When Frugality Is Not Fun

I was not born frugal. Everything in me wants to spend, acquire, achieve and amass. I am drawn to luxury. I live with visions of grandeur and opulence. My fondest dreams include custom tailored clothing, domestic staffs, $600 silk bed sheets, manicured gardens, Dooney & Bourke All-Weather Leather, fabulous cars, limousines and private jets.  That’s just how I am.

For me, practicing frugality is not really fun. Oh, there’s an occasional situation from time to time when scrimping might be slightly amusing but on the fun meter of life, planning and budgeting, paring down, doing without when it seems that everyone else in the world is prospering beyond belief—none of that can hold a candle to carefree shopping, living and spending as if money were no object.

My dilemma is that I do not have the means to indulge in a life-style equal to my natural-born tendencies. Those of you familiar with my story know that my feeble attempts to play out my natural tendencies landed me in a lot of trouble. I took the treacherous path of incurring debt to acquire things I couldn’t afford. I learned firsthand that living under mountains of debt is not living … it feels like dying.

So if living naturally brings pain but living frugally isn’t fun, is there any hope for the unnatural frugal type? Yes! It requires new behaviors. Voluntarily.

Attitude is key. If you can change your attitude everything else will follow. No one can do that for you because unless there is a heart change from deep inside, the change will be neither genuine nor permanent. Here are some baby steps you can take to start the change.

Don’t confuse frugality with poverty. The fear of feeling poor keeps many of us entrapped in financial bondage because the shopping and spending produce a false sense of feeling rich. Both feelings are unfounded. Unless you are a permanent resident of Moldova, you probably have no idea what “poor” really is. Frugality is a smart and dignified activity. It takes the ability to reason and apply self-discipline. Never forget that while you may not have it all, you have enough. And that’s more than many people in this world can say.

Learn self-talk. Non-frugal types often suffer from major cases of the I-wants whenever they find themselves within the vicinity of a mall or other commercial establishment, often resulting in compulsive purchasing. If this describes you, try a little shopping self-talk. Instead of coveting and envying every wonderful thing you see, assure yourself that if these things were really necessary (really necessary … like a kidney transplant or milk for the baby) you could find a way to purchase them. The necessity test usually dismisses the matter right then and there.

If the desire still lingers, make yourself consider what would be required if all those things really were yours. There’s cleaning and maintenance, repairs and dusting, insuring and fueling, worrying about the possibility of theft to say nothing of all of the packing required should you ever decide to move.

By the time you get through that exercise you should be sufficiently exhausted and thankful that you can enjoy those beautiful things without committing to ownership. Personally, I have many wonderful things that I “store” in the lovely shops at my local mall, South Coast Plaza. They are well taken care of and I can visit anytime I want.

Come up with realistic alternatives. I recently met a man whose wife works in a Nevada casino. She would habitually put a roll of quarters into a slot machine every work day. He showed her that her weekly $50 could pay for the boat she really wanted in just two years if she would simply put the quarters in a savings account rather than in an electronic bandit. They now have their paid-for boat and she’s saving for her next dream having given up the slots completely. Just a change of attitude.

For me practicing frugality is not always fun the way it must be for you natural-born tightwads. Actually, it’s rarely fun. But the results are so well worth the effort that I will never go back to the pain of living beyond my ability to pay. I haven’t bounced a check in 25 years. I have savings and investments. I buy with cash. I have no debt—credit-card, mortgage or otherwise. I don’t dread evening phone calls and I no longer have to hide the mail and shopping bags.

Now that I think about it, there are lots of things I’m called to do in my life that aren’t particularly fun. But I do them because I enjoy the results.

Living frugally isn’t always fun but it is soul satisfying. And I enjoy the results—especially the freedom, joy and peace of mind. 

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