Feeling Frugal: It’s All in the Attitude

By , December 18, 2015

In the last post, I started discussing frugality (see Homestead Core Values: Frugality). Frugality may be nothing more than the proper attitude. Once one has the right mindset, the tools fall more easily into place. We offer the advice below from our own experience. Almost all of these suggestions involve adopting a different attitude from mainstream consumer culture.

Teach your family to be frugal: Try to make frugality a lifestyle. If you can adjust your own thinking toward spending less, you’ll instill it in your children. They may not take to it while they’re home (particularly if you’re starting with teenagers) but they will likely gravitate to it as they start their own households. At least, they’ll have many of the tools they need to succeed, should they choose the route.

Change the way you look at possessions: It’s trite, but true: own your possessions, don’t let them own you. Learn to get by on less. Any time something wears out, consider whether it needs to be replaced or not. Be sure to wear things out before replacing them! Sort necessities from luxuries, then scrutinize potential purchases, particularly those luxuries. Speaking as one who adores stuff, I know how difficult this is, but it can be done.

My best example of changing my attitude toward possessions would be how I used to regard owning books. I describe that change in the essay, Introducing the Homestead Reference Library.

Retire from The Competition: We compete so keenly with those around us that we have a shorthand phrase for it: “keeping up with the Joneses”. While it’s hard not to see our friends’ and neighbors’ nice things and wish we had the same or similar, avoiding that behavior can save a household’s finances. One’s possessions ought not define who one is. I’m not saying don’t have nice things—far from it (see Want to Save Money? Set Your Standards Too High!). Just be sure when buying something that it benefits you, not someone else’s opinion of you!

Change the way you think about money!: Libraries are full of books filled with financial advice. I hate reading this stuff! I’ve read a few, and the very best I’ve ever encountered has to be Your Money or Your LIfe. I talk in depth about it in the essay, The Homestead Reference Library: Your Money or Your Life. This book provides a mechanism for gauging the benefits of living frugally. The authors’ concept of regarding money as life energy may revolutionize your spending!

Take small steps toward frugality: Austerity measures don’t work. Economies around the world show the truth of this. A household that slashes and burns its budget must inevitably fail. Those that take “baby” steps, that pursue small, easily accomplished and accommodated savings measures, soon find them adding up to financial security.

The key: don’t deprive, thrive! Replace the costly with the cost-free whenever and wherever possible.

Get healthy: We all know that healthcare costs are ruinous. Improving your health saves healthcare and many other expenses. Can you walk or bike to work now and then? Leaving your car at home saves gas and wear on the vehicle, while improving your health. Cut down on empty calories. Learn to appreciate drinking water rather than soft drinks (see Toast Your Good Health with Plain Water). Cook for yourself rather than settling for processed fast food. You’ll save money twice, as you improve your health and lower your food budget.

Shop secondhand: We try to purchase secondhand whenever possible. Pursue the sport of finding good quality merchandise at a discount. Look for what you need used first—you’ll be amazed at how often you find it! Even in our town of about 2500 souls and two small secondhand stores, we consistently find exactly what we want secondhand (see A Successful Bargain Hunt).

Buying used is not always possible or desirable. However, making seconhand the first option saves money in the long run, and helps make what you can’t buy used more affordable.

Entertain yourself: If you exclude necessities like food, clothing and shelter, the old saw, “the best things in life are free” happens to be true, if you adopt the right outlook. So much of what makes life worth living cannot be purchased, so perhaps we should stop trying to do so.

What do you like to do that costs little, or nothing at all? Think of all the things you would do if you had the time—don’t add “and money” to that thought. Do you want to read more? Hike more? Spend more time making love? Think hard about what you really value in life. Unless you’re one of the unfortunate few who find true happiness in collecting expensive items, you’ll likely think of a lot of things that cost little more than time. Devote your time to them first, then purchase entertainment later—if there’s time.

Show by example, but don’t talk too much about it: Like anything one does, it’s tempting to talk about frugality in social situations. We find that this can backfire. Our culture has a lot of uncomplimentary epithets to describe frugality: skinflint, miser, tightwad, and more. Frugality ought to be encouraged and emulated by society, but Americans tend to condemn it. We find that people sometimes make assumptions about us, based on our frugality, that don’t cast us in the best light. Other people’s perceptions can be extremely difficult to overcome.

Besides, who wants friends judging everything one does against one’s professed interest or philosophy? Unless one finds it helpful—I suppose some of us benefit from friends and neighbors keeping them on track through scrutiny and shame.

One of our frugal “gurus,” Amy Dacyczyn, discouraged her children from playing with other kids who might make hers envy fancier toys (see The Homestead Reference Library: The Complete Tightwad Gazette). That seems harsh; limiting social interactions shouldn’t be necessary. I suppose one might consider spending less time with friends who insist on frequent group visits to ski resorts or the like, but I hesitate to change interpersonal relationships to save money.

Having said that, and considering our closest friends, I guess we’ve gravitated to people with similar tastes. Most of them would rather visit at home than go out for a night of gambling or the like.

Remember that frugality does not curtail generosity. I would assert that in some ways, the opposite is true. People tend to give money to avoid giving their time. I’ll try to expand on this in a future post.

I’ve gone on too long, and barely scratched the surface. By now, those of you with an interest in becoming more frugal have no doubt begun to think of examples in your own life, which is, of course, where it counts most.

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