Frugality is Not a Hair-Shirt Contest

It’s a trap similar to the overzealousness of religious converts: the change is such an eye-opening and powerful one that you feel compelled to race, compete, and improve as much as possible. Look at me, look at how frugal I am!

The instant you start doing this, something has gone wrong.

The whole point of frugality/lifestyle optimization is simplicity. It’s not “hey, look at my worn-out clothes because I’m frugal”, it’s “I wear old clothes because it’s simpler that way, and if you have a problem with it, it’s your problem.”

Cutting down to a single-car family, for us, would be hair-shirt frugality. It would net us a few thousand dollars immediately, and save close to $1,000 annually. At the same time, it would complicate things. I don’t drive much with the goblins, but it’s nice to be able to – whenever – without imposing on my wife. Worse, what if one of them needed doctor or hospital care right now? It’s a change I’ve thought about making, but realized that it wouldn’t optimize our life, even though it would optimize our finances.

At the same time, I’m sitting here in my comfortable old hoodie that’s got a number of stains and rips in it because I like it. It’s warm. It’s comfy. It’s been mine for a long, long time. I look at the rips and think I should replace it, but where does the should come from? What is the source of the imperative? It’s not from my own desires, certainly. It’s simpler to keep wearing it then, until its functionality is spent. I’m not, however, wearing it because it makes me look like a hobo.

An optimization I did before consciously pursuing frugality has actually been one of my most successful changes. For many years I was a serious video gamer, particularly PC games. I had a high-powered machine to push the latest in graphics, particularly extra mods which made already demanding software even more demanding. After a while, though, I realized I was never happy playing the games. I always felt like there was something I could do better with my time. So then my computer started gathering dust. Oh, I used it, but I used a fraction of its full utility.

An opportunity to buy a nice quality (but ancient) Mac with a easy-on-the-eyes display came up, which acted as the catalyst for tearing down my gaming PC and selling most of the parts off. I’d already removed most of my gaming time from my life, freeing up time for other things, but making that final choice to recoup money simplified my life even further. That said, if I was still craving gaming time, the choice would have been a bad one. Frugality isn’t a punishment. It’s about chiseling away the dreck in your life, getting to the core of who you are.

Everyone wants to save money, if for no other reason than to maximize consumption. Some have taken the next step, and realized the treadmill of hedonic adaptation is a modern-day Tantalus experience. But, when simplifying your life, take care in what you excise. Yes, good choices can be hard, but you should never punish yourself with frugal choices. Instead, look for choices that truly offer simplicity, in avoiding bills, in avoiding complications, and most of all – gaining time to pursue what you really want.

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One Comment on “Frugality is Not a Hair-Shirt Contest”

  1. Gero1369 says:

    I think that you are basically describing the difference between being cheap and being frugal. The former will worsen your life, the latter will simplify it.


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