Your Money or Your Life: The American Dream – On A Shoestring

YMOYLThis is the fifteenth part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?

This chapter is about frugality – there’s really no way around it. In their words:

Frugality is enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have the use of.

I really, really like that definition. It expresses, succinctly and clearly, the difference between frugal and cheap. Frugality, in the broader sense, doesn’t have that much to do with money. A frugal person doesn’t object in the least to spending significant money on an item provided that item serves a clear purpose in their life and provides serious value.

I also like the quote that “to be frugal means to have a high joy-to-stuff ratio.” That pretty much sums it up – if you’re an avid cook, it’s much more frugal to spend $150 on one kitchen knife that will really do its work than ten knives that will work so-so. Even more, if you don’t spend much time in the kitchen, one cheap general-purpose knife will likely do the trick instead of a set of them that will just gather dust.

The focus here is on creative frugality, though – not just blindly following a checklist of things to do to be “cheap.” It all comes back to that calculation of one’s true hourly wage – how can you extract the most enjoyment possible out of each hour of life energy spent working?

Much of the rest of the chapter focuses on a ton of suggestions along those lines, but the first one, entitled “One Sure Way To Save Money,” is a real knockout.

Stop trying to impress other people.

That’s it. Who really cares what the neighbors think about your car? Is their opinion of the car you drive going to alter your life in a negative fashion?

I used to be rather attached to the opinions others held of me, but I realized that quite often I came across as more genuine when I just really didn’t care what they thought. For example, I don’t talk to people unless I want to, for example, and thus when I do talk, it comes off as truly genuine.

I often get frustrated when I see people prepping themselves to go out in public for an hour or more and it’s justified by saying that it’s because they want to impress others. That, to me, is a terrible justification for such effort. If it makes you feel great, then it’s a worthwhile expenditure of your time and life – if it’s just for others, you’re letting the idle opinions of idle people devour you life. I bathe myself and use hygiene products because they make me feel good about myself and also improve the lives of those people most valuable to me – and thus I view the time as valuable. Otherwise, who cares?

The idea is that you should spend the money you make above the line of base subsistence actually enriching yourself and the lives of others around you in a way that means something – and conspicuous consumption really doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue chapter six, “The American Dream – On A Shoestring,” focusing on the section “Ten Sure Ways To Save Money.” This section appears on pages 171 through 181 in my paperback version of the book.

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