What is being frugal or frugality? Merriam Webster defines it as: careful about spending money or using things when you do not need to: using money or supplies in a very careful way; simple and plain.
Ask the man on the street that question and you will most likely not get the Merriam Webster definition. Some people will say cheap and miserly. Others will say never spending any money. I doubt that many people will define it as being careful with your money. Ask 100 people and you will probably get many different answers.
I define frugality as putting a name on your pennies and your dollars so that you know where they are going. How do we do that? By having goals in life and knowing where and how we wanted to spend our money.
My sons did not go to college because we were cheap or miserly. We paid for their education. How did we do that? By ear marking a set amount of dollars each week to their college funds. Now that is plain and simple. Was it easy? No! But anything worth attaining in life is not easy. It takes lots of hard work. Yes, I said hard work.
Did we retire early without lots of hard work? No. Besides working 40 hour weeks, we had to work our plan every week to save the money to do so.That meant saving and investing a certain amount of money every week until we got to that goal.
We did the same with every goal. The hard work was making the income, making the plans, and then actually implementing our plans so that they came to fruition. In other words, we always kept our eye on the ball.
Now we could have gotten to where we are today by being cheap and miserly. How you say? By not tipping the waitress in the restaurants we ate in, by always buying just the basic of foods and never treating ourselves or our family, by skimping on healthcare and drugs, by freezing in the winter and sweating in the summer, and I could go on and on. Yes, we could have done those things and lived a cheap, stingy, MISERABLE existence. But that is not how most people want to live their lives and we certainly didn't.
Instead we stuck to Merriam Websters definition. We kept it plain and simple. We spent as little as possible while still living a frugal but luxurious life. We have our glass of wine with dinners when we want to, our flavored coffee before breakfast, shrimp, fish and steak dinners every once in a while and dessert when the craving hits. We pay for and watch Netflix, have many board games to play, use the internet judiciously(I love You Tube) to learn something new every day, pay for cable so that Hubby gets his fill of sports, etc. We live in a paid for with cash, beautiful home that we love and enjoy every minute being in. We have lush landscaping and a very green lush lawn that we enjoy when we sit outside.
But we don't go out and get our coffee every day at Starbucks, go out to dinner two or three times a week, shop at the mall once or twice a week, go out to bars with friends for drinks on a regular basis, or see the new movie at a theater every week, etc. Don't get me wrong, none of these things are wrong unless they prevent you from attaining your goals in life. Only you can set your priorities and cut back in other areas to reach your goals. They just have never been our priority. We like the simple and plain living.
As we have grown older, we have seen the value in minimizing stuff. We have always had a neat and uncluttered home. We don't buy things that we don't need and then throw them out next year. We strategically buy what we need and then take good care of it so that it lasts. Less stuff means less time taking care of it. If you have a lot of clutter on your counters, end tables, and shelving, you expend a lot of energy cleaning and dusting them every week. Minimal is easier and I love easier since I do the majority of the errands and 99% of the house cleaning, maintenance and cooking. Hubby does what he can to help but his back issues do not allow him to do what he used to do.
We don't have 10 different boxes of crackers, many snack bags, 5 different jams and jellies in our cupboards, etc. We try to keep it simple so that we have two to choose from. I like my pantries to look like Aldi's shelves, mostly one choice. Gone are the days of stockpiling junk that isn't good for us and stockpiling processed foods. Sure we still use some but it is minimal.
By keeping our choices down, we don't spend as much money as we used to. It is still a work in progress because we are buying more organic and cooking almost everything from scratch and I am still learning how to do that frugally.
So we buy what we need and don't buy what we don't need. It is the core of our frugality. Every time I write a list of what we need, I revisit it and cross off a lot of it because it really wasn't a need. We make what we do buy last whether it be a washing machine, clothing, or an electric toothbrush by taking good care of them. Too many people send stuff to our landfills that are still useful because they want something new. That is a waste of money. There is nothing wrong with 15 year old clothes that still look good, repairing your washing machine instead of buying a new one or keeping your electric toothbrush for years as long as you change the brush heads.
There is nothing wrong with using a dime size blob of shampoo or conditioner to make it last longer or watering down the Dawn which is too thick to begin with. It is using your supplies in a careful way.
However being frugal without a plan for your money won't work. You can save money here and there by using coupons, setting back the thermostat, buying clothes on clearance, etc. But if you don't have a plan for those dollars that you didn't spend, you will just be spinning your wheels through life. What are you doing with that money you saved? How many of you said nothing? Or I don't know where it went? If that is the case, it is time to rethink where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, etc. and put that money to work for you. Set your plans and really work to make them happen whether it be paying off your mortgage, paying off credit card debt, saving to buy a car, sending your kids to college or retiring early with a nest egg to last you for the rest of your life. Those plans set you free from being a slave to your money.
So we retired early over 15 years ago with enough money to last the rest of our lives barring a catastrophe. You would think it was time to sit back and enjoy it. We do enjoy the freedom to do what we want every single day without a boss telling us what to do for 8 hours a day.
However, we still have goals that we work towards every single day. We have two grandchildren that we love dearly that we want to help send to college. So we save for them. If they choose not to go to college then they will have the money to buy a home. We also have our own children and their spouses whom we would like to leave an equally large nest egg to help them get to their own early retirement. This plan was put in place many years ago when we set up a trust for them. If we are to reach these goals which are extremely important to us, we must be frugal and watch our dollars every single day and continue to save and invest our money. For us this is not a chore, it is something that we enjoy. We love challenges and we do our best to win. So for those of you who wondered why we are not sitting in our rocking chairs just enjoying life spending our money, these goals are why. We continue to be good stewards of our money by spending judiciously and saving and investing as much as we can.
Family has always been our first priority from the day we got married until the present day. We don't really care about most stuff, we care about our children and grandchildren. Frugality has gotten us this far and will continue to get us to our future goals.