The world currently exists in an infinite growth paradigm — an impossibility that will lead to the planet’s destruction if not curtailed — where increased production and consumption are desired. A pressure to work, spend, and consumptively “contribute” can come from both internal and external sources. This environment makes frugality challenging.
Individually, I struggle to save money, eat out less, and make healthy financial choices. It’s easy to pull out excuses: I’m tired, stressed, or too busy. This monologue pushes me to spend on items that should make me feel relaxed and content. They don’t. My precarious budget necessitates and encourages an alternative. Moreover, I’m motivated to reduce my environmental impact due to climate change. To consume is human (i.e., food), but to buy endlessly and without reason is disastrous. But I can’t say it’s easy, as I must be continually mindful of my spending. Mistakes happen when I’m not actively working at it. Last weekend I spent about $35 going out for food and drinks, in a moment of total unconscious spending.
Along with this self-promulgated racket, there are also social pressures that encourage spending. Society has certain expectations about wealth and success. Usually, achievement in the eyes of our capitalist system requires a paycheck of about $50,000 or more — with continual raises and bonuses. Income must also be spent conspicuously. In other words, you should find ways to spend on things that provide no material value — they just occupy space (i.e., larger cars, homes, and the crap to fill them).
If you aren’t making these purchases there can be a social reaction or rejection. This is where frugality gets messy. For instance, I tried a dating site that asked whether I owned a car. The question seemed innocuous enough, but upon further inspection I realized it was aimed at attractiveness. See, asking whether I had a car was meant to give information to potential women. They would be asked the same thing, but I could see many women’s profiles needed the man to have a car. It made me feel bad. Not having a car made me less attractive; an obvious societal pressure, which still felt unexpectedly horrible. I clearly wasn’t meeting the expectations of those on the site. I wished I owned a car momentarily.
It’s not just cars. Look at the phone in your pocket. If you’re a millennial, it’s likely a smartphone — mine is! When you see someone pull out a flip phone or a “brick,” you may judge that person’s income level and status — I have. But is that fair, right, or healthy?
The greatest challenge to my frugality has come from those who verbally question my decisions (fortunately, none of my friends 🙂 ). For example, there are people who tell me I’m not frugal enough or could/should be doing better. Essentially, they’re saying, “You’re trying to be frugal, but you haven’t met my expectations. If you really want to be frugal, you’d do this…” The other critique I receive is that my frugality hurts the economy. By reducing my consumption, I’m somehow not doing my part. When I more accurately reflect on these situations, I realize that something about my goals are creating a reactionary defensiveness in some people.
I’ve found that my method of talking about frugality and saving money greatly affects how safe others feel about their own choices. A spendthrift may inherently be insulted and/or self-conscious by my choices. What they don’t realize is that their social pressures (or critiques) can act on a healthy budget to encourage conformity and consumption.
Becoming more frugal isn’t without challenges — both internal and external. The frugal life isn’t always easy, but it certainly feels rewarding when done right.