I regularly workout in flip flops. On the weekends I tend to wear the same shorts and/or T-shirts for two or more days. I’ve had the same breakfast for nearly five years (some type of eggs and toast). I started cutting my hair in sophomore year of college — can’t remember if I’ve paid for a haircut since then. I hate dressing up for work. I don’t have a car, and regularly bike to first dates (Where’s your car parked? Oh, the bike racks over there!). I fantasize about stealing condiments of ketchup and mustard at a local fast-food restaurant. I’d rather enjoy a good book or the company of friends over crowds in a club. I tend to leave the AC off or, at least, at sweaty levels if I’m alone. Vice versa, I tend to freeze in the winter because my room is draftier than the rest of the apartment and I keep the heat low. I’ve been known to pick up grocery items and carry them throughout the store, and then dispense of unnecessary purchases on random shelves (I’m sorry store clerks).
When I was younger, each of these pieces brought me great insecurity. I purchased Under Armour clothing and paid careful attention to be appropriately attired to workout. I was terribly concerned with how I’d be perceived. I used to drive my car to dates, and pay for parking, gas, and all the depreciation in the process. It seemed customary to have and drive a car — the movies always featured the man picking up his date. Many of these examples started out as deep vulnerabilities, which spawned into consumption.
Then frugality hit me. With all of its messages and philosophical underpinnings, I felt this pull to save wherever I could. It worked. I started to save money and act more consciously about my spending. But like many moments in my life, I was insecure to broadly announce that I was frugal. I wondered how people would react.
Reactions varied across genders, ages, and populations. Some loved and admired that I was so “young” and looking to right my financial path. Others were defensive that I was looking to save, as if it said something about their own spending. They’d question just how frugal I was being, and whether I would continue. Doubt was pervasive at times — for me and the person listening. Could I continue frugality in the face of cultural assumptions of consumption?
I gained confidence in this new life by regularly reading websites such as Becoming Minimalist, Budgets are Sexy, and Zen Habits. Each website presented a minimal, simple life. The authors had removed themselves from many of our culture’s trappings. They wanted and professed the mantra of less.
While individuals’ reactions varied, there was consistency in my reading and writing. I found solace in their words and my writing. I could reflect on what this meant to me longer term. The broader picture I kept coming back to was a sense of modesty and necessity. I needed to live on less because I was born privileged, and many weren’t. Additionally, I was motivated to cut back to trim my student loans. These ideas provided a motivation beyond simply wanting to see more money in my bank account. I had no interest in amassing wealth.
Somewhere around then that confidence led to a loss of the previous insecurities. I embraced the weird. In the past, I may have held back with friends and dates. But I turned a new leaf and led with my new life. I’ve made do with less, which is transferable across domains of personal and professional work. There’s a grit that develops from going without.
Yes, I’m sweating profusely as I type these words. Yes, I risk dropping a free weight on my flip flops. Yes, I did bike to our date, and no there aren’t any pegs.
I’ve changed. At times, I’m countercultural, but at the heart is nonconformity. I’m sick of living within the carefully crafted bounds that others expect. Nonconformity has opened doors for me. My creativity has flourished in this time. By accepting a simple path, I’ve written and read more than ever for pure fun and enjoyment. It’s the greatest reward of this new life.
Ben Bammens says
Lisa Vdb says
Fantastic article Sam! Oh, and I love the photo, you look awesome! I’ve been a non-conformist since birth (some of us are born rebellious perhaps? haha) and realized that being this way has definitely helped me change and grow with a lot more ease. From what I understand, it’s not easy to go against the grain. Even when I do “weird” frugal things such as; wild harvesting herbs to make salves and use in salads, picking perfectly good items out of the garbage to donate to charity, no one bats an eye because this is who I am. Not caring what others think is incredibly freeing and it also brings the right people and situations into one’s life. By the way, if my date arrived on his bike instead of a car, i would be truly impressed and so thrilled! 🙂
Sam Lustgarten says
Thanks so much for your positive encouragement. Hahah. That photo is one of my favorites, too. 🙂 I think some of us are born with it, others can develop it. The classic nature vs. nurture debate!
Being frugal definitely goes against the grain. You’re right about that! There’s a distinction there though: I care deeply about what others think. From my career and in life, I am an empathetic individual. I haven’t lost that. But I guess I’ve honed my confidence in self. That’s the more important focus.
Appreciate your comment,
One of my favorite sayings is “You do you.” Do what makes you happy, and skip all the haters. If you bike to a date and the girl judges you for it then you’re clearly not a good match and you’ve saved yourself time and heartache by figuring it out early.
Claudia @ Two Cup House says
I find comfort in the financial security that comes from non-conformity. Thanks, as always, for the awesome posts!
Sam Lustgarten says
Thanks J! Gonna keep trying. 😀
Ronnica, Striving Stewardess says
If you give up the constraint of what other people think, there’s so much you can do, isn’t there? Keep it up!
our next life says
Your poor vulnerable toes!
our next life says
(Said with a little winky face — let others worry about their own toes.)
Sam Lustgarten says
Haha! Exactly! Mind your own toes. 😉
Great article – it takes a lot of guts to be non-conformist, guts that most people don’t have. I try in my own way, but tend to keep my non-conformity within my personal life as it’s very challenging in a work environment.
Bobby Treats says
Great post, Sam. Thanks for the honesty and staying true to yourself. I think many people on the frugal path have felt the same at one point or another.
Stefanie O'Connell (@brokeandbeau) says
While I’m with you on some of these things – I’m sweating it out in my own apt right now – I’ve definitely begun to incorporate more creature comforts into my life. But it’s more motivated by my own happiness/comfort than cultural norms. I take no issue with being the “weird one” who chooses to couchsurf instead of paying for a room, but if I’m freezing my ass off in January, I’m totally using my space heater 🙂
Sam Lustgarten says
If lots of layering doesn’t work, I do finally break down and find a way to get warm. Lots of exercise is usually my first solution, as it gets the blood flowing. Then, last resort, is a couple points up on the ol’ register. Hah.
Great pic! And post:) I think “embrace the weird” is a good mantra to have. It really speaks to living your truth, and that means letting others in on your weirdness. When I’ve hidden or down-played my weirdness, I tend to attract ill-suited people into my life. When I’ve been honest about who I am and my lifestyle choices, I tend to meet people who get it. Other nonconformists:) Good stuff.
Great article. Not caring what people think about you is very important. I’m with you on all of these points but can’t imagine working out with flip flops, especially when lifting weights.
Love it. I have to say The whole picking up items and them discarding them before check out is really the only way I shop. A shopping cart is merely a gathering of things that I one by one talk myself out of, and I am proud of this because otherwise I would have so much more junk. (Sorry store clerks as well)
Jim Wang says
Isn’t it funny how when you’re a kid, you struggle to do everything fit in? Then, one day, it clicks like a light switch… it’s about being true to yourself and celebrating what makes you different that helps you succeed. It’s only “weird” if you think the other thing is “normal” — when weird is what you are, it’s the normal that is weird. 🙂
But man… don’t make more work for those clerks! ahah
Generation YRA says
“I embraced the weird.” — Yes, Sam! You should definitely come visit Portland. You know the main tag line is “Keep Portland weird.” 🙂 I think it’s awesome that you’ve chosen to fully embrace non-conformity. For me, it almost felt next to impossible to even attempt non-conformity in high school, or college without feeling like an “outsider.” It’s absurd that I ever thought that, because now there is so much more I’m learning about myself & flourishing in the process by transcending cultural norms. Great post!
“Nonconformity is key” is the PERFECT descriptor for all of us who care about our financial health! One simply cannot care about their finances AND at the same time be “normal” by today’s standards, since being normal seems to require vast amounts of mindless spending and waste. Great post.
I love this.
Adam @ AdamChudy.com says
Love the picture. I’m probably not the picture of non-conformity, but you definitely can’t let others opinions affect how you live your life.
RichUncle EL says
Kudos to you for living a more peaceful life and not conforming to others. If you do what makes you happy, nobody can say anything negative. I am more in the line of half conformity, as I still drive a car, and get some brand name stuff on occasion, but I always look for deals in all aspects. I live the life I want, spending where I desire, and saving a good portion of income. This makes me happy.
Dane Hinson says
Some of the most innovative and influential people are non-conformists. Embrace being different and unique, it’s awesome!
Fantastic! I love this, and that you’re happy to embrace and be yourself. We also live a non-mainstream life that we love.
If it’s at all helpful, when I was dating my husband we frequently walked or rode a bike on dates. No problem (for the right person). 🙂
Mark Anthony Harrison says
I have only just found you Sam and I am glad that I am. I love this post!
I am way older than you and it took a big moment in my life for me to realise that I have to live my life for me, not anyone else and that people should accept me for who I am or not bother with me at all.
You have come to that realisation already and good for you for being true to who you are.
Dr. Penny Pincher says
I also have cut my own hair for years and do not care what others think of my clothes, some which are over 20 years old. I think most people spend money to fit in or appear “normal”. Getting past that is one of the first steps to being able to really spend less money…
here, here my friend.. that gives me the where with all to go forward and living frugally and be a minimalist.. thanks for your musings.. lucy