Balancing Spending with Saving: Being Frugal but not Miserly
Check out your thesaurus, and you may discover that “frugal” and “miserly” share many of the same words as their cousins. Let this be our warning: take frugal too far, and we can become miserly before we even know what hit us.
Are you being frugal? Do you watch your expenses, learn new ways to save money, and stave off impulse purchases?
Or are you being miserly? Not going out to your friend’s birthday dinner because you’d have to spend money to be there, or cutting your heat off to live in frigid squalor so you can save some extra money?
The examples above illustrate my own definition of the difference between frugal and miserly, but those are subjective definitions. Like I said above, frugal and miserly share many similar verbal cousins in the thesaurus who don’t recognize such a big difference between the two.
Case Study: Balancing Saving with Spending
I write this article because I recently did some budgeting exercises with my boyfriend, and we are in “savings mode.” We are utilizing a unique opportunity to work abroad in Australia, and are taking some time here as part of our full-time travels to work and save extra money so our future traveling is not predicated on finding as much work along the way. When we travel through less work-friendly and more foreign countries, we know the extra savings will come in handy.
Although our cost of living here in Australia is minimal, there are still expenses we bear to stay here that we might not pay as much for if we were actively traveling, such as: rent, car insurance and maintenance, power, internet and telephone hook-ups, etc.
So we are once again walking the fine line that so many people around the world do every day – stretching a regular paycheck between the chasm that spans spending and saving.
Woah. I forgot just how hard this stuff is.
When there isn’t much room to wiggle after your basic expenses are covered, saving for a specific goal can be consuming. All other aspects of life go on hold while saving for “x.” But what is your quality of life in the meantime? Can you honestly say that during your time of saving, you have balance?
Within my own context, I still see myself as a traveler, despite having taken some time to settle in Australia and work. I enjoy weekend road trips, continued exploration, climbing, hiking, and camping in a country that is foreign to my own. I also realize that I could spend 100% of what I earn here without trying too hard, leaving me with no Aussie savings to pad further travels.
Does this sound familiar? Most of us could easily spend all the money we earn, and have nothing left over for any of our financial and life goals – retirement, making a major purchase, or investing.
So I need to be frugal. Frugal – but not miserly, if I can avoid it. For example, when I eat out with friends (such as I did on Taco Tuesday), I don’t spend a lot of money on the experience, but I’m still there joining in the festivities (in moderation) and benefiting from an enriching social experience. Had I been miserly, I would simply have stayed home.
Where I have trouble in differentiating between being frugal and miserly is in the following examples:
- I missed out on seeing the Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia – partly because of time constraints, but mostly because of the money. I might get a chance to see it again, but I might not. Getting back there from where I currently live would cost money (and lots of it: I just priced out a three-day trip, which would cost well over $1,000 per person).
- People back home who have visited Australia as tourists have many recommendations for me, including remote trips and tours to places like Ayres Rock and the Yellow River. Again though – the cost to get there is exorbitant, and a basic road trip could still run thousands of dollars.
It’s like somebody new to the United States living in New York and being told that they “absolutely must” see California, or Hawaii, or Alaska, or even Puerto Rico. It’s not as easy as going for a Sunday drive, especially if you are on a tight budget.
The above activities are important things to do if you visit Australia as a tourist. Then again – as a full-time traveler, I don’t try to specifically avoid the tourist trail; but sometimes the cost to be on it is prohibitive. (Then again, there is a reason why people travel to see tourist sights…they may just be worth seeing.)
If I chose to do all the activities above, I might not be able to afford to travel much beyond Australia (and I haven’t even touched on half the places I want to see in my global travels yet), but I could have a whopper of a time while I’m here.
Translation: I could live really well now by spending everything I earn (couldn’t we all), but it would be at the expense of my future goals.
And what of my upcoming trip to New Zealand, where I’ll be taunted and tempted by all sorts of extreme – and extremely thrilling – sports and activities that are right up my alley – but also upwards of $100 a pop? I could stand to lose a giant chunk of savings by doing these activities along with my boyfriend, but then again, I could stand to lose a giant chunk of life experience by not doing them.
So what do you think? If I keep my head down for the next while and work hard to save money for future travels, am I forgetting about the beauty of where I am right now?
Or if I spend everything I earn in Australia and have to return “home” for lack of funds before I’m happy to, did I lose sight of the ball?
How does a Professional Hobo like me accurately see the world – on a budget – and not compromise too many of my desires in the process due to a hyperactive tendency towards frugality and the desire to save some money?
Then again, what IS travel if it is not getting out and enjoying myself? Possibly buying a round of drinks to pave the way for conversation with locals or fellow travelers? Or enjoying abseiling, climbing, caving, scuba diving, boogie boarding, or bungee jumping?
Linsey wrote this great article to give you a few clues if you’ve gone too far with frugality. So how do you achieve – and maintain – your own balance between spending and saving?