Twice or three times a day, a reader will send me an IM and strike up a conversation on some topic or another. Usually, I find out that we have some sort of interest in common and we spend some time talking about baking or video games or sports or books or Magic: the Gathering, and after that the reader will tell me that they’re surprised that a person like me would find such things fun. When I press further, they usually suggest that someone so in tune with their personal finances must be an absolute bore.
I understand this impression fully and it no longer really bothers me too much. When I first heard it, I found it rather annoying, to tell the truth – why would a person just assume that I’m boring? When I thought about it more, however, I realized that it’s completely reasonable to come to that conclusion, though, for several reasons.
First, the average person perceives personal finance to be as boring as watching paint dry. They visualize balancing checkbooks and paying bills as boring – which it is on that level. I don’t find bill paying or balance checking to be much fun either.
What I do find fun, though, is the human aspect of the outcomes of those tasks. How does my choice today affect my future? How do your choices affect your future? How do we think about money, and how can we easily change that into something more healthy for the long term? These are all interesting questions to me, and I find a lot of personal value in exploring them.
Second, the average person wants the totems of financial success, whether earned or not. Think about it: when you see someone wearing inexpensive, drab clothing or see someone driving an older car, you often assume that they must hold a relatively low socioeconomic status, even though the person inside could be quite well off. Since people typically want to associate with people in their own group or in a higher group, they tend to turn away from people who show signs of being in a lower group.
The immediate assumption of poverty – or at least of a lower socioeconomic status – is one that is ingrained in all of us. We see expensive items as being signs of a person with significant income – and thus a person to pay attention to. The guy in the older car? Not so much. Thus, to openly admit that I drive a truck more than a decade old, and that I intend to drive it into the ground, often paints a picture in people’s minds of someone who is obsessed with saving money over the bounds of good sense. In other words, a bore or a freak.
That’s not the way I look at it, though. My self worth is no longer defined by things like it once was. It’s a difficult leap to make since popular culture constantly reinforces the idea that important and interesting people have expensive things. This leap is something that I constantly wish to challenge. I wish to shout from the rooftops that a person should be judged by the content of their character, not by the contents of their house.
Finally, the average person perceives frugality to be incredibly boring. The idea that one would spend their free time discovering ways to maximize their dollar seems incredibly boring to some and actually negative to others who view such behavior as highly miserly.
To me, spending an hour doing research and then saving hundreds of dollars over the life of an appliance is well worth it. Not only does it directly save me money, but I usually learn something in the process. The same idea goes for making my own laundry detergent or baking my own bread at home or anything else. To me, frugality is about fun – finding things that I enjoy doing that also save me money, or simple things that I can do once that maybe aren’t so fun, but save me money automatically in the future. I’m not really into hanging Ziplocs out on the drying line to get another use out of them – that’s extreme for my taste – but I do enjoy trying these things and finding out the ones that work for me and especially the ones that are fun.
I also don’t deny myself fun things – I do own a Wii and a few games for it, after all. I just don’t go out and buy such items on a whim – I make sure I can afford it and then save for it. This way, when I go to the store and make such a purchase, there isn’t that little hint of guilt there concerning whether I can actually afford the item or not – if I go into a store to buy an expensive item, I know I can afford it and I’ve enjoyed the anticipation of saving up and waiting until the moment is right. It’s quite enjoyable to take home an item that you’ve planned for, thought about, and bought completely with your own money.
In the end, it’s all about perspective. Being frugal and being a careful money manager doesn’t mean boring at all unless you choose to make it boring.