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.
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 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?