Thursday, December 17, 2009

Voluntary Frugality vs. Necessary Frugality

This season is one in which everyone thinks a lot about money.  I think even more so this year when the country is in the midst of a terrible recession (or depression by some accounts).  You hear the word "frugal" tossed around a lot too.  "This will be a frugal Christmas" and it sort of implies that this will be a Christmas where everyone will have to deal with having less because the money simply isn't there.  It's a total misunderstanding of what frugal means.

Frugality simply means doing more with less.  It doesn't necessarily mean doing more with less because you have less.  In fact, you could be a billionaire and still embrace the ideal of frugality.  It doesn't mean being cheap either.  A frugal person would rather buy good quality merchandise, would rather put out the money than spend (or rather waste) money on something that is subpar.  Frugal people generally learn that you can find good quality merchandise second hand often for the same price as brand new, lesser quality stuff especially if you know where and when to look.

I think the confusion comes in when we start to look at voluntary versus necessary frugality.  Is "necessary frugality" an oxymoron of sorts?   If you need to be frugal, can it really be called frugal at all?   I think so but it brings up some interesting issues.

I am frugal by nature.  I don't like spending money when I don't have to.  I like to save up my money so that when I need it, it's there for me.  I like to save up my money so that I can buy good stuff because I don't really enjoy shopping.  But since the hubby is the sole breadwinner, being frugal, even though it's natural to me and I enjoy it generally, it's also a necessity.   We just couldn't swing this lifestyle if we spent money all willy-nilly.

What happens when frugality is a necessity though, is that sometimes it feels like a burden--no matter how innately you like to be diligent with your money.  You're holding on to your dollars and cents trying to make the wisest decision with your money.  You sometimes agonize over the best ways to make the money go farthest and you ruthlessly sort out your needs and your wants.  But then sometimes the line between needs and wants starts to get a little blurry.  This is when it gets difficult.  This is when it starts to feel like a burden, an annoyance and not a tried-and-true means to an end.  Of course, your financial goals are paramount in your mind but the goal is lofty and what you're wanting/needing now is so small (or not) in comparison.  You want to maybe throw caution to the wind (for a minute) and just get it already or do it already and have that satisfaction.  After all, there's only one life to live right?  Right.

Frugality, in general, is not about denying yourself simple pleasures in life.  But when frugality is driven by necessity, there's a lot less leeway in how much or which of these simple pleasures you can allow yourself because there's a lot more to lose.  And no matter how you look at it, sometimes you feel a little . . . annoyed?  Frustrated?  Exasperated?

Frugality, to me, is a discipline.  I know not everyone finds discipline enjoyable but I really do.  Sometimes people say I'm rigid and I know I can be but there's something comforting to me about being in control and not letting something else control me.  That's what being frugal means to me.  It means controlling my money so that my money doesn't control me.  Somedays, despite the frugality or maybe because of it, I will admit, it feels like money is running the show.  It dictates what I can and cannot do.

Still,  I kind of compare it to how a marathon runner approaches her race.  She knows that she has to eat and train a certain way to achieve the goal.  Now, that sweet potato pie at Thanksgiving may be really tempting but discipline dictates that she stay away.  But if that pie would give her great joy and pleasure, I don't think it a sin if she has a small slice.  Discipline says she stops there, though.  I may be way off with my comparison (marathon runners, feel free to chime in) but what I'm learning with frugality is that I  have to have some built in wiggle-room to my discipline so that I don't feel imprisoned or trapped by it.  So that I'm not rigid.

When I start to feel that way confined, I give myself one of those small things I've been wanting, realizing that it won't derail the whole frugality train.  One small thing crossed off a long list of needs and wants goes a long way to helping me re-focus on my financial goals while bolstering my spirits.


Shay said...

Thank you for writing this...lately I have started to feel awakward writing about money. In part because I have a fair share of readers who are personal buddies and sometimes I feel like they don't get where I am coming from.

The truth is I initially became started thinking frugal because I had to, 2 years ago we lost a huge portion of our income...almost 50%.

Of course my bills did not decrease so survival dictated learning frugal ways and doing it real quick.

While I have a little more breathing room at the moment, I still have to pay attention to my money and sometimes it creates tensions. My frugality at the moment still means that things that are not needs have to be weighed carefully and sometimes it creates tensions but I do the best I can.

That said, after 2 years of forced frugality on some levels it has become voluntary as I realize much of what I "needed" is not a need but a want.

Yet I struggle but I am a work in progress..I need to blog about this soon.

Kate said...

I agree, so many people misunderstand what being frugal actually means.

I have been frugal for many years and find it not only fits in with my financial status but also my feelings about not being wasteful.

I get so frustrated with all the waste we produce, the planet is certainly in trouble.

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