simple as you want, with one important caveat. Your spending plan must motivate you to cut your expenditures while maintaining a high happiness level. Because if you don’t have the latter, the former will quickly fall apart.
Making yourself happy should be the goal of every spending plan. If you want the odd splurge here and there, knock yourself out. I’ve been considering taking up golf again, something that would likely cost me $2,000 or so every year if I get a membership. That seems like a lot, especially considering I’d like to keep our spending at approximately $30,000 per year. I’d have two choices — either cut back on the golf or cut back on other spending. I’ll likely play a few rounds next spring and see if I enjoy the game as much as I used to. If the answer is no, I’ll simply find a new hobby. I hear herding cats is fun and enjoyable.
The bottom line
Ultimately, every financial plan is prone to failure if you don’t watch your spending. Frugality is important. Perhaps not as important as increasing your income, but it’s still a major part of everyone’s financial success.
Instead of making it a chore, embrace a spending plan as a way to figure out what brings you happiness. Once you find out something doesn’t do it for you, stop spending on it.
Frugality is something best approached as a challenge. How can you have a happy life while keeping your spending in check? The answer will be unique for everyone.