Outwardly Simple and Inwardly Rich

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.”
—Sidney Madwed

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!

Published by

Millionaire Mommy Next Door

A self-made millionaire shares her recipe for success, happiness and financial freedom.

13 thoughts on “Outwardly Simple and Inwardly Rich”

  1. Great insight, let me add my 2 cents from growing up in a developing nation perspective.

    When you write about being poor, sharing rooms, re-using passed down clothing etc, this was perfetly normal behavior when I was growing up in India. Even though we did not have many amenities considered absolutley necessary in the US, at no point in time did I feel poor growing up. We always had enough to eat, a good local school to attend, a great university town setting with ample facilities to enjoy. We did not have a single restaurant in town, or even a movie theater, and I never even missed it. We would just have parties with colleagues and neighbors and savor the excellent the unique home cooking at every home.

    There was no running hot water in homes, we would have electricity cuts randomly for hours in the hot tropical climate (it goes to 110F in the summer easily), had no air conditioning – and yet, I never recall complaining much about it…It was the perfect childhood, in an utterly idyllic setting.

    What really makes life miserable in societies that overvalue consumerism is the ‘keeping up with the joneses’ attidude, which by the way, is difficult to escape in a place like the US, coz everyone is so surrounded by it. Everyone has a MacMansion, 2-3 cars, and a ‘how can I live without my Starbucks latte’ attitude, it is easy to think there is no other way. We never had a car growing up, and finally got a clunker when I was 16, we really didn’t miss having one either. Town was small enough to go around on scooters and bicyles, and there were buses and trains to travel to other towns.

  2. This is the place where I’m at now in my life. It is the simple lifestyle, that has given me the time to enjoy a bounty of little things on a daily basis, all of which really give my life meaning, joy, and so much appreciation.

  3. The same attitude my mom applies. I felt deprived growing up in an environment like that but when I grew up I realized its value. Now, I’m following my mom’s example. :) It’s not bad afterall.

  4. Great post – I love the quote by Sidney Madwed – it’s so true. I read once that the life around you is, at its essence, a product of your thoughts. If you think predominantly negative thoughts, you’ll see that manifested in your health, relationships, etc. but the converse is true if you think mainly positive thoughts. So it follows that if you look around you and don’t like some aspects of your life, the MOST important thing you can change is your thinking. This may sound easy but I’m a clinical psychologist and you’d be surprised how ingrained thinking patterns are – negative thinkers tend to have had years of practice! The toughest are the ones that think they DO think positively but underneath their statements, you find a vast well of negativity. Think puppies and chocolate!!!!

  5. bonjour millionairemommynextdoor !

    i have been following your blog and your tweets for sometime now, and i must say thank you to you today! through your posts, you have inspired me in many ways than one and you have strengthened and consolidated my beliefs, views and possibly also my good relationship with money when everyone was sneering and criticizing my frugal ways.

    i must say, this post, along with your post “Parenting with a Purpose,” is a masterpiece!

    so millionaire mommy, kudos to you!
    again, many thanks! :)

  6. Truly enjoyed this post! Can’t wait to share it with my friends and family. It embraces the wonders the thinking positively can do for ourselves. And I love this quote, “Living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich.” Our attitude makes a big difference in how we enjoy and appreciate life. Thanks for sharing your story!

  7. I enjoyed your article “Outwardly Simple and Inwardly Rich” That was smart of you to get free appetizers at your local bars during Happy Hour. Sometimes we gotta do what we gotta do to survive!

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  9. This is a great posting and a reminder that happiness lies within us, not in material possessions.

  10. I found that the secret to happiness, is having a correct attiude and adapting the right habit as mentioned above, frugality, embracing abundance, and living simply means living within or below your means.

  11. attitude decides destiny, if we do live simply, think healthy, wealthy, life can be happier, easier. when you meet difficulties, think in a good way, cancel all those negative ways, simple but rich life.

  12. Just discovered your blog, and generally have to admire your progress and agree with your ideas. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the irony of pointing out your unhealthy miserliness in finding a free meal to accompany Happy Hour drink. Nearly every American I know finds some degree of eating out a basic requirement akin to air and water throughout most of the world. Most seem to want to eat out as often as possible, and are limited only by their budget. You discovered what to them would be the holy grail, and use it as a negative. Sure status seekers would be afraid others would judge them for getting the meal for free, but few status seekers ever amass any wealth. This contridiction makes me laugh.

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