It might not always feel fun to save money but deep down we all know it’s important. But did you know even folks way back in the ancient Roman Empire considered frugality a virtue? They respected it so much that they made a point to showcase it as high as other virtues, such as honor, piety, and truthfulness. History can teach us all something, and part of that message is that, even today, frugality is a virtue.
Financial State of the Nation
Did you know 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck? This includes folks from all socioeconomic categories. Middle class, upper middle class, and upper class are not exempt from this statistic. All across the country people are literally one pay check away from being homeless.
It’s no surprise, then, that when we tell people how much we’ve saved for our trip, they shake their heads in disbelief. We totally get it. It’s a boatload of money and most people don’t have that kind of cash sitting around. So how did we scrape together that much?
A big part of it (besides the actual tactics) was being frugal. You’ve heard the mantras before: the best way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in the bank. Or maybe you’ve heard a thousand other cliches about pinching pennies. We’ll spare you those and focus on frugality as a virtue.
Way back in the day, the Roman Empire basically said, “Ya know what? Frugality is a virtue.” They defined it as an “economy and simplicity of style, without being miserly”. The best way to show your modesty in consumerism and attire was to be frugal. The Romans deeply understood what it meant to not spend money unnecessarily and reaped the benefits thereof. They knew that debt can erode relationships and takes away from your financial freedom. Unfortunately, this “frugality is a virtue” mindset began to degrade and crippling debt became an auxiliary reason of the fall of Rome.
Today, several centuries removed from the Romans, the idea of frugality has taken either the form of the grumpy miser or the debt-laden consumer. A “frugal” person is either one who never cuts his hair, wears worn out clothing, smells badly, eats cheap and unhealthy food or he leases new economy cars and on-sale gadgets – all financed by your friendly global credit hawker.
The grumpy miser is a misrepresentation of frugality. He is not frugal; he’s cheap. The miser will buy flimsy shoes instead of spending a little more for a better pair that’ll last much longer. He will avoid weddings and graduations gifts to save a buck. This is the person who’ll buy cheap, khaki-colored, prepackaged processed food for when he hosts special guests. You’d rather not receive a gift from this person because he’ll buy a cheaply made knockoff of the product you would actually use, all because it was cheaper. He’ll complain when he uses outdated and worn out tools or tech but never make the sacrifice for something better suited for his needs.
Miss. Appropriated Funds
The debt-laden consumer is, by far, much worse off. At least the stingy miser isn’t in debt. This person believes she is frugal when she chooses to finance the $12,000 vehicle over the $20,000. She buys the flat screen television because it’s 60% off. To her, it’s no problem to buy a $7200 road bike for $1000, even as a casual rider. This person is at the whim of whichever name brand advertising company gets to her first. She thinks she’s being frugal but she’s really just spending money she knows she probably shouldn’t. Most Americans are in this camp. Certainly misers exist, but the current popular trend is to bear multiple car and credit card payments.
Frugal vs Cheap
Being cheap means you only look at the price tag. Being frugal means you consider the price tag but weigh the gravitas of the circumstances to make a decision. You might balk at the idea of being in someone’s wedding because of the costs associated with it, but you know it means a great deal to your friend so you spend the money knowing it’s the right thing to do.
Like most things in life there is a balance to be struck, and this realm is no different. The goal is to be frugal. This means you need to frequently evaluate what you spend your money on. What do you need in life? Do you need more clothes and an espresso machine? Maybe. Do you need a new car when a bike will do? Likewise, maybe it’s time you took a mini-vacation or tossed your worn out Sunday clothing for something orderly.
Most things in life require some level of contemplation: what school you choose, your spouse, having kids, where to live, what food to eat, which fights to pick, what books to read. Why should spending money be any different? Compulsion spending needs to end. Add your brain to the equation and take some serious time to think about what you’re considering buying.
For example, you don’t need a suit from Ermenegildo Zegna when something from Macy’s will do. But the fact remains that you should probably have a suit. Even if you only wear it for funerals and weddings, you should have a suit. Five suits, on the other hand, is probably too much.
If you can figure out who you really are and what you really need, you’ll prevent yourself from ending up with a lot you don’t really want. Know thyself and prevent thyself from too much stuff-eth! Sounds great but how do you do that?
Change Your Mindset
Take pride in your ability to say NO to marketers and advertisers. When you crawl into your beater car, look at all of the vehicles around you and take pleasure in the thought of not having a car payment. That’s what freedom feels like. Not owing money to others is virtuous. It’s a sign you have your affairs in order. Having said that, spending money can feel great. That’s why you should spend money on that which truly has purpose to you. If that means donating to your local homeless shelter or worship house, excellent. Put a little money in your nephew’s college fund. Take pleasure in choosing the purchases which make the most impact on your life.
Spend your money on that which most positively affects you. For example, it might be time to buy a new mattress. It doesn’t have to cost an exorbitant amount, but it should be comfortable. Hayley and I use a memory foam topper on a bed we found on the curb. It’s a perfect combination of saving a lot of money and spending a little money to find the right balance.
Stop Buying Status Symbols and Start Earning Them
If you can afford luxury goods without worrying about debt, cool. That’s great for you – buy what you want. If you’re taking out loans and maxing out credit cards to keep up with the Jonses or signal your status, please reconsider.
This never works. It makes you look desperate and shallow. People can always tell when you’re posturing. We all know this behavior hints at insecurity and is plainly unattractive.
Instead of trying to buy your way into a higher status, focus on areas of your life you can’t improve solely by spending money. Workout, read and engage in intelligent discussions, donate your time to help and tutor folks, volunteer. Not only are doing these things pretty much free, the accolades they bring hold true value. Average people respect those self-sacrificing, hard working, modest people 100 times more than the cocksure spender.
Enjoy The Simple Things
No one said being frugal had to be joyless. Instead of spending your money on cars, eating out, and clothing, you can get your kicks through “old fashioned” venues. Go for a walk, read a book, volunteer dog walking, learn a skill, work with your hands, knit, sew, build bird houses, read to the blind, distill your own liquor, organize a neighborhood potluck, whatever!
You have so many free/low-cost options to choose from once you realize what’s out there. Some people say “I don’t have to drink to have fun.” We like to put a little spin on that, “We don’t need to spend money to have fun.”
Flex Your Frugal Muscle
The more often you practice this self-restraint, the stronger your self of frugality will become. Just remember this: spending money is a balancing act. Only spend it on what you need, and even then be sure it isn’t in excess. Stick to that principal and you’ll find yourself with a fatter wallet and less stress – we guarantee it.