Not driving your less-frugal friends crazy
A while back, I heard an interview with a guy who, troubled by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, decided the right response was to quit driving. The bit of the interview that stuck with me was the part where he talked about how surprised he was at the negative reactions. He wasn't telling anyone else that they shouldn't drive, but people were treating him as if he was a walking criticism of their lifestyle.
Eventually, he went on to say, he realized that they were right. He never said in so many words that they should quit driving, but just the way he lived his life amounted to perpetually criticizing the way they were living theirs.
Living a frugal life can be like that.
There's actually a long list of ways that choosing to live frugally can annoy your friends, neighbors, and relations.
- Maybe you can't (or won't) participate in group activities that exceed your budget. The guys you used to out to lunch with can be excused for finding your conversion confusing. You make as much money as they do, and they can afford to eat lunch out--why can't you? It can be tricky to explain that it's about prioritizing the things you care most deeply about (whether it's retiring early, starting your own business, putting your kids through college, or taking a fabulous vacation) without sounding like you're prioritizing whatever it is higher than your friendships with the lunch-time gang.
- Maybe you can't (or won't) contribute to joint expenses. Your cousins want to throw a huge party for the grandparent's 50th anniversary and get pissed that you don't want to kick in as much as they do. It's the only 50th anniversary your grandparents are going to have, they point out. What's the big deal? It can be tricky to explain that your share would be double your entire year's budget for entertaining.
- Maybe you don't spend as much on keeping your lawn weed-free. Yes, you take care of the mowing, but you're not hiring the company that sprays poison to kill the dandelions. Don't you care about property values? Answer: probably not, since they scarcely matter to someone who isn't trying to sell or refinance.
- Maybe you don't spend as much on your clothes as they do. You can hide this to a certain extent by developing a style built on classic items (and by shopping at thrift shops and vintage clothing places), but you're still going to look different. (Bad enough if it's just you. Woe to everyone if it's your kids looking out of fashion!)
Anybody who lives a frugal life comes up with strategies for dealing with things like this, but this can be one of the tricky parts of making the adjustment.
A few general tips:
- Make sure that what you do is about you and not about them. You're trying to get your spending aligned with your values. Their spending should, of course, be aligned with their values. Explaining this won't eliminate all tension, but it can help.
- Be careful zeroing out categories. Deciding to brown-bag your lunches is a great idea--healthy as well as thrifty--but if lunch-time socializing is important among your friends, keep a few dollars in your budget for an occasional lunch out.
- Know the value of the token gesture. Spend a couple of conspicuous days pulling dandelions (and dropping dark hints about cancer-causing herbicides) and suddenly you're just a friendly kook rather than an evil depreciator of home values.
- Choose a category to embrace. The guy who refuses to spend money on stuff everybody else spends money on is always something--often a miser or a skinflint. But there are lots of other possibilities. If it otherwise matches your inclinations, you could choose to be a bohemian, for example. Better yet, resist categorization based on what you don't spend money on. Try instead to embrace one based on what you do think is important in life--parent or bicyclist or gardener or RV enthusiast.
Like the guy who gave up driving, though, understand that living your life in accordance with your values isn't just going to seem like a steady stream of criticism of the way other people live their lives--in a very real sense it actually is a steady stream of criticism, even if you have no such intention. Telling people that you don't intend it that way doesn't help. (It just makes you sound like a pesky nine-year-old claiming that he isn't hitting you, he's just swinging his arms and you're the one standing too close.)
Just living your life makes you an advocate for your values. There's no avoiding it. All you can really do is make sure that the values that you're advocating are your true values--the ones that you would choose to advocate if that (rather than just living your life) was your goal.