I don’t care if you can afford it

At its core, frugality is about amassing resources to make the best purchase of your life. It’s not about avoiding debt, saving up, or deferred gratification, though all of these concepts come into play. It’s about purchasing freedom. Freedom to live your life as you want. Freedom to not rely on an employer. Freedom is free to be defined as you see fit.

There’s a general consensus that, if you can afford it, do it. As long as you’re meeting your defined savings goal, go ahead and buy that luxury vehicle. 5,000 sqft house, congrats! World traveler burning jet fuel like it’s going out of style? Who am I to judge?

Who am I to judge?

That’s the phrase you hear. I was surprised to find myself in the minority opinion, even among avowed frugalists, when I’ve argued that there are numerous indefensible purchases (see this thread and this post). Put plainly, I could care less if you can afford something, if that object’s very existence is a waste of finite resources.

We are afraid to judge, lest that judgment recoil on us. I can understand the fear. Frugality isn’t a religion. There isn’t a list of 100 Approved Purchases carved on stone tablets. Nor should there be.

People should be free to choose, but choice entails responsibility. Consider when purchasing something NOT whether you can afford it, but whether this object is is viable use of finite resources. Buy it once, buy it for life. Is this something you could potentially hand down to your children? If it’s disposable, does its utility outweigh the resources exhausted in its creation?

Frugality is more than purchasing freedom. A $1.25M nest egg can fund a $50,000 annual lifestyle indefinitely, but how many resources will get wasted in living that lifestyle?

For the bulk of people who view frugality as fashionable, frugality is a tool, but to me it’s much more than that. It’s about being frugal with the environment around you. Living on the Earth with as light an impact as possible. Teaching the next generation to improve the Earth, not increase the efficiency with which they exhaust it. Look around you and consider your internal compass on what’s a need and what’s a want.

I don’t care if you can afford it. I can afford a lot of things that I don’t buy. This will remain true even after I purchase my freedom.

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3 Comments on “I don’t care if you can afford it”

  1. This is tricky, because sometimes it really isn’t one’s place to judge. If a harassed mother buys disposable single-use bottles of formula for her baby, well, that’s not my choice, but I don’t feel like it’s my place to judge whether she “needs” them. Not for me to say whether she should have tried to breastfeed or didn’t try hard enough, or whether she should be washing out reusable bottles in her sink while her baby cries and her toddler pulls at her skirt. You never know all of someone else’s circumstances.

    Buuuut… sometimes you do get that feeling that someone is just gobbling up too much of everything.

    • David says:

      I don’t spend my time judging ANYONE, because it boils down to a circle of concern versus circle of control issue. And, like you said, it would be hard to make a judgment anyways, not knowing anything about a person’s particular circumstances.

      But I sure as hell want to encourage people to exercise reflective judgment.

      “I can afford it” is not a valid justification in and of itself.

  2. Erin @ My Alternate Life says:

    My minimalism is beginning to take a sustainability approach. At first, about 2 years ago, it was just about saving money. Then, it was about living a clutter-free life. Now, I’m focusing more on using less than my “fair share” (by American standards) of resources. WAY less, as so many people use SO much.


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