There's a Lot to Like About Frugal Living
I don't make my own soap, do extreme couponing, cut my own hair, or live in a tent.
When it comes to being frugal, I'm less of a do-it-yourself kind of guy looking to save pennies, and more into saving bigger amounts of money through methods that take much less work than clipping coupons. (See also: 12 Frugal Compromises)
As I wrote about in April on Wise Bread, kick-starting frugality with a few simple actions — direct deposit, tracking spending, skipping meals out — can lead to savings that add up over time. By cutting cable TV, my family has saved hundreds of dollars in the past year without missing many shows we enjoy. We haven't put the extra savings into a separate account and kept track of the specific dollars saved — although that would have been a great idea — but we have seen our cable bill disappear.
The reasons why I became frugal may differ from yours, but I think they can offer insight into the importance of exploring the real reasons for being frugal before jumping in and doing everything you can to save money. There are different forms of satisfaction, I've learned, and some are worth the time and savings, and others just don't seem to be worthwhile.
Here are some of the main reasons why I became frugal.
I Like My Time
By saving more money, I can work less. As Ben Franklin realized about 300 years ago, a penny saved is a penny earned. That's a motto I follow daily, figuring that if I save money by not spending it, I'll have fewer bills to pay and thus won't need to work as much to pay the bills I do have.
I work as a freelance journalist, meaning I set my own hours and can decide if I want to take on extra work. Like a squirrel harvesting acorns for the winter, I try to keep busy when I can, but with summer arriving and my daughter being out of school soon, I plan on working less this summer, so I can take care of her.
Not everyone can be in this situation, I realize. Having a full-time job with benefits, and a family and a mortgage to take care of, requires commitment of at least 40 hours per week at work. But if you stop buying new books, for example, and go to the library and take that $50 a month that you would have spent each month aside, that's a few less hours you need to work in a month. So when the boss asks you to work overtime, you'll know that you don't have to rely on that overtime pay and can instead go home and spend the time with your family and maybe teach your kids how to cook dinner.
I Don't Like Throwing Money Away
Money is meant to be enjoyed and provide the freedom to do what you want to do. I'd like to be a millionaire, as anyone would, but even if I was, I don't think I'd spend it on things I enjoy doing myself. I don't like cooking every night, but even if I could afford it, I wouldn't want to go out to eat every night or hire a personal chef. I enjoy cooking and do it not only because it's healthier and cheaper than eating at a restaurant, but because it's fun.
The same logic goes for buying books — or at least hardcover books. I can't see the point in spending almost $30 on a hardcover book when they're either free at the library, or I can find other books to read in paperback. It may not sound like a big frugal step, and I don't put aside the hundreds of dollars I save each year by doing this, but there's some satisfaction in knowing I'm not spending as much money as I used to on something that I can easily save money on by going to the library every few weeks. I still buy books, and I'm happy for authors to make money, but I usually only buy paperbacks or ebooks when I travel.
I Like Being Prepared for a Rainy Day
Ever since I had my first paper route as a kid, I've saved for something: new bike, comic books, college, car, retirement, wedding, home, home improvement project, child, vacation, and potential job loss, among other things I'm sure I've forgotten. After all of the monthly expenses are paid, it's difficult to have enough money left over to put aside in savings. If it's an important enough life event, such as retirement or my child's college fund, the money is automatically transferred to such an account each month.
Saving money through frugality — such as not buying coffee and having that extra $25 a month automatically moved from a checking account to a savings account that's set aside for a Hawaiian vacation, for example — is an easy way to find that extra money for the rainy day fund, or something more fun.
I Like Being Prepared for a Thunderstorm
When I was laid off at a newspaper five years ago, I wasn't a lavish spender and had good saving habits to help me get through some time when I didn't have a steady paycheck coming in. Already being frugal (and knowing how to find other ways to save money) helped me reconsider my spending habits and not go into credit card debt. Partly out of necessity, frugality has become a life-long habit that is teaching me more ways to save money.
I Like Leaving a Smaller Environmental Footprint
Buying fewer things and using what you have until it dies means less things to throw in the landfill, and ultimately, fewer things being produced because you're not buying them. I try to use the things I own for as long as they work. I've had the same clock radio that wakes me up every morning since 1986, I've used personal computers until they're dead, I don't get a new phone every year, my bike is more than 20 years old, and I drive a 1991 Acura Integra.
We recently started leasing a solar power system on our roof to generate electricity. Since it's a lease and not a purchase, we pay for it by buying the electricity we produce each month. The idea is that with locked-in rates over the term of the solar lease, we'll save a little money if our regular electric provider raises rates. I don't expect to save much money, but one advantage is that the solar power we use isn't polluting the environment like the electricity we previously got was. In the scheme of things it's a small step, but it's a start in our family polluting less.
Of all of these reasons for becoming frugal, buying time by saving money is my favorite. Time is limited, and while I enjoy my work, there are many more things I'd rather be doing than working so I can pay bills I don't need to have.
Why have you embraced the frugal lifestyle?