It’s been my experience that frugality can run the continuum from miserly to magnificent.
When I was a child, I never went a day without a nutritious meal or a warm bed. Still, I recall times when I perceived my family as poor. In the school cafeteria, I furtively slipped my free lunch ticket to the cashier — with hopes that my friends wouldn’t notice that my family received government-provided financial assistance. When my father returned to college to earn his graduate degree, my siblings and I shared one crowded bedroom in a tiny apartment. I was teased unmercifully whenever my peers noticed the strips of fabric my mom sewed onto the bottom of my out-grown “high-water” pants to make them long enough to cover my ankles once again.
The most painful part of our family’s frugality, though, was when I overheard my parents argue about money.
At other times, I was aware that my parents purposely chose our frugal lifestyle — they voluntarily chose to live simply. Those were the best of times. “High-water” pants or not, our family was free from the handcuffs of Stuff. We used things up, repurposed them, and improvised. My parents were good role models for me in this regard.
As a young adult, I operated from a mindset of scarcity. I feared running out — or not having enough — of what I needed. After a year of struggling to support myself financially through college, I dropped out. I took another job: pouring coffee during the graveyard shift at a donut shop. Many of my customers were homeless. They nursed one cup of coffee – all night long – to earn a warm spot inside.
One night, it dawned on me that I was one paycheck from becoming homeless, too.
I dealt with my anxiety by hoarding what little money I made. I shared rent for a one-bedroom apartment with three other young women and dined on free appetizers offered at local bars during Happy Hour. At that point in my life, frugality – emotionally speaking – was a defensive action.
“A miser is a person who is reluctant to spend money, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts. The term derives from the Latin miser, meaning “poor” or “wretched,” comparable to the modern word “miserable”.”
Over time, my fearful and hoarding behavior resulted in a medical insurance policy and an emergency fund. I had stashed enough to see me through a missed paycheck or two. But did I have enough? Would my future always include beater cars, cramped apartments and grocery coupons? Was I destined to earn minimum wage, doing a job I hated, forever?
“Frugality (also known as thrift or thriftiness) is the practice of acquiring goods and services at minimum cost, achieved via economical restraints or creative measures. Frugality can be related to the idea of being conservative or conserving money.”
Frugality continued to feed my savings account and in turn, my savings account afforded new opportunity. Consequently, I was able to become an unpaid apprentice to learn a new skill. After studying animal behavior and learning how to train dogs, I quickly landed a higher paying job. And I loved my work. As my skills, enthusiasm and reputation grew, I started my own dog-training business. Despite my increased income, I continued to live frugally. However, I made a point to shift my mental attitude of lack to one of abundance. The purpose of my frugal behavior shifted from reactive to proactive.
“To be healthy, wealthy, happy and successful in any and all areas of your life you need to be aware that you need to think healthy, wealthy, happy and successful thoughts twenty four hours a day and cancel all negative, destructive, fearful and unhappy thoughts. These two types of thought cannot coexist if you want to share in the abundance that surrounds us all.”
Today, rather than being driven by fear, I embrace the abundance in my life. I have enough. Rather than flashy opulence and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses behavior, my husband and I joyfully choose a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. Duane Elgin, author of the classic book Voluntary Simplicity, defines simple living as:
“Living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich.”
From fearful and miserly to voluntary and magnificent, frugality has had a profound impact on my life.
Simple living (or voluntary simplicity) is “a lifestyle in which individuals consciously choose to minimize the ‘more-is-better’ pursuit of wealth and consumption. Adherents choose simple living for a variety of reasons, including spirituality, health, increase in ‘quality time’ for family and friends, stress reduction, conservation, social justice or anti-consumerism, while others choose to live more simply for reasons of personal taste or personal economy.”
May we all enjoy a magnificent and inwardly rich life!