Did you know that you can both live frugally and be happy? According to the dictionary, the term “frugal” is defined as “sparing or economical as regards money or food”. But in truth, there is a lot more to it. When thinking of a frugal person, many people think of a person living in a tent and hugging trees or someone being incredibly stingy and always grumpy with no joy in their life. Let me tell you that this could not be further from the truth and teach you how to be frugal without sacrificing happiness or generosity.
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What frugal living is not
Being in a few frugal living forums, I have seen people boasting about how frugal they supposedly are. Many users seem to confuse frugal life with being cheap. So before I go into further details, let me define what being frugal is not:
- Living with your parents and not contributing anything despite having a good income (taking advantage of the kindness of others)
- Buying the cheapest gift possible and never donating to charity
- Not repairing/replacing items when needed (e.g. driving a broken car)
- Never buying anything and depriving yourself
- Letting great opportunities pass by because of a small upfront cost
This is basically the grumpy and stingy person I mentioned in the introduction. But if you are like this, fear not, you can change your life whenever you want. It is your life, you are in control!
What frugal living is
If I have just destroyed your image of a frugal person, you may wonder what the secret to being frugal is. People that live frugally and are happy have the following characteristics:
- Living independently in a small yet sufficient place
- Gifting their time or DIY gifts and donate when appropriate
- Repairing broken items and replace them when necessary
- Buying items they really need or want but not buying junk (prioritise)
- Knowing when to invest
Being frugal is mainly a lifestyle choice for those that could afford more but choose not to be victims of consumerism. Other people are frugal out of necessity rather than choice, although it is rare to find people who are struggling to make ends meet mastering the frugal lifestyle. They may be experts in saving money but they fall short on the happiness part.
It is important to keep in mind that people often cannot be clearly divided into “being frugal” and “being not frugal”. While sometimes their lifestyles may be clear cut, frugality, in general, is a gradient. You often read posts that go like “frugal people do this” which implies that everyone is the same. Nobody is perfect in real life. Even though I believe myself to be a frugal person, I make money doing matched betting. While matched betting is a great way to improve my bank balance, it can also be classified as taking advantage of others.
How to live frugally and be happy
1. Stop to be a mindless consumer
The flashy BMW in your garage, that iPhone XYZ, your 95 trousers and 105 handbags. Why did you buy all this stuff? Probably because it looked nice, advertisements told you that you need it or your friends already have two of the same. This is the prime example of mindless consuming.
In the grand scheme of things, a BMW and a Ford are the same: they have four wheels and allow you to drive to places. The same is true for phones, an iPhone does the same as a Motorola. You can make phone calls, download apps and send messages. The actual differences are minor but we are led to believe they are the world.
If you are a victim of this, do not feel bad about yourself. There is an army of advertisers analysing the difference between their’s and their rival’s product and figuring out how they can brainwash people into believing they absolutely need their product regardless of the price. I recommend watching The Men who Made us Spend if you want to find out, how well thought out this scheme really is.
You can use my Should I buy it? flowchart to avoid unnecessary spending.
Make a conscious effort to live frugally and be happy
To live frugally and be happy, you have to make a conscious decision each time you spend. Ask yourself whether you really need a product or whether you already have something at home that fulfills the same purpose. Even if you do not, you need to be sure that the product you are thinking of buying is truly worth it.
Here is a simple formula you can use as a guide: divide the price of the product by one. If you buy something for £300, the result is 300, unsurprisingly. You can buy the product if you think you will use it at least 300 times. Note that this is a guide and does not work for everything.
2. Make the most of what you have
A look into your wardrobes and cupboards, and you will find that there are so many awesome things you already possess. They may not be new and shiny but they fulfill their purposes. Treating each of your possessions with care will reduce the desire to buy new products.
If something breaks, try to repair it instead of replacing it instantly. If it is truly broken, maybe you can re-purpose another item to take its place. Spending some time without your broken possession can also be helpful. If you do not miss it, chances are you do not need it.
3. Be kind to yourself and others
Being frugal does not mean depriving yourself and hiding in a corner all day long. You can still cook nice meals, enjoy your hobbies and spend time with friends. Many meaningful activities can be done for free such as reading (library), going for a walk, exercising, etc.
Over time, you are likely to make a few bad financial choices. You may fall back into old habits and buy that flashy car. Or become convinced by the media or a friend that you need the new iPhone XYZ. Should this happen, forgive yourself. Analyse why you stumbled and move on.
Giving to others is the same as giving to yourself. Not everyone will give back to you, but over the long-term, giving to others will help you grow. With the help of others, you can achieve so much more than you can alone!
Equally, always be kind to others. If they make mistakes and regret their actions, forgive them. Nobody is always right and people often say things they do not mean. By not holding grudges, you help yourself to be happier.
4. To live frugally and be happy, let go of your envy and jealousy
Once you learn to appreciate your own belongings more, you will naturally be less envious and jealous of other people. You will understand that others live their own life with entirely different circumstances. Outer appearances can often be deceiving; people driving expensive cars may have an extensive credit card debt and people that smile at you may have a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
We cannot fully understand another person’s circumstances unless we are very close to them. Therefore, what you might be jealous of is nothing than the outer package. A can of orange juice may be colourful and pretty on the outside but empty on the inside.
To be honest, I am guilty of of not following my own advice here. I tend to see the sparkling lives of others, their many friends, and their large houses. I particularly like to walk along rivers and look at the stylish houses alongside it. It is a constant effort to remind myself not to only look at the outside. My hope is that as I keep reminding myself of how privileged my own life is, the jealously will eventually vanish. It is always easier to give advice than to follow it!
5. Be mindful about your resource use
This section includes simple things like turning off the lights when you leave the room, ensuring the tap is properly closed and turning off the heating during Summer. Being aware of how much energy you waste is the first step to be mindful about your use. For example, you could reduce the temperature of your heating by 1 degree and probably will not even notice.
Using reusable items instead of disposables will save you money but also make your life less cluttered. Rather than having a drawer full of plastic bags, try having one good quality bag that you can use over and over again. You can even buy a shopping bag with a nice design that will put a smile on your face every time you use it.
Think of the environment
Other than saving money, mindful resource use is important to protect the environment. If you use less light, less electricity will have to be produced. Obviously, the impact of this on its own is insignificant. However, if everyone would stop wasting resources and be mindful, we would live in a better world.
Looking at disposable plastic items such as plastic bags, the benefit is more evident. Recently, there has been a lot of news on the amount of plastic swimming in the ocean. Everyone feels guilty but nobody wants to change their behaviour, leading to even more feelings of guilt. Not using plastic disposables means there is no need to feel guilty. Instead, you can feel good about yourself as you say “no” to our throw-away culture.
6. To live frugally and be happy, spend on things that bring you joy
Tip 6 is closely related to tip 3. Being frugal does not mean depriving yourself, it means finding happiness with less waste. This means prioritising. If your dream holiday is a trip to Disneyland, then frugality should not stand in the way of it. But because you are frugal and save money on not buying junk, you are able to turn your dream vacation into reality more easily.
Likewise, being frugal should never stop you from investing in yourself. If you want to advance in your career and need specific certifications or your dream job is to be a lawyer so you need a degree, then it is worth spending. Usually, your investment will be returned through higher salaries once you finish your course/degree. Even if not, the experiences you have made will help you in later life and the achievement may boost your confidence enabling you to reach higher.
7. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals
If you are surrounded by people who like to buy fancy new phones, you are also more likely to buy one. This is because you will see their phones hear how great they supposedly are. You will then slowly convincing yourself that you cannot live without one.
Last weekend, I met up with an old friend. She likes to go shopping and as we were walking past a department store, decided to buy a new dress. I did not really mind so I accompanied her. People knowing me will tell you how much I hate clothes shopping and the last time I topped up my wardrobe was probably a year ago. However, just hanging out with her got me to buy a new shirt. I would have never done this on my own.
Being in a community of frugal people can bring you back down to Earth after making such a purchase. It can also inspire you to be more frugal by listening to the right kind of people. Another major benefit is that you can borrow tools or other items from them which will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Reading recommendations to live frugally and be happy
Living frugally and being happy comes naturally to some of us. Others will struggle and have to re-wire their brain to achieve frugality and happiness. For those that are not natural-born talents at following a frugal lifestyle, I have composed a reading list that may help you on your journey. You may have to read a few different books and try out different advice, but after each one, you will be one step closer to your goal. Remember to check your local library before you buy anything!
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