I’m always up for discovering some great ways to save money, and over the years I’ve found out that many of the best ways to save money are also the simplest. And I’ll just say right off the bat that probably the overall simplest and most effective way to save money that has been revealed in the known universe is to live within your means. Of course, “simplest” does not always mean “easiest”!
Money, and all the things it stands for, can be touched with our hands and seen with our eyes. But money by itself doesn’t think, it doesn’t have morals and it contains no spiritual essence; it is only a representation of physical, tangible things – things like land, food, clothes, houses, cars and the like. Our world is material and there is no getting around the fact that money plays a large part in our everyday lives, and that making and saving money is something that we’ve all got to do to survive now and prepare for the future.
Everybody has their own unique, fluid relationship with money, but it’s not too difficult to look around and see two kinds of people on the extremes, regardless of their wealth: The “big spender” and the “tightwad.” The big spenders tend to overpay for a lot of the stuff they buy and rarely get a good value in return for a lot of the cash they throw around carelessly. When it comes to money, the big spender likes to put on airs and places a high value on outward appearances.
On the other hand, the tightwad is stingy and miserly, someone who has moved past the virtue of being thrifty and has crossed over to that realm where frugality is a badge of honor, the end itself, rather than a means to an end. The tightwad has become a receiver, not a contributor.
Thankfully, most people fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, alternating a bit between feeling a little like a high roller one month and a bit like a pauper the next. Some of us, because of our income, can’t do much better than to break even every month even though we try to do some of the frugal things we hear and read about. And some of us do have decent incomes but more often than not find ourselves spending more than we should and struggling sometimes to give up some of the things that are definitely unnecessary.
“Quality of life” is a subjective term, and we all have to balance immediate gratification against deferred reward. It’s impossible to say exactly where the line is drawn between being comfortable and being luxurious because what seems necessary to the guy who lives next door may look like a ridiculous waste of money to us.
We shouldn’t live completely for today, but we can still put to use some of the fruits of our labor in the present. The important thing is that in order to be able to cover our day-to-day expenses, tithe and still have some funds left over to sock away for the future and help those less fortunate, then we need to give serious consideration to every dollar we spend.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’ll find that it’s not so hard to recognize the difference between what is necessary and what is unnecessary – that’s the essence of ‘frugality’. And in my opinion, the number-one most ludicrous thing that keeps people from being able to save more money is spending money on things for the purpose of looking good to the outside world.
One thing that we should all consider is that there is definitely a big difference between being frugal in order to accomplish our goals or deal with tight-money times, and being frugal for frugality’s sake. Being frugal in order to craft a legacy or adapt to changes in our personal and economic lives is honorable. Adopting frugality as a cover for just being a hardcore spendthrift, as a sort of validation of being a “cheap” person, well, that may very well border on being dishonorable.
To put it another way, there is probably both good frugality and bad frugality. The good kind of frugality helps you through tough times when money gets scarce. It helps you get a leg up when you are early in your work life or career. Having a “good” frugal mindset allows you to stay grounded, to appreciate the important things in life, to be able to practice charitable giving and to master the discipline of living within your means.
But the bad kind of frugality can be harmful; it can be a mask for a stingy heart and has much more potential to hurt than to help. Stripping the enjoyment out of your home life or denying yourself or your family things like health care, personal development and healthy foods just to save some extra bucks is not only foolish, but potentially dangerous. Yes, healthy living and personal growth can cost you some money, but there is also a cost to be associated with being sick or professionally and personally stagnant.
It is understood that we all have our own views on just what makes for a good quality of life. But if being overly frugal takes precedence over enjoying our lives, if we suffer in order to not have to let loose of our surplus, or if our frugal ways are affecting our relationships, then we’d better be very sure that the payoff will all be worth it in the long run.
What do you think? Is there a fine line or a wide gulf between being super-frugal and being stingy?
Or look for it at your local library.