Updated on 02.20.07

The Freedom Of Frugality

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Clever Dude says:

    I can’t wait until we’re out of debt. The weight of it is almost unbearable.

    I’ve never worried about having money from paycheck to paycheck, but I do worry about the future. I don’t want to be caught with my financial pants down. That means I want to have disposable income that’s not already spent on repaying debt. It also means my wife can go part-time if she wants or needs to. It means we can sell our house and move to a much cheaper area, closer to our families.

    It means alot to not have debt. I can’t wait.

  2. Susan Sabo says:

    Trent ~
    Not only have you broken down the “prison wall” but you have begun to pave the path to financial independence with the bricks from the prision wall! Kudos! That will mean, in time, that you are also not required to work for someone or a company if you don’t want to. You will be able to be more selective about who you work for when. You might even take a hunk of time off while you’re young (I spent 2 1/2 years traveling across the USA & around the world “mid-career”. Unforgettable!)

    Fortunately I’m hanging out at the end of that path to financial freedom and let me repeat what you’ve heard before ~ the view is pretty good from this place! [your passion keeps me coming here tho’ I am where I am… I want to learn your speed-reading skills next!]

  3. Chris says:

    Clever Dude, I feel the same way about my financial situation right now. I’m on the right track, and in only a few months, I’ll be debt free, but the scary thing is that in the mean time, I have little in the way of fallback. I have a few hundred in an emergency account, but if anything larger happens, I’m hosed.

    It’ll be a wonderful feeling to pay off my debts and start putting money into a savings account. Nothing says financial security like 10 grand in a liquid account.

  4. Regina says:

    We’ve taken to a year of no new stuff here – amazing how quickly you realize how much you spend on nothing but things you don’t need! We’ve taken it a step further too – that each time we don’t buy new stuff, that money goes directly to the student loan or a credit card at the end of the month – in addition to what we send normally.

    We also started to pay ourselves each month FIRST, before any bills are paid – 20% of the take-home goes into savings/investment and we have to live on the remaining 80%…and are intent on paying off the student loan this year (six years early), and all the credit cards so next year that extra money we’ll have each month can then pay off the second mortgage. A two-year plan on that and then we’re debt free with the exception of our first mortgage….which we’ll then start to pay down to pay off ahead of time too!

  5. typome says:

    I think it was in the Random Walk to Investing where I read that every dollar not spent is a dollar I won’t ever have to earn again. I really like that quote. The more we buy stuff, the more dollars we have to earn, and the more tied we are to work. Whereas every dollar we save is yet another dollar (plus more with interest!) that we don’t ever have to earn again.

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