By nature, I’m a pretty frugal guy. However, since launching Mystery Money Man just over 6 months ago, I’ve taken things to the next level. My no-spend January, our family’s 16-day, uber-frugal summer road trip, and my growing aversion to a vast majority of spending are evidence of this.
My increasing focus on frugal living has caused a significant shift of mindset, and I’ve begun to wonder if a person can become too frugal?
I think the easy answer is yes. Simply put, too much of anything isn’t all that good. And while I don’t feel my frugal ways have become detrimental, the question is worth asking.
FRUGALITY MOTIVATED BY FEAR
Frugality motivated by fear becomes unhealthy. At such a point, it morphs from a hardy desire to eliminate waste, into a fear-inducing poverty mentality.
Trust me, this is not how you want to live, and you should be aware of the characteristics.
Consultant Alan Weiss (I stumbled upon this article, and it’s a good read) defines a poverty mentality as follows:
“(a mentality) that influences behaviours consistent with beliefs that money shouldn’t be spent, opportunities are limited, any risk at all is dangerous, any success is temporary and non-replicable, and generally remaining in the back of the pack is safest.”
In other words, a poverty mentality might be considered frugality gone too far.
HAVE I BECOME TOO FRUGAL?
I’ve embraced a frugal lifestyle because I’ve experienced its benefits firsthand. More so, I’ve realized its enormous potential.
As an example, here are just a few ways our family has benefitted from reducing our spending during the past year:
- My wife was able to leave her part-time job. With two teenagers and a highly energetic ten year old, her ability to be at home has made our family’s lifestyle much more settled, less rushed.
- Our return to life on a single income happened without a cut to our accelerated mortgage repayment, or a reduction in our savings rate.
- We took the opportunity to travel. From our well documented $650 road-trip, an upcoming sojourn to Phoenix with my son, and our camping and travel plans this summer, we couldn’t make it happen without being extremely frugal month in, month out.
IS LUXURY A FORM OF WEAKNESS?
When you reduce or eliminate habitual, wasteful spending, you begin to view luxury in a new light. That is, as an occasional indulgence which can enrich your life. This is the way in which luxuries should be experienced.
On the other hand, the pursuit of luxury as a primary goal will leave you unsatisfied, always wanting more.
Only you can decide when enough is enough.
I love how one Mr. Money Mustache puts it, in this article. In his words,
“luxury is best appreciated as a strong and interesting contrast to, rather than the fabric of, your daily life”.
Unfortunately, our consumer society tells us that the opposite is true. That you can’t have too much of a good thing, and that fancy restaurants, regular spa visits, expensive concerts and sporting events are the “fabric” of any normal lifestyle.
EMBRACE FRUGALITY AND WATCH YOUR GRATITUDE SWELL
Have I eliminated all luxury from my life? Not even close. In fact, we took our kids out for lunch just the other day. It was the first time we’d done that in months, and I appreciated the experience so much more than I would have previously, because it was such a treat. We surprised the kids, and they were genuinely excited, and grateful for the time together.
By making less room in my life for “normal” luxuries, I get to fill my days with more happiness inducing activities, which come with the added benefit of being absolutely free!
Walks with my wife, playing ball with my son, or board games with my daughters, these are the true luxuries, and cause my sense of gratitude to swell.
Just last night, I read an inspiring post by one of my absolute favourite writers, Linda from Brooklyn Bread. In it, she describes the joy she feels in being able to partake in the hobby of bird-watching, while living within the urban landscape that is New York City. It’s become an activity for the whole family, and has an amazing “fun-to-frugal” ratio, as Linda cleverly puts it.
This is exactly what I’m talking about. The swell of gratitude. Experiences are the true luxuries in life, more satisfying than stuff. Can a person become too frugal?
Suddenly, I’m not so sure.