Inside: Spreading ideas about frugality is great. What’s not as great is when people get guilt-tripped into keeping up with the frugal Joneses if their money would be…well…better spent.
I’m an inherently competitive person.
Unless it comes to sports, in which case I will tune you out and go to my happy place with biology textbooks and craft beer.
That’s why I have such a hard time with the personal finance community sometimes. From my eyes — not everyone’s eyes, but mine own, and I suspect perhaps yours too, if you’re reading this article — some parts of the personal finance community embrace frugality like it’s a pissing match and everyone’s just downed a liter of Gatorade.
Who can spend less? Maybe it’s an anti-pissing match, then?
The times I’ve felt this most was when I’ve been hanging out with people from the MMM and FIRE crowd.
I once sat down with a group. Everyone went around the room and introduced themselves, and I swear to god by the end of it, the last person proclaimed to be living for free in a metal shed in someone else’s backyard. In Colorado. Where it gets to be 110 degrees in the summer.
What’s more, everyone at the event had biked there.
In case this impression is lost on you, here’s my ride I used to get to the meetup:
Let’s look at this from another angle.
My truck sticks out approximately 42 FEET beyond everyone else’s vehicle.
A few months later, I was invited to an MMM meetup at Mr. Money Mustache hisself’s hometown in Longmont (actually just a short drive from where I am now).
I was so ashamed of my giantmobile that I declined. I had nightmares in my head about being driven out of Longmont by hundreds of hipster mustachioed bicyclists chasing me with pitchforks and Tiki torches.
I’ve been frugal along with the rest of them. When I first started on my own frugality journey, it wasn’t by choice. In fact, it sucked. I felt like I was broker than I’d ever been in my life (not true; I used to sleep on a pile of blankets on the floor in college because I couldn’t even afford a blow-up mattress).
Gradually my views changed and I embraced my own version of frugality. But when I kept meeting up with these people, it never seemed like enough. There was always something more to cut.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Over the past month, I have not been frugal.
And it’s been WONDERFUL.
I feel like finding a cardboard cutout of Khal Drogo and twirling him around in the air with all the reckless abandon of a dreadlocked panhandler at a carnival.
Here’s what I’ve spent my money on recently:
- $300 for a 10-session personal training package
- $687 on restaurants in the month of May. Yep, you read that right. 687 BIG ONES
- $117 on a haircut and dye…blue hair dye
And that’s not it, either. Here are a few more spendy purchases I’m considering at some unspecified point in the future:
- A half-sleeve tatttoo (*GASP* surely I will end up as a poor begging hag in retirement)
- A CrossFit membership. Or maybe pole dancing classes. What the hell.
- An ocean fishing kayak…with a setup for crab pots
Instead, I’ve given myself permission to spend a bit more on things that mean a lot to me. Even if it doesn’t adhere to someone else’s frugal pissing match.
I haven’t totally lost sight of the prize, however.
I’ve upped my contributions to my retirement account by 2,120% (also not a typo) over last year. We’re paying for our move to Washington in cash. This year, for the first time in our lives, we have a full emergency fund. We passed net worth zero last year, and now our net worth is above $40k.
And, even that gigantomobile will be completely paid off in a few months.
The reason I’m able to do this now is because my freelance writing business has been going like gangbusters. Compared to when I was living in a blanket nest on the floor, I’m raking in money faster than Hollywood moguls are falling.
Making more money has been both a blessing and a curse (mostly a blessing, I won’t lie; I’m not totally crazy).
But it puts me in a weird spot. You see, I’ve never thought of myself as a high earner. I always thought I would be just broke enough to make my bill payments — nothing more, nothing less.
It’s sort of ingrained in you as a fledgeling wildlife biologist. You do this because you like it, not because you’ll get an excess of money. That was a sacrifice I was prepared to make (and still am….once Zach gets a job).
Now that I do have enough cash to afford something more than a can o’ Spam and some smashed discount Ramen noodles, I find it doubly hard to give myself freedom to spend money.
Because if you have extra money, you need to hoard it all so you can achieve financial freedom in 2,673.37 days and stick it to the man, right?
Isn’t that what smart people do?
If I ask myself, “would you rather spend $300 on paying down debt, or building up your body with a personal trainer?” and — ASSUMING I HAVE ENOUGH MONEY — the answer is still the personal trainer (which it most definitely is), then the money isn’t really wasted.
Yet, paying off debt is still what’s most important to me. It’s where most of my money is going: almost $1,000 a month, compared to a few extra hundred dollars on other “splurge” things. But it doesn’t need to be an all-in, black-or-white, GoT-or-Kingkiller-Chronicles thing.
Instead, now I have to learn to be OK with giving myself permission to spend money on a non-frugal thing if it’s really the best use of my money according to my values.
Before, when I didn’t have money, my hands were tied. I couldn’t make that choice, and so the choice was easy. Now that I do have the freedom to do so, however, it’s difficult. I feel like I’m being peer pressured into frugality.
A part of me too wants to partake in the frugal anti-pissing match. Yet, another part of me wants to spend the money — carefully considered and balanced, of course — on “expensive” things.
Don’t get me wrong. If people’s most important use of money is to squirrel it away like some mutant doomsday scuirid, then that’s their prerogative. I’m happy for them.
If the person sitting at the end of the MMM circle really wanted to live in a metal cooker in Colorado for free because saving their cash was more important to them, then awesome sauce.
But I don’t think people should be frugal guilted into it.
What do you think? Have you ever felt frugal guilt? Leave a comment below!
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