I’ve been scouring the PF blogging hemasphere of late, trying to summon up a bit of extra motivation. It’s interesting what’s out there. So many different opinions. Save More! Spend more! Earn more! One theme that I’ve noticed frequently popping up relates to how far you can go with being frugal before you’ve gone too far. Obviously the definition of ‘too far’ is going to be a subjective thing, but it’s something I’ve often contemplated (and blogged about) along the way. This question can present itself in a host of ways but tends to revolve around how realistic/unrealistic it is to live on a bare bones budget long term. Frugal Trenches recently wrote a post over at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op titled ‘Realistic Budgets’ which acknowledges that certain ‘extras’ just have to be budgeted for. Move To Portugal included a post about how she has found it more important to enjoy life (and not be made miserable by a job) by pursuing her goals at a slightly slower pace than try to reach them faster at the expense of everything else. Then I read a post over at Voluntary Simplicity called ‘Don’t Confuse Playing at Frugality with Living Frugally’ which compares frugal extremes with being on a crash diet (ie a quick fix that won’t work in the long term). There were lots of other posts from other blogs that seemed to be saying similar things.
Why is it quite so tempting to try to live on a bare bones budget in the first place? Since starting this blog I’ve often been tempted to try not to spend anything at all. But why? Perhaps because when I made the big shift from spending unconsciously and not saving anything to doing the exact opposite it felt so good. Seeing savings building up and being on top of my finances instead of having them spiral out of control did, in fact, feel great. Maybe I’m trying to recreate the honeymoon period of my altered relationship with money. The thing is, it is hard to recreate that sense when you’ve made the big change and are now plodding along quite happily. Maybe it is simply that you can see how much money you could save or use to pay off debt if you literally only had to shell out for the bare essentails each month. This is incredibly tantalising if you’ve got a financial goal of some kind.
There is also the fact that when you’ve been spending a lot and then stop, you tend to be quite well stocked up on ‘stuff’. Shoes, for example. You’d probably have a good supply of shoes when you stop spending so you can go for quite a long time before any of them actually need replacing. Or bathroom products – most of us have bucket loads of the stuff. It took me a year after starting this blog just to get through the supply of soaps that I had collected from gift sets over the years. Unread books. Lots of music to listen to. Clothes. Sports equipment. Whatever it might be that you do/ used to like spending money on. It is easy not to spend on this kind of thing when you have plenty of it already. It is also easy to skip going on holiday when you’ve been once or twice a year for more years than you can remember. It is relatively easy to stop spending on everything but the bare bones for a while and, when you do, you tend to have a lot more money to decide what you want to do with.
But what happens when your supplies start to run out? Your shoes get scuffed and broken. Your make-up runs out or goes off. You’ve read all of your books and the library has a long waiting list for a new title. You’ve listened to every album you own and want to listen to something new. You want to try out a new recipe but don’t see how you can justify the cost of some of the ingredients when your food budget is so low. Your clothes are bagging out of shape. The strings break on your tennis racket and the chlorine finally eats a hole in your swimming costume. A new restaurant has opened in town and you really want a night out. That holiday the year before last suddenly starts feeling like a very long time ago.
As I said, it is easy to go without for a while. It isn’t too difficult to push yourself to earn more or stick out a miserable job or live on next to nothing in the short term when it frees up so much income to solve a problem like debt or lack of an emergency fund or to make a start on a big goal of some kind (like a deposit for a house or a move abroad). In the long term, however, going without everything is pretty hard going. Obviously some people manage – ar actively want – to live a lifestyle that would seem extremely frugal to a lot of us. However, I think we need room for a bit of spending in our budgets, whether it be for holidays or haircuts or whatever the thing might be that puts a spring in our step and makes it worth getting up in the morning.
While living on a bare bones budget for a while is challenging, I think the really tricky part – the real art to frugal living, is learning how to be moderate. We all know that you can lose weight by eating better and exercising and yet very few of us find it as simple as that. Which compromises are you happy to make, which things do you know you can do without and which things are a step too far? Perhaps the art of being frugal in the long term is being able to answer these questions and striving to get the balance right.
What do you think?