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Cheap by Choice: When Frugality Means Freedom
I suffered some great financial losses back in 2010. I lost my house, my car, and my business. We had been living frugally in comparison to many people, but not frugally enough to counteract that personal economic disaster. Looking back, I’m not sure if any amount of frugality could have really made a difference.
It was a devastating blow, and it came right on the heels of the loss of my dear father. We became even more thrifty of a necessity, and I resented the need to do so every single time I stepped into a mall, purchased groceries, or emptied my bank account on payday to keep the utilities on and a roof over our heads, with nothing extra left over for fun, or even secondary needs. It was a very grim time for our family.
When the depression began to lift, I saw that getting out from under that mountain of debt had actually provided me with a gift of enormous freedom. I realized that my life could take a different turn. I was no longer tied to anything.
And that’s when I began to embrace my cheap side.
I realized that I no longer needed to buy into the system that had been the source of my economic collapse. By supporting them, I wasn’t supporting us. By being as self-sufficient as possible, by cutting my spending, and by not needing “the system,” I was winning. I was becoming truly free.
When an entity has nothing to hold over your head, all the options are your own. You can make your decisions based on what is good for you and your family, not on what terrible things might happen to you if you don’t “toe the line.”
Embrace your cheap side
Hard-core frugality is not just making a choice to buy the generic brand of laundry soap instead of a jug of Tide with scent beads. Hard-core frugality is buying the ingredients to make 5 times the amount of laundry soap for half the price of that name-brand detergent, all the while LOVING the fact that Proctor and Gamble are not getting your money.
When you can cross that line between resenting the fact that you have to strictly budget to embracing the fact that by being as frugal as possible, you have a freedom you never dreamed of before, then you have begun to embrace your cheap side.
Being a black belt in frugality takes creativity and an optimistic outlook. It should never be some grim, sad thing that you have to do. It should be something that you choose to do. By finding joy in your non-consumerism, you will be far more successful at it. It becomes a game that you win if you can do something for free that others spend money on.
When you feel like you require less, then you are happy with less. This means that you have to spend less time working at things you may not truly enjoy to pay for the things that you never actually needed in the first place. This means that the money that you have goes a lot further
You might be a cheapskate if….
Here are some surefire signs that you are embracing your cheap side:
- Before throwing anything in the garbage you take a few seconds to ponder how it might be reused, and then either compost it, put it aside for a re-purpose, or you turn it into a homemade “log” for your fire.
- You have an ice cream tub in your freezer nearly full of odd bits of leftovers, awaiting their reincarnation into “leftover casserole” or “leftover soup”.
- It’s physically impossible for you to drive past an interesting-looking garbage pile at the curb during somebody else’s spring cleaning frenzy.
- Your first stop at the grocery store is the “last day of sale” rack in each department.
- Your kid looks at a necklace or pair of earrings at the “cool” store and scoffs, “We could make this.” Then she puts it back and asks you to take her to the thrift store for items to disassemble for the supplies to make her own accessories.
- A day of yard-saling is planned out like a military invasion: you have a Mapquest route of at least a half dozen sales, a thermos full of coffee, a wallet full of small bills, and a list including measurements of all empty spaces in your home that need to be filled, kitchen items you are seeking, books your daughter wants to read, and upcoming birthdays. Your alarm is set the night before, a blueberry muffin is wrapped up and ready to go on the counter, and your comfy clothes are laid out.
- If something must be replaced or purchased, you always look for a used version first before doling out the money for a new one.
- You know how to darn socks….and you do it.
- You wash and re-use sandwich baggies, and you’ve even rigged up a little drying rack for them beside your sink.
- You are outraged at the idea of spending $18 on a jug of laundry detergent because you could make a year’s supply for that amount of money.
- You have recently advised your child to cut off that teeny bit of mold on the brick of cheese because the other side is just fine.
- You don’t carve the Jack-o-Lanterns until the day before Halloween so that you can cook, puree, and can the pumpkin the day after Halloween.
- You have (and use) a clothesline. Year round.
- You know how to repair a plastic clothes hamper by “welding it” with a bread tag and a hot glue gun.
- The dish soap beside your sink is actually 50% dish soap and 50% water.
How to Become a Happy Non-Consumer
Be grateful. An “attitude of gratitude” is the most vital part of embracing your cheap side. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, you will find that you “need” far less than you did before. That’s because you aren’t seeking some momentary hit of joyous adrenaline by purchasing something. That rush rarely lasts and you’re just left with more stuff and less money.
Be creative. How can you make something, save something, or repair something in a totally original way? Embrace the challenge and tap into your creativity – you may just discover that, in your originality, you’ve come up with something far better than the purchased alternative. (We’ve found this to be especially true with fashion accessories, home decor, and birthday parties!)
Give. Don’t let your pursuit of frugality make you stingy. There are always people who are worse off than you. It’s important to give a hand up to those people. If your kids were hungry, or cold, or without shelter, wouldn’t you hope that some kind person would help them? Even at our absolute rock bottom financially, we donated one can of spaghetti sauce and a package of noodles to the food bank every week, which hopefully provided a warm comforting meal for someone who needed it. It isn’t really necessary to debate whether people are truly in need or just milking the system. That is a subject for them and their consciences. Just give. You are responsible for your intentions, not theirs.
Spend your money where it really matters. We opted to move to a very small community into a drafty little cabin in the woods. We made this decision as a family, in order to reduce our monthly output. By getting rid of “city rent” and all of the bills that came with it, we cut our monthly output in half. This means that I can spend a little extra on high-quality meats and dairy, for example. When my daughter needs new glasses, it’s not a problem to pay for them. It means my older daughter can get through college without crippling student loans.
Less need equals more time. Not only does a thrifty lifestyle mean that I can refocus where my money goes. It means that I can refocus where my time goes. I don’t have to work quite as hard on stuff outside the home and can focus on farm and family. I have the time to make hats and scarves instead of purchasing them. I have time to garden and can the harvests. I have time to perform money-saving tasks like cooking from scratch, which goes into a big happy circle of having more money to put towards important things.
Stay home. When you stay home more, you are tempted less. You aren’t thirsty, requiring a beverage. You aren’t hungry, requiring a snack. You aren’t using the car, requiring gas. You aren’t tempted by all the colorful and wonderful things in the stores.
Hang out with like-minded people. It is so much easier to embrace your cheap side if you don’t have people telling you how deprived you are all the time, or berating you for being too cheap to spend $27.85 on a movie ticket, popcorn and a soda pop. Most of my closest friends are thrifty. We swap clothing, we borrow and lend tools, and we cheerfully hang out without spending a dime. Instead of going out to sit in a boutique coffee shop sipping a $6 latte with whipped cream, we sit in the garden at one of our houses sipping a coffee that one of us made, along with a nice fresh blueberry muffin. We enjoy the same conversation we would have had at that coffee shop too. Instead of heading to the mall, we chat on Skype. When your nearest and dearest are on the same page, life is a whole lot easier.
Turn off the TV. People go to school for years to study how to make people want what they don’t need. That great big brainwash box sitting in the living room is a direct pipeline into your brain. From the beautiful homes on the TV programs, the fancy clothes and cars, and the ads for food, recreation and new cars, the whole racket is designed to make you feel you what you have now is inferior to what you could have. Kids are the biggest target of product placement advertising in popular shows. If you watch TV, limit it. Become aware of the scams and discuss them with your kids so that they can easily identify how marketers are attempting to manipulate them. (Confession: we do watch a little bit of TV in our home, and when we do, it’s a big game to identify the hidden ads. While this may sound contrary to the advice to turn the TV off, I believe that some limited viewing coupled with an awareness of the marketing techniques inoculates my children against the sales pitch.)
The Two Week Challenge
Okay….do you want to get started on your journey to frugality, freedom, and fun?
To switch over to a frugal lifestyle successfully, you really have to want to do it. If you’re constantly bemoaning what you don’t have, you’ll be miserable. If you are resentful that you can’t have “stuff” then you won’t stick to your frugal plan. The most important thing of all is to switch off your personal “want” button. When you don’t want or need the things that the “elite” and the big corporations are selling, then you are suddenly free of their restrictions. You are no longer a slave to the wages you must earn to pay for the things they tell you that you should have. You don’t have a lifestyle built on expectations, debt, and the never-ending search for happiness bought from a store.
I know that lots of you are already doing all of these things, and more…what are your suggestions for people who are new to the cheap side?
How has the art of thrift changed your life and set you free?