Cheapskate. Miser. Scrooge.
These words describe people with an unhealthy relationship with money and often other people. Frugal people often walk this line– how can we be mindful money managers without being misers? The distinction got me thinking about the balancing act between the future and now, saving and spending, and the relationships we have with our money and each other.
People have questioned me about my goal of financial independence, and whether the sacrifice in the short term is worth it. Is the destination of financial independence worth it if you are miserable for the entire journey? Aren’t savers depriving themselves of happiness now for an uncertain future? To both of those questions, I answer: no.
Being frugal does not mean living a life of deprivation. When making financial decisions, we should be actively making choices that enhance our lives—thinking both short and long term. Think about the things you dream about doing if you had more time. Would you read more? Maybe you would travel monthly, or live abroad. You would pick up woodworking, and go bicycling.
In what ways can you start incorporating your dream life into your current life? Focus on the things that make you happy, and create your financial goals around those. Ideally, we will be spending money on the things that are important to us, and drop spending where it’s not helping us reach our goals.
Pick your priorities
Pick the categories you are willing to spend on. Every single thing has the ability to be upgraded in your life. If you’ve ever done a remodel, you know this. Things you never noticed before become important, the door hardware, doors, faucets, appliances, kitchen cabinets all have a fancier, more expensive counterpart. These can quickly expand, bulging your budget and exhausting your savings. It’s hard to walk away from marketing’s tricky little upgrades, but much easier if you can assess if it aligns with your priorities.
My top priorities:
- Outdoor adventures– skiing, kayaking, etc.
- Spending time with family and friends.
Research shows that the more choices we are given makes us unhappier with our ultimate decision. Try to narrow it down for yourself by prioritizing what stuff you’re willing to “cheap out” on and what you’re willing to shell out for. I prioritize some big wallet-whamming activities, but I try to trim the fat of any accompanying costs.
I realized that these priorities as they are written could really get expensive. I drilled down further. I asked myself: what is it about these things that are important to me? How can I cut out pieces that don’t support my core priorities?
- Travel = New experiences and perspectives
If the main goal is new experiences, I can cross off staying in a resort. I stay in hostels and often make my own food, with 1-2 meals out to have the new experience of the area’s cuisine. Flying is no new experience, so I find cheap flights, fly economy, and carry a single bag with me. I cut down on the stuff that doesn’t matter to me: premium seating, privacy of hotel rooms, and tourist traps.
- Outdoor adventures = Getting sun and fresh air
Getting sun and fresh air is a pretty easy priority. Walking is free! Now that I don’t live in a ski town anymore, I don’t get to ski as often as I would like, but I do get out for a walk in the sun every day. When I do ski I always pack my own food. My gear was mostly accumulated from different thrift sales. My boots and ski jacket were both $5 from goodwill and they fit great. My skis were $150 on sale, and were my first pair after wearing down my mom’s hand-me-down skis that lived a healthy life of 40 years. I pack my own food, because it’s not about the food for me, it’s the moguls!
- Spending time with family and friends = Connecting with loved ones.
When I spend time with friends, I love hosting and cooking a dinner home. Pouring us some wine and hanging out is just as nice as heading out to a fancy restaurant, because I’m targeting the priority of quality time. Maybe for you, unique dining experiences are a priority, but you don’t give a hoot if it’s next door or in Belgium. That’s great! We all prioritize differently.
The thing that astounds me the most about people achieving financial independence is how they asked themselves early on: why not. Why not live off the land on a rural homestead? Why not travel the world indefinitely, having kids and a full life along the way? Why not live by the mountain and ski powder all day? Why not raise children with both parents at home? These things are possible if they are a priority. Why not choose happiness now and happiness later. To save for joy, dream big so you have a motivator.
You Are Always Spending Your Money
Reframe saving versus spending. You are always spending money. You spending it on short term things—a rice cooker, a computer monitor, a bicycle. And the money you put into investments or savings account? You are spending that on your dreams in the future. You are paying your future self’s salary. Your future self worked hard for so long, they deserve it!
Be a money mechanic – not a miser
Once you have set out your priorities, your spending should bring you joy. Some experiences are priceless—maybe you have the opportunity to fly to a friend’s wedding or plan an impromptu adventure. Enjoy these times, and weed out the ones that aren’t rewarding but are costing you time and effort. The things you choose not to spend on should no longer feel like a sacrifice. After all, you have realized the return on investment of joy is low for those things.
A miser saves out of fear. A cheapskate misses out on important events. A scrooge affects others negatively in their monetary decisions. As a financial mechanic, you realize that money is a tool, a means to an end. It enables you to improve your now, and balance spending on the present and on your future. That way, when you retire, you’ve already started building the life you want.