Notes on Simple Living and Frugality: Part Two, Explaining Your Choices to Others

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Being frugal is a lifestyle and a serious commitment. A lot of people will not like the fact you are frugal simply because it reminds them that they are not frugal. When you choose to make financially responsible decisions, it broadcasts to the world that you are confident and rational—-and therefore able to resist the siren song of consumerism and debt that wreak havoc on so many people’s lives. It means you are strong. But unfortunately, it is human nature for the weak to attack the strong. (Not the other way around, contrary to popular belief). If you demonstrate through your actions, choices, and words that you are committed to making mindful choices about your finances, then it is inevitable that others will attack you for that choice. Even if you don’t tell people that you are careful with money, others will observe your actions. Those actions might mean bringing your lunch to work, managing your own investment portfolio, working hard to pay down debt by closely watching your spending, or if you’re like me, just generally being cheap. (I am generous with my time and frequently buy dinners/coffee for friends, I cook for people, and I even give people things I have made or grown in my garden—-but you will never see me out Christmas shopping or taking extravagant vacations, or driving a car that isn’t paid for in full).

I get a lot of flak from a lot of people about my choice to live life frugally. Granted, I never preach to anyone (except anonymously via this blog) and I never explain my financial choices unless someone specifically asks me about them. But I do frequently turn down invitations to do or buy things that do not fit into my budget or financial goals.  This is where the “flak” comes in.

Most people who complain that I am a “miser,” I’ve found, are people who struggle with debt and are always broke. They are in financial trouble not necessarily because they are low income (though some are), but because they are not mindful about how they spend. (A few lower-income people I know are actually fantastic at saving money!) However, some of the lower-income people I know are among the biggest spenders I have ever seen. (They live mostly on credit, crash with their parents or with generous friends, and devote a lot of time they should be working/developing their careers to expensive hobbies like historical reenactment and travel). I also have a lot of blood relatives who are high earners, yet are TERRIBLE with money. They earn a lot, but they spend it faster than they can make it, and then rail nonstop against anyone they perceive as having more money than they do. (In  some cases, I actually earn less than they do, but I have more cash on hand simply because I don’t blow all my income on non-essentials.)

When someone hassles me for being frugal, I usually try the soft approach first (ie, “Thanks for your concern, but I make these financial decisions for a reason, and that reason is my personal desire to have more cash on hand.” ) Anyone who doesn’t get the hint then gets The Hard Approach.

Here is my description of The Hard Approach. It basically means STFU, I am not going to end up in the poorhouse like you, because I choose to make better financial decisions than that. I don’t say this in so many words, but the tone definitely is this to a T. Or if a facial expression sums it up, here’s one:

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Here us an example of The Hard Approach. I have extended relatives who demanded for years that I drive long distances (requiring overnight hotel stays) to visit them for Christmas every year as part of a mandatory annual family reunion where everyone basically sat around, got drunk, then had to participate in a gag gift exchange that I and several others in my family all hated. But we felt obligated to keep going because this was often the only time we saw several of our relatives. These relatives never once reciprocated by coming to visit me/us or do anything my own family was interested in. They would also buy my kids piles of cheap junk every year that cluttered up our house, broke within days, and were generally unnecessary wastes of money and space. (I never asked for these gifts, and I don’t buy gifts other than dinner or drinks or spa visits for others on purpose; in retrospect I wonder if these relatives were trying to manipulate me into buying them junk in return, which I don’t do.) These relatives always set up these gatherings at inconvenient times, at expensive/tacky locations, and never once accepted any feedback that what they demanded was unreasonable and expensive—especially since many of us had to keep travelling from multiple states away to attend. When we protested, we got snide remarks in response, “You and your big-city jobs, you have plenty of money, YOU ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE TO SPEND MONEY TO VISIT US!” (I mean, can you believe the gall?) These same relatives are addicted to shopping, go to Disney every other year, all their kids dropped out of college and still live at home, and they have three mortgages on their house.

See a pattern here? No wonder I struggled with debt in my early adulthood, because with family financial role models like these, no wonder I was never properly trained on money management as a kid.

After several attempts to end the gag-gift exchange that so many of us in the family hated and also several attempts to get these relatives to actually give a shit about someone other than themselves, I and several other relatives finally just cut them off. We said, “We have spent many years and many thousands of dollars adhering to your way of doing things. You are welcome to visit or call upon us in our location 400 miles away from you, at your own expense, at any time.” Never once have they come to see us, or called, or done anything even remotely considerate. That shows you all that you need to know. It’s not about me, it was never about me, it was always about THEM and their unhealthy/one-sided way of doing things. The mom of this family unit is a bank vice president who got a weekend job at Macy’s to support her shopping habit, and she is still always broke. (This entire sub-wing of my family is always broke, too, and they constantly complain about how I should be able to come see them because I have more money than they do).

Hmm. I wonder why that is . . .

I continue to wish these relatives well, and hope that perhaps one day they will discover the secret of frugality and intentional living for themselves. Hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t preach to them. I don’t see them at all, in fact, and my life is richer for it. When and if they decide to stop living like misanthropic spendthrifts, they would be welcome to be a part of my life again, but not before.

Because that, my frugal friends, is one of the biggest challenges of living frugally and intentionally regarding money. It means not associating with people who don’t respect your choices. If you can make that choice, I guarantee the rest of your frugal journey will be easy.

I remain your Cheap Yuppie Mom.

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