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.