Let’s digress for a minute from recipes and meal planning and talk a bit about what loving frugal truly means. I will start with what it doesn’t mean.
Living frugal doesn’t mean depriving yourself.
Living frugal doesn’t mean always buying the cheapest thing. In fact, it often means the exact opposite because when you live frugally you can often afford to buy the very best when something really is important to you.
Living frugal doesn’t even mean never taking a vacation or taking the bus unless that is what you choose to do.
What living frugal does mean is maximizing your resources, including your skills, against your income so that you save as much as you possibly can. This means you pick and choose your battles. Anything that has no meaning for you or that you don’t care about the quality, you generally buy as cheaply as possible. Any skill you have, such as sewing, cooking, mechanics or gardening, you leverage that skill to save costs.
Living frugal also means you save religiously toward your goals, ignore what your seemingly posh (but actually secretly impoverished neighbors) are buying/doing and set your own path. For example, I go to a gym (membership bought on special is just $40 a month) where most of the women wear very expensive workout clothing. I’ve seen yoga pants that cost more than my electric bill paraded around that gym. That being the case, I teach yoga and have for decades. And before you ask, yes the gym I teach at offers free use of that facilities to teachers but it is actually too far away to take advantage during weekday traffic. I’ve done the math (see footnote at the end of this blog) and it actually costs less in gas and time to go to the gym around the corner from where I live. Anyway, on top of teaching yoga for years, I happen to know a bit about chemistry so I know that sweat is one caustic mother of a liquid. It ruins earbuds, clothes, electronics of all sorts. So, what does that mean? Expensive workout clothing doesn’t last. I therefore do not buy them. I also honestly do not care about how I look when I am sweating up a storm. I wear old tee shirts and very moderately priced yoga pants which I typically buy at a steep discount at Ross or another discount clothing store. They rarely last two years, same as the expensive fitness gear friends and family have bought me in the past. What I am saying is that more money doesn’t always mean longer lasting when it comes to workout gear, sweat is too caustic for that. On the other hand, I have, like many life long fitness buffs, issues with my feet so I buy good quality workout shoes and take care of them.
Conversely, one of my cars is literally 15 years old. Boo-Boo Bear, my adrobs BMW, she is a mature 15 years old and I love her. She may be old as cars go but she was beautifully designed (big shout out to German engineering on that front) and she costs me very little in upkeep. Bob and I also co-own an SUV which I love driving too but I don’t love her the way I love Boo-Boo Bear. It’s perfectly ok to have favorites. She cost me 40 grand 15 long years ago which works out to be about $222 a month. Here in status symbol obsessed Silicon Valley, that’s almost embarrassing. Keep it between us won’t you.
I plan on keeping Boo-Boo as long as she will have me.
My mortgage is also pitifully low compared to my friends and colleagues. In fact, my house payment is lower than most people’s car payments that I know. And of course, I don’t have a car payment either. I paid cash for most of my half of the SUV and then paid the rest off in just a few months. I could refinance my home loan but thus far, no deal has come close to what I currently pay and in fact, would end up costing me more in points to refinance than I would make back in lower monthly costs so no thanks. I’m good.
My point in all this is that a new car every three years or a more posh address is not important to me. Never has been. Being warm, well, the minute Bob leaves, I turn up the thermostat in the winter, just a scooch. I don’t mind paying a few extra dollars to stay warm and comfortable. Really fresh, organic and healthy food is also important to me so I grow what I can because I have a green thumb. I also don’t need to spend a lot on food because I am adept at finding bargains. And I don’t buy meat, Bob does. I actually think meat is wasteful and a colossal drain on earth’s resources. I also find it particularly cruel to raise animals to slaughter them but again, that’s me. I don’t impose my personal philosophy on others, including my carnivorous partner. It would not work even if I tried so I don’t buy meat but I also don’t refuse to prepare it. If I refused to cook it, Bob would so at least if I am in the kitchen, I can control the amount of fat, salt, etc.
Again, this is just me. I offer up my frugal living thoughts here to give you food for thought, pardon the pun. My advice to living frugally is to figure out what is important to you and what’s not. Go cheap where you can and spend where you need to. Both Bob and I like to vacation and we save for it. We don’t cheap out, that’s not the experience we are after and it’s important to us. I will say that Bob gets every discount he can, he does a lot of leg work before we fly off but even so, we don’t cheap out on holidays.
So, if you are to live frugally, first figure out what you don’t care about. That’s generally where you can go cheap. Then, figure out what skills you have that you can use instead of hiring or paying for the expertise. My son-in-law has every tool known to man so when a branch fell into our yard (thanks to a frankly thoughtless neighbor who refuses to cut back their overgrown trees) we borrowed his saw and cut up the heavy branch and recycled it. To have it removed professionally by an arborist would have cost hundreds of dollars and being that Bob was a fire chief, he spent considerable time over the span of his career mastering what I call tools of destruction and mayhem. He still expresses a nostalgic fondness for a good chain saw. So, borrowing my son-in-law’s chain saw meant it took us less than an hour to cut up and recycle the branch (it was really big and heavy by the way). I also normally do all the gardening though I have made my home landscape as low maintenance as possible with raised vegetable beds and fake grass in the back and rock-based ground cover in the front yard. I did this back when the Bay Area experienced a really extensive draught and water was rationed and became expensive. I did not like the notion of paying extra for water so I created low maintenance landscape that was either water free or used potted succulents. I even pinched off runners from existing plants to make new plants thus saving even more money. For me, the end result was worth a couple of seasons to complete. My front yard is nearly maintenance free save for the two sturdy hydrangea bushes that I toss old coffee grounds under every week to help nourish. I have a number of projects in the backyard on my list but time is on my side. I don’t care what it looks like short term, I know what I will be doing in the long term.
So, in summary, living frugally is all about picking your battles and choosing what is and isn’t important to you. When you master the ability to live frugally, you then live free. Free to choose the things that mean the most to you, free to pay for quality that is important to you. Free to retire early even, move to an island paradise perhaps. Free to travel the world if that is your goal.
The possibilities of frugal living are endless.
Footnote: Three-quarters of a tank of gas costs about $40, the cost of a monthly membership to the gym around the corner from my home. To go the gym where I teach, I would need to spend an eighth of a tank of gas, round trip. Thus, in just six visits, I’ve spent $40. I go to the gym at least six times a week — no really I do — so just gas alone would cost me $160 a month. Thus, by going to the perfectly serviceable gym around the corner — it literally IS around the corner — I save upwards of $130 a month and that is being generous thinking I actually spend $10 a month in gas to go to the gym around the corner. In reality, it is likely less.