How Financial Success Can Make You Forget Frugality

Generally speaking, I have always thought myself to be very frugal and smart with my money. It’s a lesson I learned as a kid from my mother who was really good at stretching a dollar and more than that, she understood that extravagance just wasn’t a virtue. My parents provided a pretty good life for me as a child, and I was never all about having the biggest or best of everything anyway. I often saw that others were demanding that kind of thing. Being practical and even “frugal” was fine with me all through my formative years.

Your relationship with frugality can change over time and financial circumstances. If you've drifted away from frugality, here's how to get it back.

But something happened, a blip along the way. That’s something I’d like to share with you.

My financial successes led to erosion of my frugality!

Subtle Changes

Subtle changes sometimes just creep into your life and you may not even be aware of them. I’m not saying I became an extremist or that I fell totally off the frugality wagon as I grew older and more successful. But there were changes in how I was living my life and how I thought (or didn’t think) about my money.

I had always been a clip the coupon, shop the sales, and buy generic kind of guy. As my income grew over the years though, I noticed that my relationship with my money and my frugality began to drift a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I never actually let that relationship die, but I could sense that my frugality and I were growing apart and I had lost some of the “magic” we used to have together.

For example, in my earlier days, long before I started on my path to upward mobility in the business world and my career, I would have never considered getting a haircut without a coupon (usually a couple dollars off or something like that). But at some point, being the really busy and successful guy I was becoming, I found that even if it was available, clipping that coupon seemed like a bit too much “trouble”. I even thought it might make me seem cheap, so coupon-less I’d just go for that haircut anyway. That’s when I started to realize that…

Success Can Spoil You

I found as I was earning more money that I was buying more name brand items, expensive groceries, clothing and specialty items. I was buying things like vitamin drinks, something that as I look back on now just wasn’t in any way me at all. I’m not knocking them for some though, just realizing that drinking that stuff and then gulping down a couple Big Mac’s the same day wasn’t making me healthy and I was just spending because I could. When exactly did I ever even give any thought to or buy something like that before?

I was slower to act on savings and didn’t optimize my spending (for example: phone, cable, etc.). We were paying for cable boxes in several rooms in the house including the basement but were hardly ever watching in all those rooms. I thought about cancelling some of them, but just didn’t get around to it. I’m certain my beloved frugality noticed my “wandering eye” and probably felt the distance that was growing between us.

Lifestyle inflation is real and it was pushing out frugality.

Coming to My Senses

I just couldn’t pretend and ignore my behavior any longer, and I had to give this subject some real thought. The younger Gary wouldn’t have thought that as soon as I could put my hands on a few extra dollars, I would just start spending and spending on things that I didn’t really need or in some cases didn’t even want.

I came to the conclusion that as my income had grown, the “little things” I used to pay attention to such as saving money, getting the best deals and in general living a lifestyle that was ignoring extravagance and opulence had been forgotten.

The Mailbox “Caper”

I think the case of the mailbox might have been my actual wakeup call!

After moving into my first house, a modest one in the suburbs but necessary for my growing family, the mailbox suddenly became a focal point. Since we bought the least expensive house in a very nice neighborhood (a tip often suggested by real estate experts to get the maximum appreciation and value when and if you buy), I was feeling a little pressure when all the neighbors began to replace their traditional metal boxes with fancy new “brick” mailboxes.

I caved under the pressure to conform and despite the fact that our mailbox was brand new and perfectly functional, I arranged for a new brick one to be constructed! The cost was ridiculous, over $500 bucks and that was over 40 years ago. That’s what being 26 and forgetting what is important in life can amount to.

I knew that behavior was not to be admired, but I did it anyway and afterward it clearly showed me that I had lost the feel for what was really important in my life. I couldn’t help but draw the conclusion that ever since my financial resources became more abundant, that’s when my betrayal of frugality began. Essentially, I didn’t “feel it” the way I used to. My long-term relationship with frugality was fast disappearing and I needed to take action. I had to get back to my roots so to speak. I didn’t need to show off or feel like I had to impress anyone. So I decided to stop.

Frugality Forgives Me

I was reading and hearing others talk about frugality and the light simply went on again one day. Frugality is always willing to forgive your neglect and will take you back with open arms!

That’s when I began to set up a specific controlled budget and began tracking all my expenses to the penny. To control spending you have no choice but to find out what you absolutely need to spend, and what it is that you can cut back on, postpone or even eliminate to improve life later on in your future. There were no shortages of areas to rethink and adjust.

Setting up real goals for my retirement, a substantial emergency fund, and increasing my investment plan became my priority.

We live in a consumption-driven world and I was haphazardly contributing to it and feeling no shame. I should have felt some for sure, me and my “Ponderosa” style home, huge deck and hot tub and two brand new cars. That didn’t define me then and it doesn’t now either.

I always knew who I was and I think most of us do too, but the 21st century encourages us to ignore it, making frugality almost something that is silly at best and embarrassingly shameful at worst.

What You Can Do About It

It’s fairly straightforward and simple to embrace frugality. This is not meant to be a sermon of some kind; just a way to live that can satisfy and do no harm as well.

  • Set up a budget and track all of your expenses. You need a roadmap for your money.
  • Get back to basics. Ask yourself if you really need that thing you are thinking about buying!
  • Quit being lazy. Your relationship with frugality takes time and effort to make it work.
  • Have gratitude. Think about all the good in your life that doesn’t involve just things and money.
  • Don’t think of yourself as entitled. It will cause you to rationalize everything.
  • Try to use what you know and feel internally. Try to influence others positively. It’s important that we don’t just think about ourselves.

You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to feel good about yourself and your relationship with money. Frugality wants to befriend you no matter what your bank account actually totals. Some of the wealthiest and financially healthiest people in the world are frugal.

There really is never any good reason to spend more on things than you have to. If you find yourself in similar circumstances to what I went through, I encourage you to give it some serious thought and really try to recapture that “lovin’ feeling” of frugality.

Have you “lost that lovin’ feeling”? Have your spending habits changed over the years as you have accumulated more wealth? Is your frugality lost and do you want to recapture that relationship? What can you do right now to embrace frugality?

Disease Called Debt

About Gary Weiner @ Super Saving Tips

Over the last 45 years I've worked in retail (department stores and supermarkets) and financial planning. In addition, I am a shopper, born and bred, who enjoys the challenges of finding the best items for the best prices. When I'm not busy saving money or writing here at Super Saving Tips, I enjoy baseball, music, and classic movies. I am retired and live in New Jersey with my wife.
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24 Comments

  1. Love the line “Frugality Forgives Me” We all have a tendency to wander a bit over the years, as life happens. Life style inflation is a real thing that if we don’t check in with it, it can really set us far off course. We’ve had many peaks and valleys over the years, but think we know enough about money that we are just dealing with speed bumps now.
    Brian recently posted…Has Your Blog Jumped the Shark?My Profile

  2. I think there are areas where I’ve let frugality slip because of laziness, and areas where I’ve just decided not to be so cheap. Where there’s a difference in quality in something you value, it can be worth it to spend a little more. (getting a little more legroom on a plane, drinking good beer or wine instead of dreck.) Where you’re just spending more for the same stuff, or consuming unnecessary stuff (like your unused cable boxes), you need to embrace your inner frugalista.

    • Great point about the spending on quality and value. So often I caught myself buying the “cheap thing” and then of course having to replace it much too quickly. In the long term, I would spend even more than if I had bought the best item around to begin with. It really is strange that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.

  3. It really is hard yo remind yourself when the goof time flies and pay raises,income,etc are frequent that it won’t always be like that. That you need to save and be prepared for the inevitable trough in the economy. But they always come and those hit worst are people who don’t prepare.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Are we in Debt?My Profile

    • FTF, I often think that people are being way too optimistic about future income and not thinking logically about what happens “if”. The if part can be a false hope and thus can ruin your finances. I guess I’ve just become a real conservative when it comes to my money these days, and that’s why frugality loves me.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. I love to shop. Most of my major purchases are planned. However, sometimes my inner shopper gets loose and I overspend. Luckily, it does not happen often.

  5. So true. Lifestyle inflation is a very serious issue. I know my wife and I fell to it’s full force. A few years ago we were earning about 5x as much as when we got married, but also living in a house that cost 10x as much – and taking big annual vacations, enjoying our boat, etc.

    If we had stuck to the lifestyle we had when we first got married, we could have retired 10 years earlier. Seriously. In our 30s.

    Frugality forgave us too. We downsized, sold the boat, dialed back the vacation budget, etc – and haven’t had a single regret. It allowed us to stop full-time work and enjoy an early retirement while still young and healthy.

    Wish more people would take the time to reassess their priorities. They might have the same epiphany we had.
    Brad – MaximizeYourMoney.com recently posted…Are Financial Advisors Worth The Cost?My Profile

    • Such a great story, Brad. And it illustrates clearly that you can be happy and you don’t have to be opulent to do it. Having time as your own and not controlled by monthly bills that are stressful (and perhaps unnecessary) is what we all really want and you have accomplished it. Congrats!

  6. I had a $500 moment that makes me cringe now too. For me, it was a dress that I bought when my friend asked me to go with him to the fancy Science Formal at our university. $500 for a dress in the mid-80s – ugh! It was not, unfortunately, my wake-up moment. I wish it had been. There are many of us who drifted into overspending over the years. Thanks for sharing your story – especially the mailbox detail. Ouch!

    • No matter how often you “come to your senses”, there are usually some moments that we tend to slip back into some kind of bad habit. The important thing to remember is that recovering from it is possible and may be just one decision away. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Great post! My wakeup moment was partially financing my current vehicle. Regretted it almost immediately (and still do!) but it led to my finding the whole personal finance world and starting down the corrective path.

  8. Great post …well because it happened to us also! Sometimes if you don’t watch things, the more you make the more you spend. We did got busy and just spent for awhile. Thank goodness, “Frugality forgives us.”

    • Vickie, I believe everyone goes through those ups and downs in their relationship with frugality. It is so tempting to convince yourself that some special want is okay, even though in the back of your mind, you realize that you could be putting that money away for some future goal (like retirement). To keep our sanity, occasionally we need to splurge, but hopefully it’s just occasionally. Thank you so much for your feedback.

  9. Suburban neighborhoods place so much peer pressure–I swear? The same can be said for some ritzy Urban neighborhoods, too. When everyone and you is displaying wealth they may or may not actually have….

    I’ve struggled with staying in touch with my frugality at points, too. More money means more options, but if you get too comfortable taking those options you won’t have “more” money for very long.
    Femme Frugality recently posted…Seven Free or Inexpensive Activities in TorontoMy Profile

    • You’re so right, FF, about the peer pressure in suburbia. I really did try to fight it as much as I possibly could, but occasionally I broke down. I grew up in a very city-like row house in Philadelphia where everything about the houses was basically the same. My first wife grew up in a suburban upper-class neighborhood and she was very used to the opulence and I kind of got caught up in it with her til I came to my senses. I’m glad that I was able to overcome it. Thanks for your comments.

  10. “Frugality is always willing to forgive your neglect.” I love this! I find myself straying from it every once in a while. It used to be because we got a raise. (Like your expensive mailbox! We’ve got one or two of those in our past.) Now it’s because I serve at the alter of “way too busy”. Which is a shame and something I want to get control of for many reasons.

    • I do understand the “way too busy” aspect, which sometimes leads us to take the easier, more expensive route to save that time. Sometimes it just can’t be avoided. But the first step is to recognize that it’s happening and then you may be able to do something about it. Good luck, Jamie.

  11. We’re embracing frugality now more than ever, but yes, it is a challenge! Six months into our debt repayment journey, I still find myself drooling over things I do not need and rationalizing some of my less-than-ideal choices. Frugality is such a practice. It’s something we work on every day, even if we don’t do it perfectly.

    (By the way, I enjoy your posts so much!)

    • There’s nothing wrong with drooling (although hopefully it’s not too messy haha), because that may inspire you beyond paying off your debt. By that I mean once you achieve the goal of becoming debt-free, you can then start setting new goals that include what I would call “planned extravagance” like perhaps a nice vacation or a new car. I really appreciate your compliment, Susanne. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. I think a little lifestyle inflation in line with your priorities is fine – spending a little more to make life easier or to enjoy some perks that you had to cut back on previously. I think when the spending becomes mindless or to keep up with the Joneses is when it becomes a real problem.

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