I used to think I was frugal
But here’s the deal… frugality is a tricky thing.
You might be thinking that it’s not tricky at all. You just spend less money on things than you could, or than other people do. That’s what makes you frugal.
Spending less money is definitely part of it. But it’s not the whole picture.
Frugal vs. Cheap
Being frugal and being cheap are definitely NOT the same thing. Frugal people look for ways to save money, but NOT at the expense (intentionally or unintentionally) of other people.
For example, if you’re splitting the check with friends at dinner someone who is frugal may choose to drink water and order a less expensive meal. But, the frugal friend will still pay their full share of the bill including tax and tip, and won’t leave a teeny tiny tip just to save a few bucks. Someone who’s cheap may “forget” to take into account tax and tip.
Have you ever been out to eat with a group of friends, and when everyone has thrown in their share of the bill, you’re magically still short $40? Super annoying, right?
Frugal people spend less money on things that are less important to them but happily spend money where it is important to them.
They zoom out and look at the bigger picture, taking more than just the actual price into account.
In that respect, I very much am frugal. I’ve always been a “value-based spender”, even before I’d ever heard that term or know what the heck it meant.
I’m a money coach. That does not mean I teach people how to spend as little money as possible and save everything forever and ever amen.
Conscious and value-based spending is a cornerstone of my program and philosophy.
That looks different for everyone. What aligns with your goals and values may not align with someone else’s, but that’s ok because it’s none of their business anyway.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I’m realizing that time is a bigger priority for me than it used to be.
Buying back your time
Since I’m now running a business, coaching clients, and have two kids under three at home with me full time probably has something to do with the fact that time is a greater priority for me now than it was when I was single and only had one job.
I can pay my housekeepers to clean my house for me, which buys back that time so I can spend it working or with my family.
I can either be creating more money than I’m paying them in the time it would take me to clean my house or spending that time with my kids.
Both of those scenarios align with my goals and values, so I very happily pay my housekeepers and buy back some of my time.
The Money – Time Continuum
My very smart momma has always said there’s a time-money continuum that goes like this:
One the one side you have the mindset “why would I ever pay someone to do something I can do myself”.
On the other end, there is “why would I do something myself I can pay someone else to do for me”.
Where you fall on that continuum will change over the course of your life, and will shift based on your financial situation and how much time you have to do the things you want to do.
In pretty much every situation, you’re going to pay in either time or money. If you forget about the time part, and you only focus on the money, you’re missing a huge piece of the equation.
Buying back your time applies in business, in the form of employees and contractors, and in life, in the form of grocery delivery, housekeepers, babysitters, auto mechanics, plumbers, etc.
You might argue that a plumber or auto mechanic has expertise you don’t have and therefore you don’t have the option but to pay them.
Negatory my friend. You always have the option. You could choose to learn what you need to, to be able to fix your car or your burst pipe.
It may take you months or years to learn what you need to. But you could do it, just like the expert did.
You most likely value your time more than money in this situation and choose to have the person who’s already invested their time fix your problem for you.
You invest your money instead of your time, but it’s always your choice.
Time is the only thing you can’t get back
Time is truly the only thing you can’t get back. You can get very sick and get your health back. You can lose all your money and make more. You can’t get time back.
Everyone gets the exact same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, everywhere, forever and ever, amen.
Have you ever stood in the grocery store isle trying to decide what can of whatever to buy trying to compare all the prices and sizes to pick the cheapest (or the “best” by whatever metric you’ve got in your head) option?
I have. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted on small decisions like that. Over a few dollars here or there.
This is where my frugality was counterproductive. This is where “good enough” is the goal.
Anguishing over stupid little stuff like that cost me not only time, but caused major decision fatigue.
I have way more important things to use my decision making brain power on than what can of beans to buy! When I realized this my whole decision-making paradigm shifted.
If you’ve ever made a special trip to a certain store because it has something you need a few dollars cheaper than the store you were currently standing in, there’s even more than just time and decision fatigue at play here.
I’m not talking about going to a different store to save $100. I’m talking about saving a few bucks.
This is a bit of an extreme example, but the point is, cheaper isn’t always better.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes less expensive is 100% better. I’m definitely NOT suggesting you throw caution to the wind and buy everything based solely on convenience.
Paying for convenience all the time, before you can afford it, or just because you can, can get you into trouble if you’re not careful.
Be frugal sometimes
Be frugal where it makes sense. But to spend money on what you truly value. You’ll hear me talk about that all the time around here.
It’s a great starting point to make budgeting SO. MUCH. EASIER.
By spending money on things that are actually important to you and dialing back spending on things you realize you don’t care as much about, you remove so much of the resistance!
Suddenly, sticking to your budget is easy and effortless, dare I say fun! You start leaping towards your goals instead of crawling towards them, or worse, away from them.
I heard the term “valuist” a while ago and immediately thought, “oohhhh, that’s what it’s called. That’s exactly what I am”.
I don’t need to have the best of the best of everything, but there are some things that I want to be higher quality and more reliable than others.
When I told my mom we ordered a Peloton and she said, “that’s great! I’m a little surprised though, they’re expensive and you’re so frugal”. She didn’t say it as a bad thing at all, it was simply an observation. And she was right!
I told her that yes, I’m normally pretty frugal, but I have no issue spending money on things I believe are “worth it”. In fact, I really enjoy spending money on things I know will bring me great value in one way or another.
I’ve been thinking more about it, trying to figure out why I have no problem spending a lot of money on some things and I’m much more frugal about others.
The answer I keep coming back to is value. Are you sick of that word yet?
It’s different for everyone
That’s why everyone’s budget looks a little bit different. Why what one person thinks is important, another may think is frivolous.
If you don’t work out regularly, or if you do workout regularly but don’t like indoor cycling, then a Peloton will most likely seem very frivolous to you.
I freaking LOVE mine. It’s my happy place. I LOVE making the subscription each month for the classes. Every time I see the charge post to my card it genuinely makes me happy.
I love getting on that bike. Could I have bought a less expensive spin bike for my garage? Absolutely.
For me, the whole concoction of the bike, the live classes, the community. I wanted all of it, not just the bike. I wouldn’t love getting on the bike near as much if it was just me and the bike alone.
The instructors and community make the higher cost extremely worth it to me. I also know that’s not true for everyone.
It’s something we happily budget for. We spend much less on other things we don’t value as much, so it’s easy.
I think Paula Pant says it best,
“You can afford anything, but not everything. What’s it gonna be?”
What are your priorities?
Your budget is a direct reflection of your priorities and values. It has nothing to do with how “good” or “bad” of a person you are.
But, your budget speaks much louder than your words.
If you think your health, giving to charity, or saving for your future are priorities, take a look at how you spend your money.
Does your money agree?
If it doesn’t, it’s time to decide if you want to shift your priorities or change the way you spend your money.
There is no right or wrong answer here.
I’m simply telling you that you have the power to spend your money however you’d like. You just need to make the conscious decision to maintain that power.
If you let your money leave you running in any direction it wants to, there’s a good chance it won’t align with your goals or priorities.
Questions to Ponder
- Do you have less money or time? What do you have more of?
- Do you have a good balance between money and time, or do you want to use one to gain more of the other?
- Does your spending align with your goals and values?
- Do you consider the time investment when spending money?
There are no right or wrong answers to any of this.
It’s all based on personal preference, and what makes the most sense for you, in your unique set of circumstances.
I do hope you look at the whole picture though, and not just through the soda straw of dollars and cents.
Your future self, and your budget, will thank you.