About ‘extreme frugality’

Not many who have managed to bring their finances under control will seriously dispute that frugality is an important part of the equation. One of my major AHAs when my financial awakening (read ‘obsession’) began was that there it doesn’t really matter how much one earns or how much one spends; what matters if the difference between these two. As Jeremy at Zero Passive Income put it, people have to pinpoint their problem: is it a problem of income, expenditure or debt negative wealth.

Extreme frugality, however, is something else. Often this means eating badly, not looking after oneself, living in bad conditions and staying cold. Sometimes this is necessary – if one has an income problem. Sometimes it is temporary – people are enslaved by circumstance and past misjudgements. When people have to live in bad conditions, cannot afford to go to the dentist and have to ration their heating out of necessity, it is understandable – and usually people are doing their darned hardest to get out of this. This is frugality by necessity!

The extreme frugality I mind is when all comfort and joy are postponed in the name of a life of relative luxury in the future. Often, in such cases frugality is in the way of achieving such life goals rather than supporting these. Extreme frugality can easily degenerate into extreme waste – of life, of opportunity and experience.

Recently I was ‘advised’, as part of changing my money blueprint, to give up my professionally done and rather pricey haircut and cut my own hair. Now this makes absolutely no sense to me. I am an academic, it is true. It is also true that academics generally get away with much higher level of eccentricity in dress and behaviour than most other professionals: I know several mathematicians and physicists who do cut their own hair as a lifestyle choice. In my case, though, cutting my hair means that I’ll lose work opportunities – I do have to talk to politicians, funders of research and generally members of the public. Could I expect them to take me seriously if I have a self-styled haircut (I am not very good at such stuff either)? Shallow as this may sound, I would say ‘no’. We people are shallow beings and do carry deeply rooted prejudices – appearance is one of these. In Bulgaria we have a saying that ‘people meet you according to your appearance and send you away according to your brains’.

I reckon cutting my own hair will save me £366 per year; but I will incur a loss of about £20,000 in earnings. Is it worth it?

Extreme frugality can be extremely wasteful. Frugality is not about minimising spending but about optimising it. Frugality as an art form is about reducing expenditure without loss of quality.

What do you think?

10 thoughts on “About ‘extreme frugality’”

  1. I have a very wise friend and she was the one who actually introduced me to the word “frugality.” She never buys anything on an impulse, always researches , thinks twice, compares prices and then makes a decision. Frugality is an art of smart spending.

    1. @Aloysa: ‘Smart spending’. A good one; one of my early AHAs was that spending is not a problem but it has to be mindful spending.

  2. Extremely frugal people tend to limit their options for improving their situation to just the spending side and completely ignore the income side of the money equation. As smart as frugality is in general, extreme frugality could be just plain stupid and enslaving.

    1. @Maya: It can be; but at the end what constitutes ‘extreme’ frungality will depend on our personal preferences and values. I do find that there is a lot about values and mentality in PF. I friend of mine is very frugal (she lives on next to nothing) but their quality of life is really good – this is the artform I mentioned. Like many arts this one I have not accessed.

  3. It is the reason for the frugality that defines the worth of frugality. If buying a ‘want’ means that a ‘need’ is not met, then frugality is justified.

    If all needs are met and wants are denied then frugality is not needed but is caused by another motivation. That may be :

    1. Philosophy – Not spending in order to help less fortunate people or a belief in the intrinsic moral value of frugality.

    2. Planning – Saving for an object or future lifestyle. This may mean paying down negative wealth or saving for retirement or a new kitchen.

    3. Fear – If we have been in negative wealth or are afraid of it, we may only feel secure with a frugal lifestyle which may provide a cushion of all goes pear shaped.

    4. Habit – It is often simpler to continue along a path without considering if it is still the best route.

    5. Reverse snobbery. Instead of expressing envy of anyone who shows excess consumption, it can be satisfying to claim the moral high ground on the matter – environmental concern, lifestyle choices, or simpler living make acceptable rationales for this today.

    Most advice on dealing with negative wealth or ‘living within one’s means’ centres on frugality and not methods of increasing wealth. If ways of increasing ‘income’ are mentioned it is usually in the context of low paid opportunities, not a significant benefit in most cases and time consuming in many.

    There is a time for frugality and there is a time to get beyond that mind set and move on with building a new life.

    This is presumably why we started on the road to less negative wealth in the first place?

  4. @Pat: Good summary, Pat. And I fully agree with you on the emphasis on frugality. Then again, most people believe that it is easier to reduce one’s spending than to increase one’s income. This may as well be true but I have been thinking that going for easy options is usually not worth it for its own sake.

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