My wife came home on Friday and started weeping. Ashamed, she fell before me and admitted she has been having unfrugal thoughts. I stroked my mustache and sat up in my high-backed chair. I clenched my jaw and squeezed my scepter of extreme saving and financial truth more tightly. I gathered myself, took a deep breath and let her finish.
It’s just, people at work are rolling in with these beautiful brand new SUVs. Our cars are old and ugly, she sobbed. Best friends and family are upgrading to nicer homes with luxurious yards, while we still huddle in our humble “starter” home.
The siren call of the “normal” American life with the stepped up lifestyle beckons. No mere mortal mind can endure! she cried. She went on to say she has even been ordering out for food lately at work instead of packing a sack lunch… 0nce, even sometimes two times a week!
A slap in the face! I stood up and slammed the point of my scepter down on the floor. Enough! Away from me, woman! Go out and change the oil on the Honda! Sell five things on Craigslist! Then off to the couponing room. I’ll need a thousand coupons clipped by the end of the night!
I’m joking, of course. It didn’t happen like that. My wife clips coupons for fun. I don’t need to force her. And she didn’t come to me complaining that we don’t have nice cars and a fancy house. She just mentioned in passing it’s hard sometimes not to be just a little bit jealous of people with nicer things. That’s just our consumer driven culture.
I feel the same way. Of course my wife is not the only one with unfrugal thoughts. I’m tempted to buy unnecessary things probably much more than her. I can easily see myself being the weak link here.
That led to a really good conversation about frugality fatigue, the idea that you can only hold your spending down at minimums for so long before it starts to come out your ears. So, how do we keep from getting frugality fatigue? Here are three things:
We need to install relief valves
My wife and I are trying to be as frugal as possible now to reach our financial goals that much faster. But we have to recognize that we’re probably not built for the most extreme frugality. It’s a ideal to strive towards, but we don’t want to make ourselves miserable in the process. The pressure can build up. Spending could explode.
Before we know it, we’ve lost all willpower. After a particularly bad week at work, we could find ourselves in a candle-lit booth slamming the menu shut. F- it! we’ll take the lobster… and a 5 bed 4 bath house on a hill in Carver on the side… Does the Tahoe come with 22s? Completely out of whack with what we really want.
We need to be better about building relief valves into our budget. Plan on the fancy dinner out once a month. Happy hours with friends. Extra home improvement. New nice clothes every once in a while that make us look and feel good. Fun family entertainment.
It’s clear we should pad those budget line items just a little bit more so we don’t feel guilty when we do spend the money on something that could seem frivolous. And we’ll have an extra sense of accomplishment those months we do save more than planned.
We need to regularly review and clarify goals
My wife and I have a plan in place for the next five years. It amounts to to paying off the rest of our debt (besides the mortgage), then saving up 2-3 years of current spending. This plan is driving our frugality.
I talked about it a little bit in my article Why I may not be able to keep my grubby little hands off my 401k. The plan is to build up a long runway of savings so either or both of us can step out of the workforce for any reason and try something new. Or not.
The or not part is the problem. The plan is kind of wishy-washy. It doesn’t get too specific beyond the numbers. We’re missing some important details:
What does our ideal day look like? What exactly would we do with a 3-year runway? If we don’t have a particular project or passion to pursue in mind, what’s the point? We both have great jobs. Why not upgrade our lifestyle now and focus on happiness in the present?
Or… Enough with these half-measures! Let’s sacrifice more now for a little bit longer and go all the way to complete financial independence and early retirement.
This plan assumes we live in our same house? Do we want to upgrade to something a little fancier? This one feels okay for now. But is it our so-called “forever” house? Maybe we actually do want that house on a hill in Carver (an outer suburb southwest of Minneapolis that everyone seems to be moving to nowadays). Do we want a “forever” house at all? Maybe that’s just an anchor and we want more flexibility to travel and experience stuff.
This plan doesn’t take into account our growth as people, as a family, the growth of our marriage. What about giving? Volunteering time and offering money. How does charity fit in to all of this?
My wife and I have sat down exactly once and hammered out some specific goals for our family. But we haven’t gone back and revisited them since. It’s time to do that. It’s time to do that on a regular basis. It’s time to get crystal clear on what we want out of life so our spending can start to match up. It’s time to go way beyond some numbers on a spreadsheet.
Finally, we just need to get out and meet our frugal neighbors
Our friends are great, but we don’t really have any friends in the area that we hang out with who have similar financial goals. Most are on the more traditional path. Financial independence just isn’t on their radar and that’s fine. We talk about other stuff.
But, we’ve come to realize it’s important to have more friends in our circle who are on the same financial wavelength. That’s where you come in.
I’ve read at least a half-dozen like-minded bloggers out there who happen to be located in Minnesota. My wife and I need to start meeting you people. Don’t be surprised if you get the following message in the mail:
That way we can ask in person, How do you fight frugality fatigue? And have fantastic frugality discussions over a few Summits and Surlys. In the meantime, feel free to comment below 🙂
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