Thank God for poverty
That makes and keeps us free,
And lets us go our unobtrusive way,
Glad of the sun and rain,
Upright, serene, humane,
Contented with the fortune of a day.
- William Bliss Carman, The Word at Saint Kavin’s
Every time I don’t buy something I don’t need, I buy something else instead: a little piece of freedom. It’s a feeling that didn’t make any sense to me even a year ago, because I was simply addicted to spending. I thought that this was freedom, that this was the pinnacle of the American dream. I would buy things in search of that little rush of having something new, whether I needed it or not.
When my finances melted down, I realized I had to make some changes and I tried a number of things. I did a one month challenge and found myself absolutely disgusted with how much I was spending on junk each month, but that didn’t stop me from giving in to my addiction and buying junk I didn’t need. I remember sitting alone in my son’s room one night while he was sleeping in his crib, looking around at all of the expensive and unnecessary junk, and crying my eyes out because I didn’t know where the money for groceries was going to come from.
That’s when I finally realized the truth: I was building a prison for myself by buying stuff. Each time I bought myself something I didn’t need, I went a little bit deeper into debt and I put up another steel bar in that prison cell. Each time I spent money on something I wouldn’t use or that I could get cheaper somewhere else, I laid another brick in that prison wall. And I was nearly trapped in this cell of my own making.
It didn’t take me long to find out that the opposite was true, though. Every time I didn’t buy something I didn’t need, I took a brick out of that prison wall. Every time I found a way to reuse something, I removed another bar from my prison cell. And when I looked at my checking account balance after a few months, suddenly I had more than enough money to knock out most of those credit cards – and a few months later, I paid off my truck early.
Now, I have a healthy balance in both my checking and savings accounts and I also have no debt outside of my student loans (no credit cards, no auto loans, no anything). And for the first time in a long time, I can sleep peacefully at night, not worrying about whether or not I’m going to be able to buy groceries this week. My stack of monthly bills is tiny and I now have the freedom to enjoy spending time with my family again without a strong feeling of guilt. I might not have the latest stuff any more, but I was able to pay cash to replace my broken desktop computer a few months ago, and just a week ago I replaced my wife’s almost decade-old laptop (that also had a dead screen; she used an external monitor with it) with a brand new one, also paying cash. No worries, no debts.
Frugality is freedom.