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It has come to my attention that many people consider money and finance to be topics that are both stressful and confusing. After many moments of struggle in my life, I can understand why one begins to think this way.
Society is structured in a way that teaches us to continually consume, never be satisfied with what we already have, and that spending money is the key to happiness.
When taking all of these factors into account, the last thing on our minds is going to be saving a bit of money, especially with all of the propaganda surrounding us. It has become so engrained in our culture that half of the time we don’t even notice it. With their shiny outer core and hollow shields, the absence of fancy restaurants, luxurious cars, and Rolex watches only leaves us in misery.
So we do it again, fork out an extra $50 for a new pair of pants, or waste another $600 on the newest and greatest iPhone 17. This just perpetuates a never-ending spiral of making and spending money with high levels of stress.
With this kind of habit in place, the average American income isn’t going to be able to support this type of lifestyle while saving money at the same time. To my surprise, I often run across someone who doesn’t have enough money because they’re living paycheck to paycheck after dropping $200 on something they didn’t need.
And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to obtain these things. I’m here to tell you that you should. I myself want a car that’s reliable, and would personally never give up my smartphone. I too want to live a life that’s on par with everyone else, no matter the amount of income that I make.
The problem doesn’t necessarily lie in the fact that we feel that we need expensive products to thrive, but rather the fact that we don’t know where our priorities lie, and this is where most of the mindless consumption comes into play.
We see that being frugal doesn’t serve any purpose toward achieving happiness or true wealth. Yet by changing our perspective and knowing what’s important to us, we can use frugality as a tool to obtain what we really want.
Attitudes Toward Frugality
Before starting this blog, the first thing that popped into my head when someone mentioned the word frugality was along the lines of penny-hoarding: live below your means so you can save a bit of money and not have to worry about financial stressors. While this is a great way to have some cash under your belt, I always thought that it would never give you access to life’s greatest luxuries.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.
A study by Psychology Today displayed that tightwads have received the reputation of being an old man cooped up in his house who never goes out and does anything fun. Yet that same study showed that these habits of saving money that turn us into healthy, happy, and wise individuals.
Do you want to be rich? You can be. Interviews with the wealthy have shown us that they might not be living the lifestyle that most Americans think they do. Most of the wealthy today come from middle-class backgrounds and were taught as a young child to be both frugal and disciplined about their finances. Most of the business owners, engineers and other professionals you see today have found a way to live well below their means and transform their money into wealth.
Whether the two studies mentioned above are true or not, being frugal doesn’t have to be a burden. In fact, I have never met anyone who didn’t not want to save an extra dollar. As the sole writer of FFL, I personally enjoy finding new ways to save money and live below my means. Just like the wealthy, I treat the idea of wealth as a game, rather than see it as some obstacle that needs to be overtaken.
Being frugal doesn’t have to be stressful, tiring, or confusing. The most important thing that you can do for yourself in times of financial hardship is shift your perspective of frugality from the archaic meaning of never having anything, to one that shows that frugality is the key to building a healthy and wealthy future. If the rich are practicing the idea of frugality and have access to things that most of us dream of, it wouldn’t help to at least get on the same thinking patterns as they do.
Know Your Priorities
Sometimes we forget that luxuries to one person might mean something completely different to another. The way I personally define this word is something that i thoroughly enjoy. If you had to step back for a moment and really think about what it is that you want out of life, what would it be? Would it be that Mercedes Benz that you’ve always wanted, or to do something out of the ordinary, explore the world, cure cancer, or something that you might not have even thought of yet?
Any of the above answers are okay. For me personally, I want a Mercedes Benz, but there’s no way that I would ever consider spending money on one given my current stage in life, and it definitely isn’t my top priority. That would only put me in a state of financial stress and worry. To me, being stress free and financially sound are much more important than owning that car.
And this is where the problem comes in. We see that the rich have these nice items, so we either want to have them so that we can boast about the next best thing that we recently bought, or we just want to fill that “inner emptiness.”
But the reason that the rich have these things is because they know that they aren’t priorities. Spending $50,000 won’t put them in a state of misery or stress, so they can go ahead and buy pretty much whatever they want. Yet for the average American, spending this amount of money will only put them into debt, and thus cause more stress and worry.
You need to know where your priorities lie. While I can’t define these for you (since I don’t know you), I’m willing to bet that most people want to live in a state that gives them financial freedom to pursue what they want to in life, and that’s what the wealthy do.
Before the rich obtained vast amounts of wealth, they also had to forego luxuries and other pleasures in order to get where they want to go. We can see this by the fact that most of the rich today don’t come from wealthy families. If they didn’t imply the practice of frugality, they might not be where they are today. It was only when they reached this state were they able to spend extra amounts of money because it wasn’t a big deal to them.
Find Out What Makes You Happy – Progress
I’m not going to sugarcoat it here. I too would like to have a higher income and more money in my bank account. This would allow me more access to things that I enjoy doing such as traveling or learning a new language. Even though I’m nowhere near being rich and famous, I know what makes me happy.
Joe and Henry
Let’s take two examples, one from a person who is poor (we’ll call him Joe) and one person that has the equivalent wealth as someone in the middle-class (we’ll call him Henry). Both Henry and Joe want to improve their lives and make the most out of it.
For Joe, we’re going to assume that his priorities are to feed his family, give his kids a happy life and happy futures, and also try and work hard to receive a promotion at work. Hep probably can’t afford much otherwise since is income is so abysmal. Yet he keeps going with the daily grind, showing up early to work, hoping that one day he’ll get a promotion.
One day he gets that promotion and gets moved up in his company. While his wealth hasn’t increased much, Joe is a lot happier because he’s able to put his kids through college. Whether the steps he is taking to try and improve his wealth are right or wrong, the fact that Joe has made a big step in completing his goals gives him the ultimate satisfaction, something which no one can take away from him.
As for Henry, he already has a decent income. His kids are able to go to college debt-free, he can afford minor luxuries in life such as going to concerts and eating out every once in a while, and doesn’t have many financial stressors because he lives below his means, only buying what he can afford. He’s been working at his company for 5 years or so, and while he doesn’t hate his position, he hopes for something more.
Henry decides to one day start his own business to get out of the daily grind because he wants to be even more successful than he already is. After a couple of years of hard work, he’s able to quit his job, increase his income slightly, and lead a happier life because he built something from the ground up all on his own.
So what do these two examples have in common?
There are two things that I wanted to point out with this example.
- They limited their financial stressors so that they were able to pursue what they wanted.
- They made progress.
First, let’s talk about progress. Humans are innately set on the path of having to continually improve. In fact, this is what keeps us motivated and keeps us going. If there was nothing to strive for, why live at all? Many billionaires get depressed because they end up working 80 hours a week for years only to never have to work again.
The main reason they feel this way is because they feel as if they aren’t making anymore progress. As long as you are making improvements in your life from where you currently stand, you’re going to find a way toward true, intrinsic satisfaction, and this is happiness that no one can take away from you.
As in the case of Joe and Henry, their ideas of happiness are going to be a little bit different from one another. However, they both attained it by going after what they truly wanted, even though they were both different things. You can also achieve this type of happiness by going after what you really want and realizing that the path to get there isn’t going to be the same for everyone.
The other thing we mentioned that these two have in common is frugality. We can think of frugality as a tool that can be used to help you limit stressors that occur in your life so that you have more time to focus on your priorities.
Without having to worry about when your next meal is coming or how much debt you have to pay off on your house, you can really start to focus on the things that are most important to you. If that’s getting your kids through college, great. If that’s obtaining vast amounts of wealth, perfect.
Joe was able to live well below his means and just put enough on the table to feed his kids until he was able to get a promotion. While it’s not much, it definitely took one less worry and stressor out of the equation. The same can be said for Henry, who bought just enough to enjoy a nice lifestyle but never went overboard.
Wherever you want to be in life, whether it be filthy rich, dirt poor, or just want to make something more of yourself, frugality can help you obtain this. Frugality can be used as a tool so that you can obtain the more important things in life. Most of the wealthy have employed this method in order to get where they want to be, so why can’t we?
Lastly, don’t forget that being frugal in itself can be enjoyable. Make a game out of it if you have to, and see how much extra you can save each month. Change your attitude to realize that by saving a bit of extra cash you’re achieving something much greater.
True satisfaction comes from making progress toward something you really want. Next time you’re thinking of buying that Mercedes Benz, try not to get blind-sided by the sun reflecting off of its shiny exterior and keep your priorities in line for what truly makes you happy.
My name is Jason Wuerch and I'm currently located in Madrid, Spain running a personal finance blog called Frugal For Less. My goal is to help everyone and anyone willing to make and save money through easy and simple ways that don't require much effort. Just because you're frugal doesn't mean you have to give up life's luxuries.