The Taste of Freedom

This morning, I sat in the restaurant at my hotel, eating breakfast. I’ve stayed at this same hotel many times, and thus I couldn’t help but remember things I’d done in the past when staying here.

I remember spending money like it was water several times, going out to eat at ridiculously expensive places. In fact, they were often so expensive that my organization would refuse to reimburse me for the meals, meaning I’d have to pay them out of pocket.

I remember more than once having a credit card rejected on the hotel grounds. Three years ago (or so), I stood in the lobby here, fishing around in my wallet for a credit card that would work and enable me to pay my bill. I finally had to call a secretary at my place of employment and have that person read off a credit card number ot make it work.

I remember going shopping for souvenirs on my first trip here, buying a bunch of unnecessary junk for people that didn’t really want it.

I remember stopping by an ATM once, seeing that I had a large balance, and then using a chunk of it to buy overpriced sunglasses that I wore for about a week.

As I sat there this morning enjoying a reasonably priced breakfast buffet, sipping my orange juice and looking out at the California sun, I realized that I didn’t have any of those worries any more. This trip is actually enjoyable – I’m not worried about a credit card or checking account balance, and I’m not tempted to just go throw cash because I can (or have convinced myself I can). I now realize that I don’t need any of that stuff.

And it makes all the difference in the world.

I don’t think a bagel ever tasted so good.

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  1. Joe says:

    I would suggest using a spell-check – “credit card number ot make it work”?

  2. Stephen says:

    That is pretty much how I felt this christmas when I got only socks and underwear from my wife because there was nothing I wanted.

  3. Jon Morrow says:

    For me, the difference was realizing that time really is money. If you’re making $12 an hour, then a $24 meal at a nice restaurant is roughly equivalent to two hours of your life. I just started asking myself, “Am I willing to work for the next two hours to eat this lasagna, bread, and soda?” Usually, the answer was no.

    Similarly, when I was making a lot of money last year, spending $24 on a meal was less significant. It equated to 10-15 minutes of working time. So then, I asked myself, “Is it really worth 10-15 minutes of my life?” The answer was yes more often, but not by much. On the other hand, spending $60 on a meal with someone I really enjoyed talking to seemed like a great deal.

    Now that I’m not making much of income and living off of savings and investments, the value of a dollar is up high again, so I’m spending less. I’ve gone from eating at 1-2 times a week to maybe 1-2 times a month and inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal. I’m living off of about half of what I used to.

    The more I think about it, frugality isn’t really about minimizing spending. It’s about deciding the value of your time and then correlating that to the amount of money you’re making. If you can do that, then I think things naturally find a balance.

    At least, that’s my take on it.

  4. turbogeek says:

    @Joe — Don’t be a jack-ass.

    @Stephen — Boxers, or briefs? I got the same, and feel the same. Nice, isn’t it?

    @Trent — Great post. I’ve often wanted to see someone, now that I read your blog that person is you, post on the topic of “how a traveling person’s expense account actually costs them money”. I traveled for about 10 years and found that my ‘free stuff on trips’ tended to desensitize me to the value of money. I would buy $40 meals for myself for a week on the road, and expense them; I would then come home and continue to spend at that level with my own cash out of habit. I would also buy myself things ‘because I deserved a treat, because I travel so much’. What do you think? Follow-up post?

  5. LC says:

    I noticed they typo as well but it actually made me think of how rare of an occurance that is on this blog and it made me appreciate Trent’s attention to detail even more.

    Now I don’t feel so bad for buying my husband underwear and socks :)

  6. Rob Madrid says:

    From Wise Bread

    “There are many reasons to to frugal–it’s light on your wallet and light on the planet–but the most important is that it maximizes your freedom.”

    Freedom from finacial stress allows you to enjoy what you have.

  7. Amy says:

    That taste of freedom tastes so good. It is amazing how much your perspective can change towards money when you are being smart with it.

    Enjoy your freedom today, Trent!!

  8. Matt Maddox says:

    I can’t stand shopping because I see it as a waste of both time and money. Although if I were rich I would definitely buy myself a nice big slice of “peace of mind.”

    I like your story. Sounds like a great breakfast in the sun.

  9. jana says:

    interesting – i have had similar observations with my life and spending. especially the part about realising there is a large balance, so one goes to buy something expensive, very good observation

  10. claymeadow says:

    enjoy it while you can because lot’s of US politicians are borrowing money from china to give to pakistan and wall-street fraudsters are papering over their mistakes like it’s christmas present wrapping time all over again… bagels are nice though… remind people to vote with pf in mind…

  11. laura k says:

    Congratulations, Trent! It must be a fabulous feeling.

    @Stephen-not wanting is such an interesting concept – I wonder how it happens. I sometimes wish I wanted just a little something so that I could better support the many small businesses near my house. Many of the business owners donate to a program that I run for the members of my community theater, and I like to stop in periodically and say ‘hi’ and keep my face fresh in their minds. In return for their generosity, I also try to buy a little something (I can easily afford it), but I frequently have a hard time finding anything I really need.

    Maybe Trent could write a post on the effects of non-buyers on the economy. How many of us are there? Are there enough so that our non-buying habits will make the apparent upcoming recession less bad than it would be if we, too, were out there spending beyond our means?

  12. Joe Fischler says:

    I also think that financial stability means freedom. I like the phrase “taste of freedom”. Some of this freedom may be due to the sum of (some sort of) passive income you could accumulate in the past months and years. Although you don’t seem to “lay back” and still post many useful articles on your topic. Greetings from Europe!

  13. Jim says:

    Count me in the ranks of the non-wanter, non-buyer crowd. It truly is a feeling of peace, and freedom.

  14. Sandy says:

    I think I heard on NPR an article about someone who decided to live an entire year without buying anything new but essentials, like food. If I remember correctly, one of the hardest things to get through was when her children were invited to birthday parties…I think she did handmade gifts. I did that also for a few lean years…made beanbags with the child’s name cross-stitched on it and a smiley face…good times…good times…

  15. Frugal Dad says:

    Awesome post, Trent! It’s very inspiring for those of us out here still toiling away with moving a mountain of debt. I realize one day I’ll have a similar experience, and I can’t wait! Have a safe return trip.

  16. Brad says:

    Wow, no wonder the economy is suffering and we’re headed to recession. That poor restaurant owner is going out of business because no one will buy that $24 lasagna….

    That poor sunglass shop is closing down now too….

    There are always two sides to every story……

  17. Lynn says:

    Excellent post.

  18. Urbanfrugal says:

    I too would buy lots of souvenirs that I didn’t need when I when on a trip. Now I but myself one or two nice mementos. Knowing this prior to taking the trip makes me think… is this what I really want to have as my remembrance of my travel? It’s very freeing and doesn’t lighten my wallet as much.

  19. A.M.B,A. says:

    I, too, am like Laura K and Jim – essentially a non-buyer. Our family has more than enough stuff. I hate to shop and my kids (ages 6 and 5) have never been inside a mall. I would like to see a post on this topic as well. Laura K – maybe you can make purchases from the local businesses as gifts for birthdays, holidays, or special occasions coming up? The business wins, someone has a nice gift and you won’t end up with things you don’t need or want.


  20. Reflection is a good thing when you are sitting on the right side of the perspective fence.

    Best Wishes,

  21. Kate says:

    My kids always want to know something that I “want” for Christmas and birthday. My “wish list” always consists of the same things: world peace; donations to charities; a lotion that I love but that is a splurge for me; free-trade, shade-grown coffee that is also a splurge but also the only kind that I will drink (I figure if I feed the birds in my yard that I should take care of them in other parts of the world and that people anywhere should get a living wage when they grow the beverage that gives me that morning lift).
    They haven’t ever made a donation and one of them finally told me why. They hate the amount of mail that it generates! Donations do that–I don’t think I will ever have to buy another calendar or return address label again in my lifetime!

  22. Cheryl says:


    This is why I am a loyal subscriber. You are so “real” and you always give me hope (that I can learn and make good financial decisions) when I need it and affirmation (that I am on the right track) when I need it. I am grateful that I “found” you as I enjoy increasing financial freedom.

    THANK YOU!!!

  23. vh says:

    Ah, the sweet taste of success!

    Because you’re such a fluent and clear writer, you make what you’ve accomplished look relatively easy. But I think we all need to recognize that this huge leap into freedom required a great deal of insight, determination, self-discipline, and work. It’s at once inspiring and awe-inspiring.

  24. JT says:

    Terrific post. For me, it really captures the essence of what money should be about: choices, freedom, and peace of mind, and not about how much you make or how much stuff you have. Congratulations, Trent!

  25. Liz says:

    I used to think that freedom meant buying whatever the hell I wanted and going everywhere /doing everything my heart desired. I now see that NOT making those choices actually increases my freedom by not locking myself into uncomfortable financial situations. I still find that there are many times more expenses than there is $ in the bank, but I now understand better how to manage the expenses, thanks to this blog.

  26. KiranG says:

    I traveled for business a handful of times last year, and even though I was spending the companies money I try to be frugal about it. I never stay at the nicest hotel the company would let me stay at. I ate breakfast one day at the hotel and the buffet was 22 dollars! I never did that again (I was at the hotel for 5 days).

    I am amazed when my coworkers say that they order room service, get valet parking, stay at a more expensive hotel, etc.

    I figure if I’m going to be relatively frugal in my own life, I ought to be ‘non-extravagant’ on the company’s dime.

    Although the biggest expense of traveling is the spoiled food! I came back from my parents after Thanksgiving, went and bought groceries for the next 10 days because I wasn’t supposed to be going anywhere until the second week of December. I get to the office Monday morning, and all of a sudden I’m going the next day!

  27. MJ says:

    To Sandy and others, I enjoyed “Not Buying It, My Year without Shopping” by Judith Levine. (Yes, I know the title should be in italics because it’s a book but that’s not happening.)

    Re: Christmas, our wishes were small this year – flannel sheets and a toaster but how nice it was to put gifts right into service. Usually our gifts languish under the tree until February – wants vs. needs, perhaps?

  28. In Debt says:

    Ah yes. The good old “freedom from want.” FDR would be proud. ;-)

  29. Jillian says:

    I used to have a job where I was on the road 3 weeks out of 4. Eating out can really get tiring when you don’t have a choice. I looked forward to my weeks off when I could just have a bowl of mashed potatoes or a home made sandwich! What can I say, I have simple tastes…

  30. Rachel says:

    I love the replies this post generated. Everyone asked me “What is you new years resolution” I didn’t have one, then it kind of hit me yesterday, 1] reduce spending by 50% 2] reduce my waste by 50%. I am going to my grandons 1st birthday party tomorrow. His gift? an $8.00 outfit off the clearance rack. He got tons of toys for Christmas. This is so far from what many grandparents would spend, maybe as much as $100 or more. I had also made another decision when my dil had twins this past October. I want to make memories with these grandchildren. A small gift of clothing or books to open, then an outing they can hopefully remember, the zoo, a rodeo, visiting some of our many beautiful state parks, etc.. I always had a lot of material things growing up, but not many memories of people who actually spent time with me. I want to give time to my grandchildren.

  31. Ginger says:

    As a small business owner (antiques/vintage items, gallery quality art, photography and locally produced hand crafted totes, scarves and jewelry) I have to say that not spending hard earned dollars on %$#@ at Wal-Mart is great, but buying intelligent, thoughtful gifts for loved ones from a shop like mine is even better. :) You are supporting a small INDEPENDENT business, a family and local artists and their community. Your money is not going to China, the item that you buy will be of very high quality, and hand-crafted, and if it is vintage, also high quality and you’ve saved something from landfill. The need/urge to accumulate doesn’t always lead to overflowing closets and storage sheds…there are ways to collect that don’t take up a lot of space, think stamps, Victorian calling cards, thimbles, etc. Just find out if the person you have in mind collects anything, or start them off with a new collection. Vintage poetry books, or Valentine’s. And when you are downsizing, if you must, don’t just chuck things in the garbage…take them to a local store like mine first, we buy (or trade) all the time, from people who walk in with bags of beads, old books, and the like. Take what’s left to the thrift store. Only real trash should go in the trash.

    Trent, I love your blog, it’s really helped me change direction…and most of all THINK.

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