Notes on Simple Living and Frugality: Part One, The Intangibles


I advocate Simple Living as much as possible. Granted, I am a yuppie with a six-figure salary in an expensive city, and I send my kids to private school, so this is not the homeschooling/homesteading/eat granola/grow-all-your-own-food version of simple living. No, as Cheap Yuppie Mom, (or rather Cheap Muppie Mom, since I’m arguably almost middle-aged) I live the yuppie version of simple living. I am frugal, yet not cheap. I think hard about all the financial decisions I make, but I also choose to work hard at earning a high salary so that I can make the purchases that are most important to me. (like private school and summer camp for my kids) without going into debt.

On the other hand, I adhere to many tenets of simple living. For one, I do not use credit. I do have credit cards, but I just treat them like cash, because I pay my credit card balance in full every month. (I primarily use a cash-back card. and since I use that card to pay for 90% of my spending, I get a lot of cash back—-which I then apply to paying the balance every month—which basically allows me to get paid cash in return for spending money. Nice deal. Note this does not work if you carry a credit-card balance, even only for one month.) I get about $50 in free cash-back money per month. It adds up.

For another, I never pay full retail price for anything. Ever. I use things (like cars, and chairs, and clothes) until they wear out, and sometimes I find ways to fix them after they break so I can use them for even longer. (My husband and I also pay cash for our cars; we currently own an 11-year-old car and a 6-year-old car, both bought new (but at the end of the model year, because discount reasons) for cash; we also have a 14-year-old TV, a 34-year-old dining-room table, a 69-year-old sewing machine, and some kitchen gadgets that are from 70-plus years ago. We haggle with freaking everybody (including the man at the grocery store), to the point it is totally annoying, and shop clerks either eventually give in to make us go away or just throw us out of their store).  I know how to sew, and cook, and clean, and how to bargain-shop for everything from furniture to carpet to vacations. And when I do spend money (or time), it is only because I know that the ROI (That means Return On Investment to those of you new to personal finance) will be substantially more than I put into it.

Which gets into why I spend thousands of dollars per year on a personal trainer.

Now all of you readers out there in Frugal-Nerd-Land are probably laughing at anyone who claims to be cheap, and yet spends big bucks on a luxury item like a personal trainer. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad opinion to have. If you are like most people, and just think hiring a personal trainer is a cool thing to do because you a) want better abs; b) want to work out with someone who is actually in good shape; or c) you just think the trainer guys/gals at your gym are hot, well, then that would not be a good or mindful use of your hard-earned dollars. However, I spent a great deal of time determining why I needed a personal trainer for both financial and health reasons before I hired one. (And health issues always become financial issues eventually). I decided that the ROI of hiring a personal trainer was worth pursuing despite the high monetary cost in my case for the following reasons:

  1. I am a gym rat and was not getting the desired results from my constant workouts. I am of Irish descent (slow metabolism), I have asthma and several other health concerns, and I am also in my 40s (even slower metabolism) so I was looking to partner with a professional who could design effective workouts for me that were also safe for my chronic medical conditions. (Full disclosure: I run marathons, despite having asthma, history of injuries, and a current cancer diagnosis). My trainer has a master’s degree in kinesiology and he designs programs for me that a) work; b) are safe for someone with my health issues; and c) are developed in partnership with my doctors/physical therapists.
  2. I want to avoid some of the preventable health problems that plague my extended family. Most of my direct relatives suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other ailments that are totally preventable. Since I already have asthma, bad ankles/knees, and cancer, I sure as hell don’t want to come down with anything I can prevent, and my trainer helps me with that. Depression also runs in my family and guess what? Exercise is good at preventing depression!  
  3. Staying in shape can actually save you money in the long run.  Staying in top physical condition not only helps reduce unnecessary healthcare spending, it also boosts your mood, boosts productivity at work, and exercise can help you earn more money by making you more productive and focused. (Avid exercisers earn 9% more on average than their couch-potato colleagues). So this is the ROI I was getting at. Since I am staring down some very major cancer surgery and chemo treatment in the very near future, I want to be in the best possible physical shape I can be in before that starts, so I can bounce back from these treatments a lot faster—-and keep working/earning/saving money instead of becoming financially dependent on someone else.

Back to the topic of Simple Living. I have been working with the same personal trainer fairly regularly for about 7 years now, and during that time we have gotten to be friends. He often says that he admires simple living and wants to lead the simple, frugal lifestyle. On the other hand, he’s a self-proclaimed “gear head” who owns a bazillion different fitness items and is always buying more, more, more (At last count he owned 9 bikes, for instance. He also owns a private plane, which is about as Un-Simple Living as it gets, but I digress). Even so, he is an inspirational trainer and frequently asks his clients for advice on things while he dispenses fitness advice to them as part of his job. I have shared a few things with him here and there, like why you should never finance a depreciating asset (like a car or, ahem, a private plane), don’t buy things you already have (like, ahem, another bike when you already have 8 of them), and to try gardening. He hasn’t seemed to put any of my advice into practice yet, but he IS listening to what I have to say and asking for more advice, and that is probably the most important step for anyone seeking a more frugal lifestyle to take. As long as he keeps asking, I’ll keep telling. (Besides, it gives me something else to do besides spew profanity during the hard weight-training sets).

Now that you’ve had a basic lesson in some of the intangible benefits of applying an ROI analysis to every purchase, I’ll pick up next time with Notes on Simple Living and Frugality Part Two: Explaining Your Choices To Others. (And believe you me, most people are not at all receptive to frugal advice/simple living. They think frugal people who avoid debt and are mindful about spending are weirdos. I can tell you some stories.) Stay tuned!

I remain your Cheap Yuppie Mom.



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