Frugal living is as much a mindset as it is a set of techniques. Most of us can save some money some of the time with frugal practices that seem comfortable to us, to our families, and to our social group. Examples of these "normal" frugal practices are coupon clipping and using the library. But how will you feel when you want or need to go beyond the norm?
As a beginning practitioner of the frugal arts, I often found myself apologizing to others for my new attitude. I belonged to a social tribe of young couples with dual incomes. We ate out a lot, recreationally shopped for clothing and furniture, and took expensive vacations. There was perceived pressure to have and do the same things as our peers.
Although I had a great reason for being frugal, which was the purchase our first home, I constantly said "sorry" for my behavior. I apologized to friends for turning down invitations to expensive restaurant meals. I apologized to my husband for fixing him brown bag lunches. I apologized to relatives for the quality of my Christmas gifts.
When we were "poor students," we never apologized for basic frugal behaviors like living on rice and beans. In fact, we supported each other with new information like which laundromat had free dryers. We were even somewhat snobby about people who didn't have to work or who could afford a nice car.
What changed us? It was undoubtedly the receipt of that first big post- graduation paycheck. All of a sudden there were new clothes, shrimp on the barbecue, and trips to Hawaii. Our frugal ways were quickly forgotten.
I spent a few years feeling badly about being the frugal one in my circle and made only spotty progress towards our financial goals. And then I found myself seven months pregnant with my first daughter and being laid off from my wonderful, well-paying job. In a matter of weeks (which was all I had), I saved every penny I could, paid off the credit card debt, created a budget, and paved the way for me to stay home with our baby. I didn't feel like apologizing to anyone anymore. In fact, I felt like the Warrior Queen of Frugal Village for getting it together.
One year later, on half our former income, I'd led my family toward greater security by paying off the cars, refinancing the house, and vastly increasing our retirement savings. Friends started asking me how I did it. In short order, I went from frugal apologist to frugal cheerleader.
If you are beginning a more frugal lifestyle, don't just learn frugal techniques. Anyone can use a price book or turn down the thermostat. Instead, explore how you will feel about doing these things. Will there be social or familial pressure to conform to a more "spendy" lifestyle? If so, how will you handle yourself? Feeling inferior about what you are doing will limit your progress towards your goals no matter how great your arsenal of frugal tricks.
What are our less than frugal friends doing now? One filed for bankruptcy, then pulled himself together with a goal and a budget. One decided doing the nonprofit work she loves was more important than doing lucrative work she hates. And one couple has stayed the course, spending themselves into a hole so deep and wide that they are afraid to face it. Now they spend a lot of time apologizing, mainly to their creditors.
Amy Burns is a stay-at-home mother of two young children. Having recently survived a move from the Southwest to the much more expensive Windy City, she is enjoying applying frugal living techniques in a new environment.
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