My Own Private Frugality

I really enjoy reading big collections of frugality tips. Books like The Complete Tightwad Gazette and web pages like 100 Things to Do During a Money Free Weekend are resources that I enjoy browsing through, looking at ideas and imagining how they might fit in my own life. That’s a big reason, actually, that I enjoyed writing my first book, 365 Ways to Live Cheap – it’s essentially a big collection of these tips.

Here’s the interesting part, though: I quickly discard at least 95% of the tips I read – and I don’t even implement most of what’s left. Most of the money-saving ideas that I read simply do not click with me at all – they just don’t fit into my life. They either require too much time, they’re centered around behaviors or activities that I’m not engaged in, they require a living situation that I don’t have, or they just generally sound unappealing.

Given that, it’s not surprising at all that many people find sharing frugality tips to be a big waste of time. If one were to read through a list of 100 tips and find that 97 of them are either useless or redundant, most of the time you’d toss that list straight in the trash can, right?

If I go through a list of 100 tips and find only two that click with my life, that time spent reading the list was well worth it. I spent, say, ten minutes browsing the list, and if I find two tips from that list that really click for me, then it’s been a worthwhile time investment.

Here’s the kicker, though, and it’s the part I really find interesting: the two tips that I find on that list that are interesting and useful to me are likely completely different than the tips you would find that would be useful to you. Our lives are different.

Do you live in a 2,000 square foot house in a rural area with two kids under the age of four? Most likely, you do not – however, you can likely name several attributes of your own life that don’t apply to my life. That doesn’t mean we can’t share ideas, but there are going to be ideas that I have that don’t work for you and ideas that you have that don’t work for me.

This brings to light three useful things when it comes to maximizing frugality in your own life.

First, you don’t have to do everything. Some people tend to see a list of frugal tactics and try to implement all of them, and they then feel like a failure (or blame the list) when they find that most of the tactics don’t really work. Here’s the truth – you don’t have to use all of the tactics you hear. Instead, you’re a lot better off just seeking out the small handful of new and interesting tactics that actually fit your life.

Second, you shouldn’t feel guilty about tips left unused. I know from reader emails (and my own experiences) that people can often make themselves feel bad about not practicing frugality. They’ll see a situation in their life and know that they could be making a better choice to save more money, but they don’t always choose that frugal method – and they feel guilty about it later. In a nutshell, don’t. If you’re actually focusing on not wasting money, yet you occasionally don’t make the optimal choice, you’re not making a mistake, you’re just balancing the values in your life. Take our situation, for example: we often choose to spend much more on food than we could because we value things like organic produce – it may not be the optimal way to save money, but it does match a certain value in our life.

Finally, the most surprising (and useful) ideas often come from people living in very different situations from you. I might find that almost all of the tips shared by a single person living in an urban environment (like, say, Sharon Harvey Rosenberg) don’t apply to me, but suddenly they’ll have one tip that I’d never considered before that really, really clicks for me. That’s why it’s useful to try to gather tips from a wide variety of sources – and it’s why I review personal finance books so often.

The money saving choices you make in your life are based on your life, not mine and not anyone else’s. Your best bet is to always see what others are doing to save money and cherry-pick the tactics that work well in your own life. Don’t use a long list of money saving tactics as a checklist – instead, use it as an idea resource and just pull out the handful that work well with your life. You’ll be money ahead without stress or guilt.

Good luck!

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