This frugal life I’ve been writing about on the blog is important. In fact, ever since I started writing this blog, I’ve been trying to promote the virtues of frugality. Why spend money needlessly?
I haven’t changed my mind about these things but I did have a unforeseen shift in attitude a couple of years ago.
Several years ago, my eldest daughter came home from the army and we had a wonderful 10 day vacation. We rarely got to see her in those days so when we did, we celebrated. We didn’t spend a ton of money on our vacation but we did let our hair down a little. We went camping at the beach, spent a day in San Diego, went to the movies and ate out a few times. We bought clothes for her and ourselves and other supplies too.
Even though I talk about budgeting all the time, I have to admit that I didn’t budget for that excursion. I do make a yearly allowance for recreation so we could easily afford our family vacation. But the truth is I would have done everything we did even if we hadn’t budgeted for it. This was a big shift for me and quite frankly, I took myself by surprise. I just didn’t care all that much about the money we were spending. I didn’t think about the money. Not at all. And I didn’t feel guilty afterwards either. While we were together, I was just in a constant state of gratitude for my wife and daughters and the life I have.
Now, keep in mind that I didn’t rent out Dodger Stadium or buy my kid a Faberge Egg. But we all did what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. When we were in doubt about spending or buying something, we did it. We erred on the side of spending vs saving.
And you know what? It was the right approach.
This mode of behavior is counter to my nature. I look for value in almost every decision I make. In the past, I’ve had this allergic reaction when our family spending goes outside our budget. I’ve lived for years with the fear that if they spend “unconsciously” we’ll never get back on track. This is black and white thinking and it has no basis in reality. And if you really want to freak out, let me tell you that sometimes it’s actually smart to spend even more than you earn.
I share this story with you for a few reasons. The main idea I think is that there are times to be super vigilant and there are times to be carefree. By being aware of my spending during the day-to-day (something I’m good at) I have the opportunity to enjoy the things that really matter in life without worrying about the money (something I’m working on).
So here’s my question to you; are you able to toggle between frugal and not-frugal in a healthy way? I think the test is how often you swing into the “non-frugal” mode. If it’s once in awhile, I think it’s healthy. If non-frugal is the norm, it could mean there is an opportunity to revisit your spending and make some meaningful changes. Where do you stand on this?
I get it! I am still in debt – battling it every day and at the beginning when I started the journey to debt freedom I counted every penny, felt guilty even spending money on food because – thats a luxury right? 🙂
But I’ve been on this journey a few years now and I’ve learnt that you can’t always count every penny and sometimes – always – family comes first.
My mum came to visit me recently – I bought everything while she was down – you know why? Because she’s always been there for me and I wanted to thank her for it! I covered it – no impact on debt busting and it felt good to know I could treat her for a change! 🙂
You’ve got the right idea! But it took me a few years to come round to that way of thinking! 🙂
Natalya @ Cottage Retreatist
Neal Frankle, CFP ® says
Right on Natalya! And no worries…this took me DECADES!!!!!!! And I still struggle with it. We’re all in this together!
Had you not budgeted for many years, been frugal and made sure that you obtained value for all the dollars you spent before this vacation, you would not have been able to “let go”.
With all due respect, I believe the message should be a little more specific, its OK to be carefree only after you have earned it.
Lastly, on behalf of my kids and their future, please extend our appreciation to your daughter for her commitment to serve our Nation.
I’d have to agree w/your comments. I think your point should indeed be articulated and emphasized. We’ve put in the work, let’s enjoy a little…..right?
People who sign up for email delivery of the blog get a very detailed discussion and action list on taming the budget beast.
Check that out and encourage your sign to work those steps. I think he’ll be amazed at the results.
Neal – You went on vacation! Am shocked…but relieved that you are human. I agree that it is essential to spend in a carefree manner during certain times – graduation, coming home (from Army, in your case), a celebration of some sort – but it is the budgeting that is the most difficult thing to do and which I am trying to teach my boys. My oldest just graduated from college, so I will pass on your words of wisdom…maybe you can blog about the monthly budget idea in a more specific manner that I can pass on to him.
Paul @ FiscalGeek says
Neal completely agree on this one. It’s important to have a plan and a budget, and also a plan when you need to exceed your budget. I have a variety of categories that are sinking funds where I’m carrying balances for when things occur, car repair, Christmas, vacation. So when I need to do something like you did, I can and we readjust the following month. A little buffer is a good thing.
Right on Nancy. I know you “get it”.
Abby….NICE!!!!!!! Your son will never forget that bike and the character he is building will pay big dividends. Thanks.
Thanks for this! I, too, struggle to stop watching every nickel. I recently bought my bike-crazy son a really decent bike (brand new!) from a local bike shop owned by a neighbor. My instinct was to keep on looking for garage sale bargains, but this time? The frugal choice wasn’t the right decision. He loves his bike, and his pride and willingness to take care of it? Worth every cent – even if they had to be pried out of my hands!
Nancy from Mass says
First: Thank you to your daughter for serving. I can only imagine how difficult it is to not have her nearby. Second: sometimes you have to throw the budget away for a week or so to enjoy your family. Same with a funeral. And you don’t have to spend loads of money, sometimes just having a bbq is the best thing.