Why “Frugal” is My Least Favorite F-word

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 10.14.27 AM.pngDon’t you hate it when you share something with a friend and instead of mindlessly complimenting it, and you, by extension, they offer completely valid criticism?

Me too. Please keep mindlessly complimenting this blog. Thank you very much. =D

So anyway, I was a little gaga over the Minimalists’ documentary, which I told my friend about. He texts back: “Lol I’m watching it. It’s funny.”

Um, it’s not funny. It’s deeply moving and profound, I say. So he says:

All these guys are doing is chasing happiness from a different angle.

I was initially taken aback because this wasn’t a clear compliment regarding either me or the film. But after my initial shock and irrational anger subsided, I realized that he wasn’t wrong (ugh! friends who aren’t wrong!). Though the Minimalists’ minimalism was a rejection of consumer culture, there isn’t as much difference between the two approaches as I had initially thought. Whereas consumerists may compete over who has the most or the nicest stuff, minimalists compete over who has the least stuff. And both of these competitions are, let’s face it, kinda stupid. Defining yourself by how much stuff you own is weird (“Hello, my name is Lisa and I own 500 things”); equally weird is defining yourself by your lack of stuff (“Hello, my name is Lisa and I don’t own 500 things”). One person has a lightly packed backpack and the other has three overstuffed suitcases, but the kinds of things they pack are similar. If both people enjoy their respective luggage and both get to the same destination, then who’s to say one way is better than the other?

I think a similar line of thought applies to people who define themselves as “frugal.”

Dictionary.com defines being “frugal” as “not wasteful.” But “wasteful” is a subjective term. I see articles by bloggers bragging about their uber-frugal lifestyles and dismissing unnamed others for their perceived extravagance. Spending on designer clothing, going out for drinks with coworkers, having a nice house – these are seen as anti-frugal. Meanwhile, “frugal” people apparently shop at used clothing stores, avoid get-togethers that cost money and flaunt the modesty of their homes – so they can retire and travel the world.

It seems a lot like the purported difference between minimalists and consumerists – having nice stuff is wasteful, spending money on experiences is not. But you’re not  saving money choosing one route over the other – you’re just making different choices with the money you have. And I am uncertain why one set of choices is less “wasteful” than the other. If I save money on travel in order to have a nice house that I get to enjoy with my family and friends everyday, why is that not considered frugality?

There was an article awhile back on Iwillteachyoutoberich that reasoned that spending a lot doesn’t necessarily mean one is wasteful if the amount spent is conscious. One shouldn’t assume that spending on what others may perceive as frivolous is unwise if it’s meaningful to the person who spends it. And MixedUpMoney once proclaimed: everyone is frugal.

I believe this to be true. I’ve never met a person who tries to be wasteful – who tries to pay more and get less, who finds loopholes to pay MORE in taxes, who trashes perfectly good stuff because they like the feel of plastic clogging the Earth’s landfills. Everyone tries to use their dollar to get the maximum good. After all, there are 83 million hits for “how to save money” on Google because everyone is looking for ways to save money and there are approximately 83 million different ways to be frugal.

Everyone is frugal. They just might not be frugal in your eyes, according to your values and judgments. Everyone is trying to obtain the right amount of “stuff” so that they can achieve their goals – but their number of items will be higher or lower than yours.

The idea of “frugal” and “unfrugal,” minimalists and stuff-ists, makes it seem like we have fundamentally different values than people who define themselves differently.  Some may negotiate a deal on a luxury car,  some may buy a cheaper model, some may lease  and some may go car-free. You may have your biases about which one of these is the “frugal” option, but in the end, isn’t the type of car you drive less important than where you’re going?

Minimalism and frugality aren’t the destinations – they’re just different cars we drive as we figure out where we’re going.

In the new year, in a very divided country, we don’t need more reasons to be divisive. Of course, tips for saving money are always good and can be helpful. But there is no reason to put down some people’s choices or elevate others’. Personal finance is above all else, “personal.” We are all striving for the same things – happiness, security, love, meaning.  Our decisions are different, our values are different, our stuff is different, but overall, we are very similar, more similar than we care to remember most of the time. To quote one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou:

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike than we are unalike.

Faith, freedom, finances, even failure, and other F-words are useful from time to time. But I’m done with “frugal.” “Frugal” is used as a term of judging one set of personal finance choices as better or worse than others. I’d rather err on everyone having the freedom (best F-word) to do their own thing. And we can all just fire (another good F-word) each other up along the way.

Wishing you all the happiness, security and love, stuff or no stuff, in the flipping fantastic new year.

 

Gif source: giphy

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Lisa

An attorney striving to convert money into a meaningful life.

2 thoughts on “Why “Frugal” is My Least Favorite F-word”

  1. I always had a vague unsettled feeling when reading minimalist propaganda or when reading living large propaganda. I am reasonably frugal but I also live pretty large sometimes and I never liked feeling judged for either. Your post really put what I was feeling into words, which felt pretty cool I have to say. Great job, and you quoted Ramit, another writer who often says what I’m thinking better than I can.

  2. Yes, having elements of minimalism and luxury both just makes sense. And yes, Ramit is a great writer! Thanks for reading.

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