Frugality Vs. Quality Of Life

“Frugality Vs. Quality Of Life”. That sounds like a title fight. Two heavy weight contenders going at it. But, it’s not like that. Frugality and quality of life are not necessarily at odds with one another, nor are they mutually exclusive. However, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with living (extremely) frugally over the past year and how it’s affected my quality of life.

I’ve experimented with cutting many expenses since I started to adapt a frugal lifestyle. Some have worked out for the best, and some not. Some expenses can easily be trimmed from one’s budget, whereas others do affect quality of life negatively. This is where the “personal” in personal finance comes into play. Only you can know what you’re comfortable with.

  • I tried a VOIP-based cell phone for a few months. Basically, I could only make and receive phone calls over an internet connection. The cost was $10/month. The cost was great, the experience was not. It started to impact personal relationships after only a couple months, as it was difficult to get a hold of me and it was difficult to clearly hear my voice when I was able to be reached. I canned that idea, and have since settled on a $40/mo. prepaid cell phone with unlimited minutes. It’s a happy compromise. 

  • I cut my gym expense. I was paying $30/month to work out at a fitness facility. I thought “I can do better than that” and canceled the membership. I decided to run outside and do push-ups and sit-ups at home. This didn’t work. I found that I wasn’t motivated enough to run around in a big circle outside for half an hour or more. I decided recently to reinstate my gym membership. I decided that keeping my health in a good state is important and worth at least the $30/mo. I’m paying. Another happy compromise.

  • I sold my car last summer. I proudly and doggedly lived without a car for about nine months. I took the bus, walked and bicycled everywhere I had to go. It worked out pretty well. Unfortunately, the bus was not reliably getting me to work on time and I had to recently purchase a car. If I didn’t have such a tight schedule at work, or if I was already financially independent I might permanently live without a car. It’s actually quite easy to get around without a car if you live in an appropriate location and if you have an open mind. This is one expense that I don’t think affected my quality of live negatively, but it did isolate me. I’m not sure about others who live without a car, but I found it was difficult to meet up with friends after work and it was hard to relate my story to others when I’m living that “extreme”. In this way, living car-free did affect my quality of life. I’m a bit more social now that I own a car again. If I lived in a very big city, being without a car would probably not be an issue at all. 

These are just a few personal examples where I cut expenses and I was able to see first-hand how my quality of life was affected. I think, most of all, these examples show you how important it is to have balance. Balance in life is key, as you want to save money for tomorrow and delay gratification but at the same time you have to live a little today. Life is short and you don’t know how long you have on this planet, so while living below your means is extremely important in my opinion, you also have to strike a balance between frugality and quality of life. I decided that maintaining personal relationships was much more important than saving $30 on a cell phone bill, that being healthy and in shape is worth the gym membership that is necessary to keep me motivated and that retiring early/becoming financially independent isn’t all that great if you’re isolated from everyone else. I mean how fun is it to be financially free at a young age if you’re lonely, out of touch and out of shape?

Balance is key. I’m learning as I go and I lived extremely frugally in 2011. I look forward to trying my best to maintain a high savings rate in 2012, but I also look forward to trimming back the “extremeness” this year. I look forward to striking the most harmonious balance between frugality and quality of life. I think that if one strikes an appropriate balance between quality of life and frugality, it makes the journey much more pleasant and sustainable. If you’re doing nothing but eating rice and beans, staying at home every single weekend and maintaining isolation in the search of an ability to save as much money as possible the journey may prove to be difficult and unsustainable. I lived an extremely frugal year, and came out great and learned along the way. I don’t think I’d want to live so frugally for the rest of my life. After all, I think everything is a means to an end. Living frugally and investing in dividend growth stocks (my dividend mantra) is a way for me to achieve personal financial freedom from the chains of being a wage slave. I’d like to be in command of my own destiny and be the master of my own time. Being the master of my own time isn’t very comforting if I can’t do anything, see anyone or eat the things I like to eat.

I hope this doesn’t come across as negativity in the face of frugality. I believe frugality affords an average wage earner the best chance at having excess capital to build wealth through an appropriate and well-thought investing plan. Frugality is something I live by every day. I drive a 13-year old car, talk on a cheap prepaid cell phone, eat as cheaply and at the same time healthily as possible and work-out to not only feel good but also to save on future health care costs. But, I think it’s important to have balance and important to maintain a quality of life that you’re comfortable with and one that’s sustainable. The journey to financial independence is not a race, and if it was one it wouldn’t be a sprint.

Let’s have balance in 2012!

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: renjith krishnan

Comments

  1. says

    Great and well thought out article DM (as always)! I’m just starting out on my way to FI and running into some of the very compromises you address in this article. You mentioned YMOYL in a previous article and I think this is all about finding your “enough” on the fulfillment curve. It sounds to me like the compromises you made monetarily will move you closer to “enough” medically and personally.

    • says

      The Kechi One,

      Thanks for the compliment. I appreciate it. I do try to present articles from the heart, and that’s why I don’t write as often as some other bloggers. Every article is something I believe in, and it’s something I take pride in.

      Great catch on the fulfillment curve. You nailed it on the head there. You have to find that balance where you reach “enough” and I’m finding harmony in getting tantalizing close to it.

      While I strive to give the financial independence journey my best effort, I do realize that life is short and when you’re dead…well it doesn’t matter how quickly you reached FI or how much money you have in the brokerage account. It’s all about the memories and the quality of life you experienced that matters at the end.

      Best wishes to you in finding your own personal “enough”.

      Take care.

  2. says

    Great topic, I can relate to this post. I’ve thought a lot about how extreme I want to be and decided not to go excessive. I realized I didn’t want to be a hermit sitting at home eating PB&J letting life pass me by. I have a meaningful part of my budget dedicated to fun money. That way I can still go out out to eat, go to the bar (gasp!), go to movies, and most other things that sound fun. The trick is to buy things on special and plan ahead. If I go to the bar I might put a $20 bill in my wallet to not allow myself to get carried away. I might eat at home before hand to avoid expensive bar food or late night Taco Bell runs. I highly respect people who are dedicated enough to spend next to nothing, but it’s not worth it in my experience. You’re right though, only you can know what you are comfortable with.

    • says

      Compounding Income,

      I totally agree with you. It’s important to find your own personal balance, and I definitely also do not want to be sitting at home like a hermit eating PB&J and letting life pass me by. That’s not very fun.

      I think that if you choose your battles you can still maintain a high savings rate while having fun. It’s important to make the right choices, stick to a plan and treat yourself when you’re making progress. Me and my girlfriend went out to a $100 sushi dinner this past weekend for Valentine’s Day. Not frugal, but it tasted great and we had a great time. That’s what life is all about.

      Best wishes.

  3. says

    Good article. Another good thing about being frugal is when you do splurge(like your sushi dinner), you tend to enjoy it more than someone who goes all the time and takes it for granted. I hope you can find that balance for you. I know I struggle with it although I tend to sway more to the splurge side than frugal… hah.

    • says

      officeark,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I agree. It’s all part of hedonic adaptation. I’ve gotten used to my frugal lifestyle for the most part, except for some of the examples I listed above. So, when I go out and splurge I really get excitement out of it!

      I hope you find your balance as well!

      Best wishes.

  4. says

    Great post DM. Not only do I want to see my financial investments grow but I want to fill my life with great memories of the things I have done with people I care about. The first 30 years of my life I had the balance wrong and totally ignored the financial side of life. Now working on fine tuning this thing called life till I get it on the right setting for me which is a bit of both.

    • says

      Investment Road to Freedom,

      Definitely. Life is short, and while financial freedom is something I strive for more than anything else it’s also important to keep perspective. Like you said, great memories are a sign of a life well lived.

      Good luck in your fine tuning, as I’m also doing the same.

      Take care!

  5. says

    Hey DM,

    It is really great to see your journey, and be privy to what is going on with you and your decisions. I must say you really inspired me to be more frugal, and you pointed me in the right direction with the ERE website (which I lurk at and enjoy).

    The one thing I will say with frugality, is that I not only get enjoyment out of it, but I think it is healthier for me. I used to pass the bakery in the morning and buy a danish and coffee. All those pastries and all that sugar, right? Now, I eat oatmeal for breakfast, and have recently bought buckwheat which is gluten free and less heavy.

    Same with lessening my ecological footprint- I consume much less paper products now. We used to go through lots of paper towels in the kitchen- now I use microfiber little towels and wash them in the washing machine.

    I don’t dry my clothing in the dryer, just hang dry them- the clothes last longer (lint is basically your clothing degrading). Less energy is used. It makes me feel good.

    All in all, I’m loving frugality. It is making me healthier and more aware. I am this close (holding out my forefinger and thumb) to ditching my iphone for MetroPCS, and I’m excited about that. Now only will I save about $70/month, but I will also free up my time. I tend to really browse my iphone all of the time, wasting time in the process. I actually believe that downgrading to a “not so smart” phone will be better for me, my work, and my serenity in the long run.

    So it’s great stuff. Keep in mind that I come from an uber consumptive background. Also, my past 2 months expenses have averaged higher than yours. So even with your “splurging”, you are still under my budget by a couple hundred dollars a month. But balance is good. This is only my second month tracking my expenses via a budget, so I am learning a lot too.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey.

    • says

      Relic,

      Thanks for stopping by. Always good to hear from you!

      It sounds like you’re doing great in the frugality department, and on some levels you’re doing better than I am. I don’t make my own detergent (but I do use the cheap stuff), nor do I use microfiber towels (I rarely use paper towels, however). You’re really taking it by the reigns there! I’m really glad to hear that.

      I never really came from an hyper-consumer background. I’ve always been a bit frugal all my life except for a stint when I was 21 and went a bit crazy. Taking it from “relatively” frugal to “extremely” frugal wasn’t that much of a stretch, but at this point in time I wouldn’t mind boosting the budget by a couple hundred dollars a month. I’d still be saving over 60% of my income and have room for some of the things I enjoy, like good food.

      With that said, I don’t think you have to spend money to have fun…but it’s important to focus on what you derive pleasure from (in terms of value) and focus on those items.

      Great stuff. I’m glad to hear you’re running away with it!

      Best wishes.

  6. says

    DM-
    I am so happy that you made these choices for yourself. I personally thought you should re-join the gym. I know for me, if I can ‘get my sweat on’ I feel so much better about myself, there is something about going to a gym and being around other people with similar goals. Great choice!
    I rarely treat myself to Sbux anymore, but when I do get fancy coffee, it’s usually a treat while traveling and I honestly enjoy it more.
    Nice you were able to enjoy a Sushi dinner, that’s what I’ve been craving lately, last time hubs and I had it, was around xmas, I think it’s about time for a Sushi splurge :)

    Keep posting! You provide inspiration to so many.

    • says

      MySavingStyle,

      First, congrats on starting your own blog. I wish you the best with that!!

      I understand where you’re coming from and it sounds like you’re finding a pretty healthy balance between quality of life and frugality, and you’re able to discern the amount of value you should place on an expense in terms of pleasure derived. That’s what it’s all about.

      Have fun with your sushi dinner. I know that, personally, if I could eat sushi three times a week I would! It’s an amazing food.

      Thanks for the compliments! It’s much appreciated, especially as blogging becomes time consuming and one wonders how much impact it really makes.

      Good luck with your own blog. I’ll make sure to stop by.

  7. says

    What!? A car? Gym membership? Cell phone? I bet next you are going to tell us you’re no longer eating PB&J. What is the world coming to?! Ok, I hope you know I’m saying this in a joking way. I have the utmost respect for you DM and I have enjoyed watching you grow in your journey to FI.

    I’m still in the frugal mindset myself. I don’t have a cell phone, no car (well that is not true, I do have one back home)and no tv. I guess I live the “boring” lifestyle that has been mentioned, or do I?
    I read and have started writing more than I ever have in my life. I think it is easy to assume that if a person is not spending money then they must be miserable. I think this is a mistake and is a reflection of our modern way of living where everything cost something.

    I think the key to your article is finding balance and that will be different for everyone. It might be helpful to know that I spent the past 20 years of my life spending everything I made and only changed my ways a few years ago due to some devestating circumstances in my personal life. This has probably skewed my view of spending these days.

    Excellent post DM, insightful as usual and the reason I keep coming back.

    • says

      thestoicinvestor,

      Thanks for stopping by. Sorry I didn’t respond yesterday. For some strange reason this comment went to the spam box. I changed that this morning.

      I totally agree with you that you don’t need to spend money to have fun. I think it’s important to find the right balance between value and price, and only you know what’s “worth it” in terms of what kind of value you place on objects or experiences. I’m still trying to find that value, and I believe I’m getting pretty good at it now.

      Thanks for the compliment. I’m also enjoying your blog. I hope we both have a great 2012!

      Best wishes!

  8. says

    I’m a big believer in avoiding installment payments for services whenever possible. This has helped us become more frugal.

    On the VOIP topic, my wife and I bought a hardware solution: OOMA. It was an up-front cost of $200, but since then we have not paid a cent for (landline) phone service. Both of us work from home rather frequently, so we try to avoid the lower call quality of cell phones when on business calls. Since we bought the OOMA in 2009, 28 months have passed, meaning our average monthly cost for home phone service is a little over $7 per month, and it drops with each passing month. But of course that $200 was paid long ago, and does not impact our current cash flow.

    Similarly, I bought a nice, high-quality UHF/VHF antenna for our TV and installed it last year. We cut the cable TV subscription and don’t plan to pay for TV service again. The broadcast signals are as clear as (if not clearer than) the cable signal, and there is no monthly cost. The price of the antenna itself was less than $80, plus the implied cost of my labor to set it up.

    Someday I hope to install some combination of solar/wind generators so that I can minimize (or eliminate) our electricity bill.

    These sorts of actions seem similar to the Dividend Mantra, where an initial capital purchase produces future returns, in this case in the form of lower monthly expenditures.

    • says

      The Executioner,

      Thanks for stopping by. You’re experiences sound pretty similar to mine. I may have to look into OOMA, but I really only need a cell phone…and not a land line. That’s why I tried the VOIP application on my iPhone. We’ll see how all that changes in the future. One of the main reasons I was so hardcore about having a cell phone is because I was riding the bus and had to make sure I could call into work if the bus was running late.

      I also bought a digital HDTV antenna and plugged it into my television. I’m able to get about 10 or so channels with it, all in high definition. Not bad for a minimal investment! That’s a great choice there.

      I agree with you on that last part. It’s definitely a fantastic idea, when possible, to lay out capital up-front for future returns. Absolutely spot on!

      Best wishes!

  9. says

    It always pays to be trying new things and shifting course as needed. We just dumped our land line and are going with cell phones only. We are saving $78 per month but will also likely have to buy more cell minutes. Jury’s out.

    As to frugality, I’ve never looked at my spending thru that lens. Rather, FI has always been the most valuable (to me) thing I could possibly buy so most of my money went there.

    • says

      JC,

      I agree. FI is extremely important to me, and that’s what I’m spending most of my money on (in terms of investments and savings). It’s amazing when some of us sit down and think about it and realize that you’re spending more on investments per month than most people spend on their mortgages for their McMansions. Weird stuff.

      Thanks for stopping by. Best wishes!

  10. says

    Good post, Mantra.

    I observe a rather stark contrast between minimalism/simplicity, and frugality. I consider myself rather minimalist, but not particularly frugal.

    The process of simplifying things and excluding things we don’t need, is important. We already live like kings and queens in terms of material comfort compared to most people that ever lived on this planet.

    But it comes down to a) Enjoy life and b) Consider the value of our time. The first is self-explanatory, so only the second requires clarification. With regards to value of time, cutting coupons, going carless, sticking to VoIP plans, and various other things, can make sense for some people, but not for others. We all have to consider our earning power and our subjective value of our time. If a bright guy can earn a decent amount of income per unit time, then sacrificing time to save less money than he could earn with that same time is not optimal. It’s better for that person to use the extra time to enjoy himself or produce income.

    That’s an approach I follow. I simplify in many ways, but for things that I find important, I’m willing to pay up for. And I consider my time very important to me.

    • says

      Dividend Monk,

      Good to hear from you!

      I agree with you on a number of points. First, I can also see a contrast between minimalism and frugality. Minimalists look to simplify their lives, which invariably means reducing expenditures as a byproduct…while frugalists typically look to cut expenses as much as possible…even if it means sacrificing quality of life to a degree. Definitions for these terms will obviously vary.

      I also agree with you on the time factor. If I made a lot more money than I do now, or if I was capable of such, I wouldn’t focus on the expenses as much as I do. I made $50k last year (the most I’ve ever made in my life, by far), so making sure that the expenditures are as small as possible are key to me maintaining a savings rate (60%+) that is necessary so that’s is reasonably possible for me to become financially independent within the time frame I’ve given myself. If I was able to make over $75k per year, my expenses could come up and I could still maintain a high savings rate, because that is my ultimate focus. It’s a rate as a percentage.

      My time, as someone who earns a respectable, but not extremely high wage is probably not worth (in dollar terms) as much as someone who is a higher earner so I do sometimes take the time (and hence, money) to go over expenses, budget and figure out ways to trim the fat. I’ve found that the time this takes, as well as the experiences it limits, sometimes negatively affects my quality of life and that’s where the balance must be struck in order to make living worthwhile and the plan sustainable long-term.

      Thanks again for stopping by. That’s a unique perspective that I agree with.

      Best wishes!

    • says

      Everyday Freethought,

      I hear you there. That’s always a tough call. I think you just have to find the right person, who’s also frugally minded. If you find that too difficult, then you may have to compromise in certain areas. I agree that it’s definitely a challenge. Maybe I’ll write a post about that someday.

      Best wishes!

    • Anonymous says

      Well on the plus side, increasing your passive income and your free time for siesta/romance/responsibilties to children and personal health is always a hit with the lady!

  11. Anonymous says

    Now since you lack self discipline j:P, you only need to increase your income by $30 + $30 + $157 per month in quality of life needed expenses ($60-180 Fuel + $15-25 Tires + $7-17 oil changes + $7 Air Filter + $2 Windshield Wipers + $4 in Wiper Fluids + $59-79 Insurance + $0.50 driver’s lisence + $2 registration + $0.50 soap,water, sponge + medicine and anger pills and 100% mental energy driving to destinations).

    Once FI, you life will be simpler, happier, usually cheaper :)

    I personally stopped going to the gym, gained about 10 lbs over the last 8 months, and have decided that I must rejoin for the long term health benefits too and sexy-confidence points for my self.

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