Hyper-Frugality is NOT Official YNAB Doctrine (It just happens to be fun.)


“Can’t imagine what it must be like to live at Mark’s house. Scrutinizing every financial detail must be exhausting. On the other hand, it is for a good cause. (eliminating debt, and material for writing a blog)
Keep up the good work and thanks for presenting new perspectives.”

A week or so ago we agreed that choosing to finance anything is choosing to finance everything. After reading the post, our old friend Bill (remember Bill?) left the comment I shared above.

I read it to my wife and she cracked up. Probably because she’s the one who has to deal with my current ban on the use of recessed can lights, not to mention my insistence that we line dry all our clothes in the basement (gotta love that dry Utah climate).

You might wonder why my wife laughed off Bill’s comment, rather than having it stir up some kind of argument between us.

A couple reasons:

First, she and I share the same goals: freedom from debt followed by financial independence. I may be a little more aggressive about cost-cutting, but she’s thrilled with the positive momentum we’re building.

Second, she sees I’m the happiest I’ve been, maybe ever. When I was making more, spending (a lot) more, and borrowing, I was irritable, tired, stressed out. In my pursuit of a higher savings rate, I’m happier, relaxed, and energized.

So, I’m feeling great, but I want to speak to the last part of Bill’s comment:

“…thanks for presenting new perspectives.”

I appreciate Bill’s gratitude, and I want to make sure we’re clear on one thing:

Hyper-frugality isn’t official YNAB doctrine.

YNAB is just a tool to increase awareness while reducing money-related stress and conflict. My blog posts only serve, as Bill put it, to offer a different perspective than what most people are used to.

I may come across as hyper-frugal or anti-consumption. I’m really neither of those. (I’m all for consumption. It’s 1 degree outside, and my bike ride to work would have been much less comfortable without the ski goggles I bought ten years ago.) I’m just putting every outflow under the microscope to try to understand its cost and benefit.

That’s why nothing I say on the blog should make you feel judged, criticized, or unsuccessful.

Ideally, what I write would intrigue, maybe occasionally inspire, and hopefully not bore you. But you’re pursuing your own goals in your own way, just as you should.

So, keep my posts in their proper place. Your job is to spend mindfully, with an eye on your most important goals. If I say anything that helps, great. Use those nuggets and discard the rest.

18 Responses to “Hyper-Frugality is NOT Official YNAB Doctrine (It just happens to be fun.)”

  1. Renee

    I LOVE the fact that you put everything under a microscope and help me to think about all of my financial decisions more deeply. In fact, this blog is one of the very few that I always open and read as soon as it arrives in my inbox.

  2. Carola

    You inspire me. I’m shooting for hyper frugality to try to land somewhere in the middle, it’s a slow process to change our behavior. The changes we have been making are also paying off in terms of happiness.

  3. Lisa

    Unfortunately, a lot of people still consider “budget” a four letter word. They only see it as being restrictive, not liberating.

  4. saveourskills

    I impulse purchased a $100 industrial sized french fry cutter the other day. I’ve only used it twice.. but “fun money” had it covered.. so what the hell :D

    No need to eliminate spontaneity in your purchasing habits as long as YNAB has you covered.

  5. Cindy Ruth

    I am not hyper frugal, but that said – our house, car, rental property are paid off and we sent a kid through school to his master deg (doctorate is on him) without student loans. I’m not going to lie – it wasn’t/isn’t easy, but all our money has a job and hopefully it will be enough for retirement – either that or I’m moving in with my kid. He owes me :^)

  6. JayBee

    I totally agree and tell people this all the time “budgeting” is not about frugality. It’s about putting your money to work for you, so that you don’t end up in a stressful situation.

    I just happen to be hyper-frugal and also anal retentive about how I categorize everything on YNAB. So, instead of a general “groceries” category, I actually itemized out based on what each thing is, because not everything is weekly. Supplements, oils, and pantry items come in at very different times, and sometimes’ it’s not exactly rhythmic. That is, this week, we might buy our oils, but because of all of the holidays at other’s homes, we likely won’t be using as much cooking oil as usual — so this might last us 6 weeks instead of 4. Or, we could be hosting a lot of parties and therefore use the oils up in 3 weeks. It’s just how my brain works.

    And then I try to pull back on what I don’t really need. I’m struggling to get my google voice set up, so I’ll pay for another month of cell phone (no contract). Once sorted on Google Voice, I’ll drop the cell service and just use the google voice for receiving and making calls (i make *very* few calls). Hyper frugal, but also, I hate phones. Always have. I love email.

  7. Beth Anne (@BethAnnesBest)

    What I have found after reading a lot of the journals in the ynab forums, budgeting/finance blogs and articles and just talking with others about budgeting issues is when you finally sit down and look at your money, where it’s going, how you are spending you realize how frivolous you are spending money…and it causes us to become more frugal.

    This happened to a former coworker..her boyfriend asked her to help him with his finances when she started tracking everything she found he was spending over $1000 a month EATING OUT each month (most of that was just breakfast and lunch during work). After that he started bringing his own breakfast and lunches to work and quickly got his eating out expenses under control.

    • JayBee

      I think that this is so true.

      I was helping a family member with their budget — I ask them to save all receipts for a couple of weeks to get started so that we can create categories for their spending.

      I tell them “no spending is wrong, you just need to know how to allocate your funds. so there’s no judgements.”

      Well, we discovered about that same process — lots of money spent on fast food and impulse purchases related to food (candy bars and the like).

      So, I made a category for it. I aligned the budget to cover their normal spending, which of course cut into their ability to do their savings (for emergencies, buffer, etc) more slowly. But, I suggested that they set it up this way so that there was no change in lifestyle — just that things would take longer.

      Of course, about 3 weeks into using YNAB, they slashed that in half. They discovered bulk candy bars at the costco — so that went into groceries — and then ultimately cut back to one fast food meal per week for their family, plus one other fancy, date-night dining out.

      It just sort of happens, really.

  8. Rob Howe

    Are you kidding??!! I have $600 saved in two months and I don’t know where it came from! Three months ago I had $600 more debt and I didn’t know where it went! You probably figured out I got YNAB in October. Wished I had it years ago :-)


  9. 123

    Curious how Bill is doing now. Any chance he wants to update?

    • bill

      We are doing great. We have taken the suggestions we got to heart. I finally gotten around to reading “Your Money or Your Life” as Mark suggested. We cut our Restaurant category in half, I drink the free coffee at work now and only visit the Starbucks on the occasional weekend. We also had an unfortunate car accident that totaled our super expensive car. Instead of going out and financing a bigger better car, we went with a smaller more economical car with great gas mileage and very small car payment. (we considered buying it outright, but financed a small amount) We still bought new, although we like to keep our cars for a long time. I got rid of the personal trainer and workout on my own or participate in classes at the Y. With the savings we have made, we upped our tithing and started saving more.
      I feel like ever since Mark posted our budget and the feedback we got from the community we have made smarter spending / savings decisions. We are grateful for getting that opportunity. We even have been embracing some of MMM advice as well.
      We are not going down the “Hyper-Frugality” road, but we are also steering clear being a spendthrift.

      • mark

        I hope no one was hurt in the accident!

        Congrats on the rest of it!

  10. haverkampartyy

    YNAB pays for itself. I thought I was being reckless with my money when I bought it in July, but I have never felt so IN CONTROL as I do now – and I have easily trimmed expenses and saved/invested much more than the purchase price that I would not have saved/invested otherwise.

  11. Sarah

    Thank you for encouraging us to think outside the box with our finances (whether or not that means hyper-frugality)! One topic I would love to see tackled on the blog and hear a YNAB take on, is the value of home ownership nowadays. The touchy subject of the value of education has been tackled on here, and I think that would be another interesting discussion! I know you’re busy, but I would love to hear your thoughts!

  12. Ruth Martin

    From personal experience, when I stick with my budget, I know where my money is going, and that makes me think more about my expenses. I admit to a rather robust Starbucks habit (my family calls it an addiction), and back when I was simply expense tracking rather than truly budgeting, I was spending about $100/month on Chai Tea Lattes (venti size 4-5x/week does that to you). The awareness of where my money is going has finally affected how I spend, and in the process, it helps me to be more frugal. I’ve trimmed that back to about $20/month (tall size 1-2x/week), and have also realized that making my own tea at home tastes just as good.

    I believe all of us that budget will eventually drift toward more frugality just because it is hard to justify X dollars each month to our favorite consumer product. In our society, we often confuse wants with needs, and if we don’t know where our money is going, it is easy to drift toward super-consumption and consumer debt. It is, after all, the path of least resistance.

  13. David

    Call it Hyper Frugality or intense focus, we only get out of something what we put into it. My wife and I discovered that we too are happier when we put our dollars to work and reap the benefits. Thanks for keeping us on point, Mark. Sometimes the hardest part is just staying focused.

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