Saving money: does being frugal have to take off any joy in our lives?

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Whenever I talk/write about the need of having an emergency fund and trying to save money as much as you can (especially in those good months), some of the people that get my message will immediately tell me “but I want to live my life“.

Their definition: we splurge on anything we feel like, we’re having a “little” stress when having to find the money to make the payments for our loans, but other than that it’s great. We do purchase the latest gadgets (even if the older ones are still functional and not that ‘old’), we get a new car every 3-4 years, we take exotic vacation (for which we sometimes don’t have the money, but we can take a loan), we’re eating out every day, have too many clothes to wear them and never bother save (not that we’d have any money left anyway).

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It all goes great and the frustration of never making ends meet from one month to another is gone fast, after a nice meal at a restaurant or those new shoes that we “had” to have.

The problem with this thinking is that eventually something will break. While these people seem to be happy now (and maybe they are), anything that could happen to them (a job loss, medical issues, divorce etc.) will get them into deep trouble. We do know such people for whom losing a job meant a huge problem. They’re neck deep in debt and have stopped even going to their regular summer vacations, since they can barely make the payments. They are frustrated (as one can imagine) and don’t see any chance to get better financially, until they’ll be able to clear some of their debt.

Those who haven’t yet gone through losing a job or any other kind of emergency, that would make the monthly payments harder and getting into more debt the only way to ‘survive’, are a ‘ticking bomb’, a financial disaster waiting to happen. And since the economy is bad in most countries, it’s just a matter of time until something will happen to them.

So, does this mean we need to live a joyless life just to save the money?

As long as we’re not inheriting some crazy fortune, it’s clear that we’ll need to make some choices and really understand what makes us truly happy. Most of us can’t have it all: vacations, new gadgets every year, new cars every few years, eating out, luxury clothing etc., so we’ll need to take a hard look in the mirror and see which of these are not as important to us (so we can save on them) and which things make our lives better (and we’ll ‘invest’ more in them).

Our case: traveling has been important to us and it still is. We’re taking a little time off, until our daughter is born, but we’ll resume our vacations (smaller and longer) as soon as she can come with us. We’re already planning a vacation in Croatia next year, when she’ll be 6-7 months old and, if it all goes well, we’d probably have a really great time again. For this passion we have already spent a small fortune. It’s not cheap to travel and being away from home for months in a row (as we were so kindly offered a place to stay at our friends in NYC) did come with a steep price.

We’re both ‘geeks’, so you can imagine we did make sure we have the items that we wanted to own: laptops (each has its own, I also have a smaller laptop for travel and a Nook Tablet), DSLR cameras, a camcorder etc. Sure, purchasing them all cost us quite a bit, but we have been using some of them for more than 2 years and are still happy to do it for as long as they keep on functioning. The only thing I needed to replace was my main laptop, since the one I purchased in 2010 ‘died’ few months ago. The previous one worked for 6 years, so I was pretty mad to see this one stop working after just half the time.

My car is 6 years old now (even if it does have 25K miles on it only), so for many people this would mean I need to trade it for a new one. As long as it works properly (and it looks/feels as if it was still new), we don’t plan on changing it anytime soon. We’re both looking to really get our money’s worth, so we won’t throw things away just because there’s a new model being released.

Since we’re both working from home (so we have access to our great internet connection), we don’t have data plans for our mobile phones. His phone is 3 years old, mine is 5. They both work very well and, even if there’s a new smartphone release every few months, we’re not wasting time or money with this. When they’ll finally break, we’ll get a smartphone that’s not costing as much as my laptop and keep our phone bills small (he pays 10 bucks/month, mine is 4). We don’t like signing contracts, we don’t feel the need to show off the latest iPhone, we don’t need this anyway. Another thing that has little importance to us and helps us save more money.

We don’t eat out. Not only that it’s more expensive, but most of the food sold in restaurants is worse that we can cook at home. We eat healthy, we don’t use processed food, we don’t use cheap oil or condiments. So, instead of eating out and paying a lot for a meal we might not really enjoy, we save money by doing our own grocery shopping and cooking.

Our clothes are used until they are not looking good anymore. We have jeans that are 4-5 years old. As long as they still look nice, we’ll wear them. Even if I am a woman, I don’t have tens of pairs of shoes. I buy what I need and don’t ‘collect’ shoes and bags just to see my closet filled with items. We are well dressed (we usually go for good quality clothing/shoes), but we don’t have a huge wardrobe.

What are the things we do spend on?

As mentioned before, when it comes to travel, we do pay the money. We also buy nice clothing and quality appliances/gadgets. We don’t like to save buying something unreliable, since it would mean having to purchase new ones too soon. We do use them for as long as they will function properly, even if all others are thrilled to sport the new gadgets. We don’t need a data plan and an expensive smartphone, so we don’t waste money on these. We don’t grocery shop on a very tight budget: we’re both foodies, so you won’t find us getting almost expired produce, just because it’s cheaper or buying anything we don’t really like to save few bucks. We do indulge in fresh products and sometimes more expensive ingredients, since cooking at home already cuts our food bill a lot.

A balance can be reached in our lives so that paying off debt and saving won’t make us feel like this is not a life worth living. But we all need to understand that we can’t have it all. While we save on the things that are not important to us (luxury clothing, jewelry – I was never interested in this, new gadgets, eating out etc.), this allows us to indulge when it comes to what really makes us happy: good food, doing sports, traveling, photography etc.

We have friends who expect us to be unhappy, since we don’t spend money on things that are ‘vital’ to them. But we are happy, because our few important needs are being met. We understood that we won’t be able to live in luxury (unless we agree to get in debt for it), so we choose the few things that make our lives better and stopped wasting money on stuff that’s not important to us.

Your turn now: does being more frugal kill any joy in your life? Are you finding that balance between your real “needs” and “wants”. Are you happy or does paying off debt/saving bring you only frustration?

26 COMMENTS

  1. I agree, Dojo – it’s about finding that balance where you spend money on what makes your heart happy and save on what doesn’t. To know all the stuff in the world means little when you are debt and really don’t “own” any of those things. Sadly, many people in debt believe they freedom but they really don’t. I live a very good life and I don’t have debt (beyond our mortgage). I spend my money wisely and when I want something big – like an exotic family vacation – we save until we can afford it. Sure, we could go sooner if I just put it on our credit cards but the memories of our vacation certainly get diminished month after month as I try to pay down that debt. Great post!

    • I could surely not enjoy a vacation for which I’d have to pay for many months afterwards. When we couldn’t afford it, we stayed at home. Same for the holidays: we didn’t spend money we didn’t have. Weird enough, even if we can be more relaxed with this now, we still don’t spend too much, since we realized we can feel happy with less.

  2. I think the same way about travel. I don’t go out, I don’t buy new clothes, I moved in with my sister, I’m even considering cycling to work!… The only thing I am not willing to give up is travel. To me, this is a way of life. We are all allowed to have a hobby, right? Well, travelling is mine! πŸ˜› Well done on living a frugal lifestyle while prioritising what’s important. I think this is very important to find the right balance!

    • Yeah, the balance is what matters. We don’t feel frustrated for not buying the latest gadgets (even if we could buy them today), since they’re not important to us. We do indulge when it’s something that makes us happy, the rest is not important, so we don’t fret too much .

  3. I’ve always thought that life was meant to be enjoyed…but after our financial epiphany we’ve had to amend that with the phrase “within our means.” It’s OK to enjoy life, and spend your money as long as you take care of your commitment and your future first. As my friend Paula Pant says – “You can afford anything….just not everything.”

    • Love that saying: you can afford anything, just not everything. I think it clearly sums up my entire article in few worlds only. We were NEVER frustrated or deprived in all these years. We’re actually very happy and optimistic, maybe because our real needs are being taken care of and we can still think about the future and not get scared.

  4. That mentality of “having to live your life” – as if living your life means spending everything you’ve got – is something very common here in Romania, probably because of the lack of financial education most people have (at least this is my guess). In the end, I do agree that finding what really matters for you and spending on that is the way to go and not trying to spend on everything. And always have something prepared for when it hits the fan. In theory, it’s easy πŸ™‚

    • You are so right. I have met many Romanians who ‘play’ this chorus: I want to live my life. It’s clear we’re coming from 50 years of Comunism, not getting the bare necessities in life (if you’re old enough you know what a big deal a good salami was or oranges – that we’d eat ONLY on Christmas). After decades of deprivation and not finding the stuff we now take for granted, I can understand the reaction.

      Most people are pretty poor (compared to other countries), so when the loans started being handed out like candy they all felt like they can now enjoy life. Hell, I took 2 loans myself and used the same argument “I want the stuff now, not when I’m too old”. Truth be told, with some saving I could have gotten both items in few months/years, but I wasn’t willing to wait anymore.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Finding the right balance is key. I have a friend who always told me, anything that gives you new experiences, adds to your knowledge and skills and enriches moments with love ones are not at all wasteful. Being frugal doesn’t mean scrimping on life’s precious moments so kudos to you for knowing your priorities.

    • The reason we love to travel: it has really opened our eyes, it exposed us to many other cultures/societies and we learned a lot from all the places we visited. Instead of wasting time with stuff that doesn’t have a relevance to us, we’d rather experience other places and meet so many people.

  6. It seems like you have a great balance! You make a good point about the ‘ticking bomb,’ it is actually quite a scary thought!…Most people find it difficult to make changes in their lives, especially as they maybe feel like they have to keep up their current lifestyle to fit in. But I say that it is good to make the change now before you get into more debt!

    • Many people are still ‘ashamed’ to say that they cannot go there or buy this (because of the budget or them actually saving). We did have people who know us laugh at us that we rarely dine out or that we have these old mobile phones. But we don’t really care. What we didn’t bother get (since it was irrelevant to us), we made up with our travels. And these really made us happy.

      • Well, let’s see about this people laughing situation:

        12 years ago (almost), I was working as a radio DJ. All colleagues were making fun of me for being the ‘weirdo’ with the sites. I was passionate about this and would spend a lot of time learning the ropes and trying to perfect my skills. I was 20 something and didn’t party, which seemed weird to them.

        Fast-forward a decade or so: they still work for small wages (if they still have a job), while I’m running a successful business as a web designer, based on the hard work I put back then (and all these years).

        I don’t dress ‘lady-like’, I don’t wear jewelry, I don’t try to show anyone that I am doing ‘well’. For many years I had neighbours and relatives make fun of me (sure, most of the time not in my presence), that I don’t have a ‘normal job’ and I don’t dress ‘properly’. Some of them wiped their silly smiles off their faces when they found out that I was able to spend 6 months on another continent for 3 years and that my ‘wasting time at home’ brings my family more money than they earn in months πŸ˜€

        So no, I don’t care about what others think and no one should. Main focus: MY family and MY business

  7. It’s all about prioritizing and determining what we find value in, no? I love travelling as well. My husband and I make travelling a priority and set aside a good amount of money for it. Sometimes we think the money might be put to better use if we put it towards our mortgage or invested in it, but then we remember the experiences we’ve gained from travelling, the people we are because of it, and we know it’s money well spent.

    • As soon as you’ll solve your mortgage, you’ll be able to clear out even more funds for traveling. Anyway, knowing even now how to do something that makes you happy and still budget effectively and pay off debt is the balance you need and that will pull you through. You ‘sacrifice’ in one area and you indulge when it comes to what matters most. It makes you happy and it all works better this way.

    • I really like the use of these 2 words: cheap and frugal. One does lead me to think about someone who’s really ‘killing’ any joy in their life, while being frugal for me at least means knowing your priorities and making smarter choices.

    • Yeah, the car was always a waste of money, but at least it does help us get around (not to mention it’s promoting my business) and, by using it for as much as possible, we’ll be able to make the most of it. We focused on getting into a good balance life-wise: make sure our real pleasures are met and also cut back on the stuff that’s not relevant to us. Seems to work. We can save and we’re also happy.

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