It’s Not About Being Frugal

From Podcast #199: You Don’t Have to be Frugal, the one in which Jesse talks about how frugality isn’t really the point.

We have a friend—his name is Mr. Money Mustache, maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s a good friend of mine and he and I like to get together whenever we can. Long story, but we met in Ecuador and we have become friends because Mr. Money Mustache is just a little crazy.

For the uninitiated, Mr. Money Mustache retired as a young thirty-something and writes about extreme frugality in the pursuit of financial freedom.

As you get to know him, you find out he’s actually not that crazy. He’s pretty normal and he teaches a lot of people how to improve their finances and their lives. Your first reaction might be, “Gosh! That guy just teaches you to not spend ANY money EVER! This stresses me out!” But then you get to know him and you realize, “No, he just figured out that what brings him joy isn’t necessarily consumption.”

And that’s not really groundbreaking. Except it is.

I’ve had Mr. Money Mustache on the podcast before. I’d love to have him on again. Maybe I should ask him. But for now, I was just thinking about frugality.

We don’t teach frugality here at YNAB, at least not frugality for its own sake. We teach about the importance of lining up your money with what you truly value. But when you value something, you just go for it. No guilt—because your money is working for you, doing things that you care about. And that’s that.

I like nice dress shirts. They fit well, they look good, and they last a really long time. I’d rather have one really nice dress shirt than four that are just okay. They bring me joy, to quote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this book a lot of the YNAB team is reading. A nice dress shirt brings me joy. My mother-in-law is so sick of hearing me say, “This brings me joy,” or, “This doesn’t bring me joy,” because she has anxiety about all the things that we’ve been getting rid of.

But back to Mr. Money Mustache. It’s not about cutting back for its own sake. It’s just about being very aware and intentional about what brings you joy, what you truly love. And it turns out there isn’t a heavy correlation between high levels of consumption and happiness. So there is something there. But there’s also uniqueness within all of us. We’re all very unique and we each have these nuances and quirks and things we love. And I don’t want to be prescriptive around what should bring you joy and what should not. Who am I to judge? Right?

So at the end of the day, we are not frugal for frugality’s sake. People might call us frugal because we’re aware and intentional. And when you’re intentional, you do tend to stop spending money on things you don’t really care about. And a lot of those things that you don’t really care about do end up falling into the “Gosh, that guy’s pretty frugal” camp. If they don’t, that’s okay too.

Just be very, very aware and purposeful about how you are spending your money. Every dollar. Look forward and decide.

And then, for heaven’s sake, don’t be guilt-ridden, don’t second-guess yourself when you finally get to do that thing you’ve been saving for. That’s the reason you’re trading your life for money, so that you can do those things that will really enrich your life.

Gosh, even trading your life for money seems pretty shallow. And maybe that’s where you get to a point where, if you truly see it that way—to quote Joe Dominguez from Your Money or Your Life—then a lot of the consumption does start to look pretty silly.

That’s for everyone to decide on their own. But what’s important is that you’re deciding and not just being whipped around by the next whim or marketing campaign.

For more about how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt and save more money, faster—subscribe to the YNAB podcast today! Until next time, follow YNAB’s Four Rules and you will win financially. You’ve never budgeted like this.