Frugality as a Life Preserver?

In April 2006, our lives were in crisis mode.

We had a ton of consumer debt and student loan debt, yet we didn’t have enough cash in our checking account or savings account to pay the bills. We had a small child at home and all we could see around us was financial disaster.

In that moment, we threw ourselves into frugality as though it were a life preserver. Originally, the idea wasn’t that frugality would lead to significant life changes for us. Instead, we viewed it as something we could focus on in the short term so that we could get our finances in shape.

We sold off hundreds of DVDs and started eating exclusively at home. I got rid of a small mountain of video games I’d collected over the years, as well as some vintage baseball cards and other collectibles. We put a strong clamp on spending more money on entertainment and instead starting using the library and digging through the books and other items we’d accumulated.

It didn’t take long for the impact to make itself known. We knocked out one credit card within a month, and others fell before the end of the summer. For the first time in a long time, we felt in control of our situation again.

At that point, we reached another crossroads. It would have been very tempting to drop many of the frugal tactics we’d started to use.

We had credit cards with no balance on them. Why not go out to eat?

Our student loans were practically evaporating. We could easily splurge on a new game, couldn’t we?

Was frugality a life preserver meant to be discarded the second we were on dry land? It easily could have gone that way.

Instead, we realized that we were actually enjoying the changes in our life. We took a memorable camping vacation in Minnesota with our infant son. We watched a bunch of movies and read several books from the library. We established a routine of taking an evening walk together around our town, pushing the stroller and talking to the people we met. We both learned a ton about cooking at home and, by the end of the summer, we were preparing some pretty tasty meals pretty cheaply in that little apartment kitchen of ours.

Rather than staring longingly at the things we had discarded, we chose to keep our eyes focused on all of the things we had in our life. Yes, I wasn’t buying a new video game every week or a new armload of books every few weeks, and neither was Sarah. Sure, we weren’t going out to eat every other night.

That didn’t prevent us from eating delicious and often romantic meals across the table from each other. That didn’t stop us from reading a lot of books and watching a lot of movies. That didn’t keep us from exploring our neighborhood almost every day. That didn’t keep us from traveling to a new part of the country (for us) and seeing new terrain.

Frugality is a life preserver to toss aside when things are better only if you spend your time focusing on what you’ve given up. When you take that route, though, you wind up right back where you were before you can even blink.

Instead, when you start digging through your life for ways to save, look instead at what you still have – and what you’re gaining.

I gained a big reduction in stress.

I still had plenty of opportunity to engage in my love for reading.

We gained a steady increase in our savings account.

We still had many romantic dinners and wonderful evenings spent together.

We gained stronger relationships with each other and with our child.

In comparison to that, giving up some expensive evenings out on the town and a bunch of spending at a bookstore really didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice.

Frugality is more than a life preserver. It’s a reassessment of your life and what matters in it.

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