I do a lot of Five Frugal Thing blog posts here on The Non-Consumer Advocate. Partially because they’re easy to write, but mostly because a deeply frugal life is about all the small decisions that get made on a daily basis.
Yes, sometimes I save huge amounts of money with a single action, but mostly it’s multiple small decisions that get made on a daily basis. I drink tea instead of coffee, I wash clothes in cold instead of warm water, I hang dry my laundry when possible and I cook from scratch. I find contentment with what I already own and most of my home’s upgrades involve something that I gleaned for nothing. I find free or almost free solutions to life’s challenges and almost all of my hobbies make money.
I balance my extreme frugality with multiple income streams. Working part-time as a labor and delivery nurse, writing, cleaning my mother’s guest cottages, selling on eBay, Craigslist and in consignment shops. It adds up. It sounds busy, but really it isn’t. I choose my own schedule and have more than enough time to goof off. Probably too much time if truth be told.
It’s a good life.
A recent Atlantic Monthly article titled The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans outlined how “47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all.” The author, Neal Gabler explains how he and his wife are in the exact same situation, and is quite transparent about how they ended up in such poor financial shape. From the outside, his repeat financial errors are glaringly obvious, (poor real estate choices, private education, keeping up with The Joneses) but at the time the decisions made sense to a father trying to give his daughters the best start in life. However, those daily decisions completely robbed a successful writer from any possibility of financial stability. His daughters’ college educations were funded by his parents, as a pseudo advance against any inheritance he would have received. “It meant that we had depleted not only our own small savings, but my parents’ as well.” Also, he cashed out his retirement to pay for a wedding.
I finished this article with so many unanswered questions. Did the authors’ daughters work while in high school? What about during college? Did they realize the position they were putting their parents into? Gabler wrote that he tried to hide the seriousness of his financial situation from his family, so it’s entirely possible that they all assumed that there was an infinite supply of money.
I was talking with a doctor at work a few weeks ago, and he started telling me how he’d saved enough money for his kids to attend university, but only if they’d chosen state schools. However, they wanted private colleges, and took out student loans. This guy had no idea he was speaking to a mild manner RN day day, personal finance writer by night, so it was a fairly random topic of conversation. It really stuck in my mind that this man who’s probably earning upwards of $200,000 per year had his children accumulate student loan debt, while I, a part-time nurse and writer, (and married to a paramedic) was paying cash for her kids’ college.
I don’t know this man personally, so I have no idea if he had extenuating circumstances or if he’s simply succumbed to lifestyle inflation that eats up his paychecks. Either way, he wasn’t able to afford to pay for the colleges that his children chose to attend. Setting his kids up for debt.
This discussion brought to mind another conversation with a different doctor, one who’d mentioned how his family was putting off large purchases until they could get their kids through college. He was driving an old enough car that his fellow doctors teased him about it, and instead of saving up for a BMW, he was putting money aside for a whole family vacation.
I started thinking about the extreme example of the billionaire Warren Buffett, who’s been living in the same $31,500 Nebraska house that he and his wife bought back in the 1958. Granted, $31,500 was a considerable amount for Nebraska real estate back then, but still, he and his wife have made a deliberate decision to not give into lifestyle inflation that must be prevalent within his tax bracket.
Living within one’s means is an issue for all income levels. Granted it’s a whole heck of a lot easier with a higher income, but we likely all know high earners who still are swimming in debt.
Gretchen Rubin writes that “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile,” and frugality is a strong example of this secret of adulthood. Every day I make countless small decisions that keep my family above water. Whether that decision is to cook dollar store pinto beans in a crock pot, or simply to not splurge on pick-me-up cute shoes or indulgent coffees.
Frugality is with me, seven days a week, and because it is, I’m able to spend my money where it counts. We have no debt beyond our mortgage, and we’ll hopefully gets our sons through college without the burden of student loan debt. I’m not 100% sure we can do it, but we sure as hell are going to try.
A deliberateness of finance. Every day.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
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