The Art of Frugality

June 20, 2016

My relationship with money is one wrought with complications. There have been times when I’ve had plenty. There have been times when I’ve had close to nothing. Happiness, amid those two points, hasn’t fluctuated accordingly. That’s always been on a path of its own.

But why stop and think about money? Isn’t it better just to simply avoid it, put in the back of our minds and carry on our lives just as we’ve been doing so all along? Any talk of finances, investments etc., and most of us are inkling for an exit. I used to be the same.

When I was younger I remember having the most terrible track record with money imaginable. I’d get a little bit and it would be all gone within 24-hours. What I spent it on I can’t rightly recall. But I do remember being famously into magazines, football stickers, video games, sports equipment and whatever other fad was popular back in the day. The concept of discipline and delayed gratification? So far off my radar it was as if I was living on a different planet altogether.

Of course it doesn’t help growing up in a comfortable middle-class environment knowing you’re going to eat everyday and go to sleep safe in a warm bed. When you have those things money appears as a token extra. Something to dispose of in whatever way you see fit. Spending in the hope of receiving a little extra jolt of joy and happiness.

My attitudes toward money, thankfully, have changed a lot as I’ve got older. I’m now more respectful of it and aware of its power. I understand it and how it works a lot more too.

But that’s not to say I’ve grown to be a master of it. I, just like most people, have the same weaknesses and vices when it comes to cash in my pocket. I see things and I want them. Often splurging without giving it a second thought, only weeks and months later recognising just how little utility I’ve gotten out of said purchase.

It’s this inclination I want to change. I want to work harder at recognising how money works in my life and how my immediate wants and needs often lead to it being frittered away almost carelessly.

On the other hand, the pressures to do the opposite are often extreme. Family members come and visit, they see the places I live in and question the conditions (that to them must seem barbaric) I’ve chosen for myself. What they perhaps don’t recognise though, or at least what’s not readily apparent, is that one, I don’t have the money they have to be able to enjoy more luxurious digs, and two, I’m actually relatively happy wherever there’s a bed and room of my own.

Such simplistic living has never been an issue for me. Both my experiences on the camino (as a roving wanderer sleeping in a different place each night) and on vipasanna (deprived of possessions altogether) have shown just how unrelated having nicer things or a having nicer place to sleep is in terms of my overall enjoyment of life.

In fact I’ve come to almost actively seek out simplicity wherever I can. Which, in turn, has helped me with certain financial goals like nuking my student loan debt while building an emergency fund on top of that.

Still, those goals aside, I appreciate there’s still an awful long way to go. I’m nothing but a novice in respects to the art of frugality. And a novice that likes buying coffee, eating out, having a gym membership and, as of right this moment, a nice room in a nice refurbished, yet shared, house.

OK, so, in theory at least, we’re allowed to do whatever we want with our money. Those aforementioned activities? My own main financial black-holes. Excuse me for self-justifying but that’s not too bad right? Especially given that I don’t smoke, have a drinking habit or collect expensive things.

Yet, despite that, I still can’t help but feel I’m forgetting my own lessons somewhat. That I could go one step further and curb even those indulgences to reign in my spending. And, by doing so, live more consciously and at peace in the world.

This line of thought comes from my recent activities engaging with blogs like Mr Money Mustache and hanging out on subreddits (yes, I know, creation over consumption) like personal finance and financial independence.

The people over there are actively moving toward freedom as human beings because they’re taking ownership over their lives and what they do with the money gifted to them. In their spare time they’re often altruistic. They’ve also unchained themselves from an unhealthy dependency on ‘things’ that, most often times, turns to greed.

In these communities, of course, you’ll find ways to reduce your spending and tips on how to raise your income. But you’ll also find something deeply more resonant. An anti-consumerist philosophy that leans toward spiritual freedom (and strong parallels to the stoics).

Freedom in the sense that if you discipline yourself enough to curb your desires (Buddhism 101), then you’ll effectively be able to save enough money to be able to opt out of the working world completely.

And so that’s the ultimate, under-arching, goal here at this site. A quest for spiritual freedom through financial, physical and social betterment.

As for whether I get there in 30, 40, 50, 60 years or ever?

All that remains to be seen.

Note: this is a great read that profiles someone who truly has mastered the art of frugality.