Image courtesy Kira Elaine Adams
When you hear the word “frugal,” what comes to mind?
Here’s my list: avid couponer, bargain-hunter, garage-sale goer, master haggler. Someone who has learned to make do with less. Perhaps someone that can be creative in a pinch.
Do you think of something similar?
I have been reading Your Money or Your Life, and was challenged in my thinking on what it means to be frugal. In Chapter 6 (“The American Dream – On a Shoestring”), author Joe Dominguez writes:
Frugality means we are to enjoy what we have. If you have ten dresses but still feel you have nothing to wear, you are probably a spendthrift. But if you have ten dresses and have enjoyed wearing all of them for years, you are frugal. Waste lies not in the number of possessions but in the failure to enjoy them. Your success at being frugal is measured not by your penny-pinching but by your degree of enjoyment of the material world.
Now that sort of spun my thinking on its head, and I’ve been mulling over these statements for a few days now. And I think he’s right. And I think there can be a great irony for couponers here.
Consider this. When I started couponing, I found myself snagging up as many freebies as I could. My stash soon began to overflow with toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, soup mixes, cereal, foot cream, eye cream, who-knows-what-its-for cream. Each week I was astounded at my savings. And yet…had I achieved true frugality?
Now for confession time. I have a bag of Garnier I mean to donate, but haven’t yet. It’s in my closet stealing precious floor space. Although I don’t have allergies, I have five unopened boxes of allergy medicine that will expire within the year (that probably earned me some Register Rewards at Walgreens that have since been spent on other “useful” items). I have several kinds of salad dressing sitting in my pantry though I would prefer to nibble on fresh veggies anyday than prepare a salad. Would I have been more frugal if I would have paid full price for only items my family and I use? Granted, I can give these items away (which I most certainly will), but have I missed the overarching point of helping my family save money on the things we use?
A few paragraphs later, Dominguez offers that frugality is “the wise stewarding of money, time, energy, space and possessions.” When I’m focused on one small deal (yes, even if it’s a money-maker), it’s possible I can miss the bigger picture of what it means to be frugal. So I can make $8 at Rite Aid this week. But what if I have no use for Zantac or ReNu MultiPlus solution? Again, I can donate it. But what about the hour spent finding the deal, clipping the coupons, going to the store, waiting in line, returning home, and submitting for my rebates? What about the space in my closet I’ll have to make until I decide what to do with it? What about the time I’ll spend figuring out where to donate these items, and the time and gas money I’ll inevitably spend hauling it away? Is all of this worth $8? I can’t make that judgment call for you, because I don’t know your specific situation. But in mine, I think I could spend that time and effort more wisely.
Recently, I’ve shifted from feeling the need to snatch up every last deal to focusing on those that make sense for my family. Interestingly enough, my overall savings rate has gone down a bit. (I used to save 65% or more per month, now I’m hovering closer to 50%). However, my budget feels easier to manage because I’m not going to the stores multiple times each week. In short, I’m actually spending less. Without setting out to, I think I’m evolving into more and more of a frugal person.
My conclusion? It’s not about getting every deal, every freebie, stockpiling years of shampoo and dish soap. It’s about creating balance in all aspects of my life. I don’t know that I can state it any more eloquently than Dominguez: “Frugality is…not too much, not too little, but just right. Nothing is wasted. Or left unused. It’s a clean machine. Sleek. Perfect. Simple yet elegant. It’s that magic word – enough.”