This year I set myself some pretty big savings goals.
I’ve carefully cut all my expenses to the bone in recent months, and I know just how much I can save each month.
Then I made a target just a little bit higher to keep me focused.
The year started off strongly, as I managed to inch further and further ahead of my savings goals.
Just recently, however, things have started to stall. Its frustrating. Its annoying. But it’s almost inevitable.
In truth, being ultra-frugal the entire time is very, very difficult. If you’re finding yourself getting frustrated at your financial progress I’d like to talk about a few of the “hiccups” I’ve experienced recently – and why these aren’t necessarily anything to worry about.
Wear & Tear
Last year I spent precisely zero on clothes. Not a bean. No new shoes, no jeans, not even new socks. The reason is simple; I already have a load of clothes that function fine, so why bother adding to my closet? My goal is to build my savings, not to follow the latest trends.
Except this year my ultra-frugality is starting to catch up with me. My favorite trainers developed a hole. The zip has stopped working on my coat. The lens fell out of my glasses.
These are things that are very difficult to ignore; they need to be repaired or replaced.
The first reason why you can’t be ultra-frugal all the time, therefore, is simply that sooner or later things are going to wear out. It might be painful but even the most frugal of us need to spend money *sometimes* to maintain our belongings.
In reality there are all sorts of “special occasions” where it might be necessary to spend money. For example what about buying Christmas gifts for your loved ones, or taking a trip across country to see your new niece (as I am planning to do in the next few weeks)? What about being invited to a wedding reception or preparing for a job interview? These are all examples of situations where you’ll probably end up spending some money – even if you don’t want to.
However I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – if you do it right and if you budget for it. I’m all for saving money whenever possible, but what price can I put on seeing my sister’s tiny newborn baby? What’s more, this is the kind of experience that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. In other words, it adds value.
So while I would never suggest just blowing money unnecessarily, the reverse can also be true; don’t miss out on the big events in your life simply because you want to save a few dollars. The purpose of frugality should never be to save money for money’s sake; rather to give you the funds to spend on things which really matter to you, while minimizing your spending on things which don’t.
Why do so many people start the New Year with goals of weight loss and fitness, only to give up within weeks and never return to the gym? I would argue that one of the reasons is “burn out”. They make such an extreme change to their life that its just not sustainable. Hitting the gym at 5.30 every morning and living on nothing but chicken and salad might produce some pretty exciting results, but when you keep yourself under that much pressure the whole time you’re bound to burn out sooner or later.
Put another way, we all need a few treats now and again to keep us focused. If that gym bunny took the weekend off the gym, and treated themselves to whatever food they wanted on a Friday night, they’d likely start the next week refreshed and reinvigorated. They’d be ready to get serious again – all down to a little break.
The reality is that ultra-frugality can take considerable effort and self-discipline. Not spending money, when all around you your friends are enjoying themselves is tough. Avoiding all those ads on the TV, in magazines and even online takes real will-power.
The point is this – you don’t want to turn into the gym bunny who one day just implodes. An hour later they find themselves slumped on the kitchen floor surrounded by candy wrappers, having just consumed more calories than in an average week. Instead, relax things just occasionally, and in a very deliberate and measured way. Just enough to ease the pressure for a brief moment before carrying on with your journey.
Frugality is awesome; I’ve been penny-pinching for years and its made a huge difference to my finances – and as a result, my life. But its unrealistic to assume that you’ll never have to spend any money. I certainly wouldn’t advise going wild, but its important to appreciate that sometimes you’re just going to have to spend a little money. What more, this isn’t weakness. This is reality. Don’t feel bad about it. So long as you plan for these things, and return to your frugal ways afterwards, you’ll still be a lot better off than the average American.