When it’s not fun anymore

Like most of the bloggers I read, I’ve never been in truly dire financial straits.  Even when I was just starting out with $100 in my bank account and nearly $40,000 in debt ($17,000 car loan, $17,000 student loans, and a $4,000 balance on my credit card), I could easily make all of my monthly payments.  I think I first started looking around on the internet because of the horrible financing I’d gotten from Toyota (accepting dealership financing – what a rookie mistake!), and that’s when I was introduced to this idea of living “frugally.”

Since then, being frugal has been mostly a hobby, a habit I got into while trying to get out of debt that continued as I built my savings.  I think a lot of us look at frugality the same way – as a means of achieving goals.  Back in the day, I had fun looking for ways to cut down my spending on certain things.

At the beginning of this year, I set some stretch savings goals.  Even though these goals were high by traditional standards, it came as a bit of a blow to my ego that I was planning to save $5000 less than last year.  Even worse, I couldn’t count on reaching those goals – I had to find a way to make up a $3,000 deficit in my budget.  I started accepting weekend work whenever I could get it, and set up my shopping ban since I knew that I needed to detox after my spending spree last year.

The longer time went by without Chad finding a job, especially as we discussed the possibility of him returning to school full-time, the more stressed I started to feel.  I started freaking out about our joint budget.  If Chad went over the budget for groceries or for miscellaneous spending (stuff like toiletries and gifts), it would mean an argument.  I cut our personal spending allowances to the bone.  A friend of mine bought a house, and I discovered that we don’t even have enough for a townhouse in the places I’d like to live.

There were a couple of things that calmed me down.  First, as the paychecks with overtime started rolling in, the deficit in my budget decreased.  I got a bonus, which decreased the deficit a little more.  I feel more relaxed about everything, even if meeting that goal still isn’t a sure thing.

No matter how much we might love our jobs or our kids or a life of voluntary simplicity, there are times when it can put a strain on you.  The key to overcoming this is to know that it’s something you choose. When being frugal or minimalist is no longer a choice but a requirement, due to space or financial issues, that’s when it starts to grate.

There was a lot of chatter about the recent The Simple Dollar post where Trent talks about his neighbors new car and smirks over the “stressful” job this person has to go to every day to pay for said car.

I think that Trent has lost income with his switch to blogging.  He’s talking about his wife taking a year off to stay at home.  I’m sure they’re not struggling financially, but it must have been a hard hit, that loss of money.  Even if writing is a passion, even if he loves being home with his kids, there will be times when both are frustrating.  His frugal habits, which before were a fun diversion (make goo in the kitchen!), are now almost a necessity.  So when he sees his neighbor in a shiny new status car, his frustrations lash out.  Reread the post – he thinks about that car when he’s taking his kids to the museum, when his kids supposedly are his pride and joy.

I don’t think Trent’s neighbors think about his truck, unless it’s one of those really loud ones.  Trent admits to having been very materialistic.  Either he bought things so that people would look up to him, or he judged others based on their possessions.  Now, he assumes that others are judging him, even when it’s probable that they don’t.  (Or if they do, it’s to notice his new car or his high-end cookware.  In my experience, people are self-conscious and notice where they’re lacking before they notice anything else.)  Trent feels defensive and writes long posts to make himself feel better.

What Trent should do is acknowledge that he envies his neighbor’s new car or shiny whatever.  It’s only by admitting that we want something that we can make the choice not to buy it. Sometimes, the choice is what matters.

Then again, I don’t have to live up to the same standards as Trent.  His extreme frugality posts get the biggest positive response from his fanbase, and the one time where he made the choice to fulfill his wants (the Prius), his comments section went wild with insults to his money-saving skills.  You know what?  Sometimes you just want a new car.  He had the money, so I’ll say what TSD never seems to say anymore: if you want it and you can afford it, go for it (uh, within reason. No fair buying a Birkin bag and blaming me!).

Ultimately, that’s the best thing that comes out of being part of the PF community.  Although some of us have a reputation as enablers, I think we encourage happiness.  I could see myself as a miserable old miser, cackling over her pennies, without the occasional reminder that the money in the bank is worthless if you never use it.

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16 Responses

  1. Did you read this: http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/2010/02/no-more-i-cant-afford-that.html? The choice is what matters, for sure.

    I’m still trying to be conservative with my $$, but when I look at my budgets from early 2008 when I first moved to California… I’m always surprised at how little I was able to spend. Every SINGLE purchase was considered — even a $20 food processor was put off for months. I must admit I just don’t do that anymore. Because I don’t “have to”. To be fair, I didn’t “have to” then, but I did if I wanted to meet certain savings goals

    And it just isn’t fun to think so hard about money anymore

  2. I think you hit it on the nail. I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for two of my artist/actor friends (both married and kids) and I wondered if I was drawing this imaginary line in the sand where I assumed that if you don’t have X, you must be miserable. I knew this was wrong since someone else could judge me for not having the newest car or designer clothing. Everyone’s idea of ‘having enough’ can be different. However, these 2 friends don’t have much choice in their frugality. Both are struggling and could barely support themselves even before having children. It’s one thing to choose or embrace frugality, it’s another to barely scrape by and rely on government help.

  3. Hey hey hey.. who you calling an enabler?! 😉

  4. I couldn’t agree more with this post. Well done.

    I can’t decide if it is a complement or not that I’m not an enabler.

    • There is a very specific enablers club on Twitter! (Join us…..)

  5. I left home with about 2k in the bank, no furniture, just clothes, schoolbooks and my guitar basically. The biggest struggle both personally and financially was probably last year having T out of work and having NO breathing room in the budget. The more I thought about personal finances, the more I focused on what we didn’t have, the more depressed I got. I had to step back, stop thinking about money so much, and think bigger picture instead of the little deatils. I’m much happier, and I much prefer to operate this way. I figure as long as our bills are paid, debt is being paid down, and savings is being dealt to, we’re entitled to have some fun and live life. Of course, I say this now that T is working again. I hope Chad finds a job soon – but you guys are newlyweds and you should make the most of that too!

  6. I was just thinking the other day that people might think I am like EXTREMELY frugal, when in fact I just feel normal.

    I think when you start to feel deprived or jealous, is when you are going too far.

    I don’t feel deprived, but I do feel jealous on occasion .. but generally it’s just impulsive jealousy on the spot, like wanting a pair of $500 miu miu shoes I know I will probably NEVER pay for at full retail…. rather than a true deep-seated desire: “I really wish I had that new car of my neighbours instead of what I am driving”… if that makes any sense.

    But my jealousy passes once I realize that I’m the only one holding myself back.

    P.S. my URL is missing a period, not that I am owning up to being an enabler.. oh wth, yes I am.

  7. @Dog, to be fair, I’m not sure if I should feel complimented or not that I AM an enabler! 🙂

    I find it hard to believe that anyone is exempt from frugality-fatigue. Heck, I have bag lady syndrome, I know exactly why I scrimp and save despite my cash holdings, and I *still* get tired of being all about the budget at times. It happens. Envy happens. LIFE happens.

    And so sometimes, I don’t choose to be frugal even if it comes with two duffels full of guilt. Because sometimes, making the best decision for the family isn’t the best decision for me, and leaving me out of the end value side of the equation too many times means I won’t be happy being on the operations side of it either.

    (that .. was nerdy.)

  8. I think some of his smugness could be attributed to happiness that he’s been successful in adhering to a strict budget. That is an empowering part of personal finance, achieving a goal that you were unsure you could make.

    You’re right, I think he glazes over the stress of tightening the budget, whether voluntarily in his case, or as a matter of circumstances like with you and your husband. Preachy posts are condescending when humility and modesty are not mixed in.

  9. This is a very interesting post, and I absolutely agree with you. Your post also prompted me to read Trent’s, and the many associated comments, and to add my own. I do worry about the tendency articles like Trent’s show to suggest that not spending is morally superior to spending, and the thought that anyone who buys things like new cars is status-obsessed or bad. (By the way, I initially misread the word ‘stressful’ – as in the neighbour’s job – thinking that it said ‘sinful’…!)

    I think that you are right, and that being frugal should be about setting your own priorities, and making choices in terms of how you spend time and money that you are satisfied with, regardless of what anyone else may be doing.

  10. Well, I was raised to be frugal, but most of my adult life it’s been a necessity. So it’s never been “fun.” Although I do get a small thrill out of saving.

    So I have to agree with you that it starts to grate on your nerves when you don’t have much choice in the matter.

    That said, and I know this is practically blasphemy in the PF world, I’m really not a fan of Trent. When I read his stuff on MSN Money, it’s still wordy (after what I happen to know is a LOT of editing) and he tends to be smug.

    Of course, maybe I’m just bitter. Who knows. I know that he definitely has a lot more choices than me — and a lot of bloggers, I would guess. His wife is, I believe, a nurse and so makes good money, thereby allowing him to focus only on his blog. Meanwhile, he talks about wanting more kids, and I wonder if he’d feel that way if he had to work full-time and gestate. Perhaps he should look around his own house and think of all the things his wife has to work a stressful job for, much like his neighbors truck. (Did I mention I might be bitter?)

    Also I wonder how smug he can be, exactly, given that he’s talked in the past about paying for cleaning services and I believe his kids spend at least part of the time in daycare. So he certainly indulges in un-frugal things.

    I just really hate it when people use frugality as a moral standard. My mom has spent most of her life worried about money — at times, for very good reasons. But it also means she missed out on a lot of opportunities and worked far too hard when she didn’t have to. With time, she’s started learning to indulge here and there. But what’s the point of being financially comfortable if you can’t enjoy some non-free things every so often?

    • Yeah, the last paragraph hit the nail on the head. Spending is not a moral failing, and the view that Trent peddles – spending on the “wrong things” is a moral failing – is sort of annoying.

  11. Loved this post! I agree that frugality is hardest when it’s your only choice (especially if you are living paycheck to paycheck). The burden on your shoulders can be so heavy and taxing.

    I’m a SAHM but occasionally I hire a maid (one day a week for a few weeks) to help us through tough times (like after having a baby). It’s interesting how many people will say, ‘oh I couldn’t afford that.’ Really? Because we adjust our food budget to afford it. Our food budget for crying out loud! Simplest place to save, but not always easy or fun. Anyway, those comments bug me.

    Also, I’ve noticed that now that we are making a bit more money, that we don’t try and justify our expenses as much to others. We used to have the hardest time doing something like replacing a dead washing machine. We felt we had to justify to family and the world why we spent what we spent. We would research all our options till we were blue. WHAT? I swear being poor totally rocked my brain apart. I was seriously so self-conscious about all our spending, as if it was anybodies business but mine!

    Anyway, good post, as always.

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  13. […] working. With the help of some luck and a heck of a lot of overtime, it turned out well. It took me a while to find a happy medium, but I was able to come to terms with not being in the privileged position of being DINKs. I […]

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