Recently Mrs. Full Time Finance and I have been talking about whether I am a little too stringent on finances. Now, this does not mean she feels I should spend more money, it just means she wonders if I stress too much about whether we will meet our savings goals. This discussion usually evolves into a reminder that our goal for this year is to save 1x our projected retirement expenses, and that we are no where near in trouble financially. We usually end with an interesting twist, a reminder to both of us with a question, are we frugal?
Now, I’ve spoken before on this blog of not being a fan of the word frugality. The word frugal implies self imposed deprivation. However, as you’ve seen repeatedly on this blog I much prefer a focus on only purchasing what we truly value, rather than depriving ourselves. That being said the question of whether living focused on value means I am not frugal is an interesting one.
So What Is Frugal Financially?
Frugal can mean a lot of things to different people. As a purely percentage based analysis we are frugal. We have a savings rate equaling or exceeding 50% depending on which items we consider as income or savings. Note the caveat means 50% is the conservative number. I exclude certain income from both income and savings, like RSU’s as they simply roll directly from company stock to investments elsewhere. I also do not tend to count interest payments on our mortgage or any car payments as savings. In any measure this savings rate far exceeds the norm. So on an expense to income analysis we are what most people would call frugal.
Now some of you recall we are a higher income family. That being said, even in raw dollars we are probably what most people would consider frugal. Consider our monthly variable discretionary expenses. For the purposes of this article I will exclude these expenses from my monthly variable discretionary expenses: Mortgage, Electricity/Heating Gas, Car Payment, Taxes, Health Care, Day Care, Insurance, and large Home Repair/Car Repair (but not normal maintenance or small repairs). Everything else averages about 1K a month or about 12K a year after accounting for things like credit card hacking and other cash back schemes. This means we spend less than 1K a month on things like phone, internet, tv services, gym, food, eating out, gasoline, entertainment, trash, vacations, maintenance and beautification of our home/cars, etc. I’m sure you’d agree that meets most peoples definition of frugal.
Do We Appear Frugal?
However, take a step back and look at say our Facebook page or what we do with the money. Last year for vacation we went to Maine, Germany, and Martinique. We also did some camping trips. This year is looking to be similar.
We eat out once a week, have 3 cars (one of which was bought new 2 years ago and one of which is a newer Corvette), live in a decent size home (albeit 40 years old), and have 2 kids. From the outside looking in we appear to be the big spending Jones. I confirmed as much recently when commenting on a post the other day on what do Personal Finance Bloggers Drive. Guess who had one of the most expensive set of cars… Similarly, at my high school reunion one of my classmates openly asked me if I was rich given all the pictures on my Facebook of exotic locations and high end expensive cars. So by outward appearances we’re not Frugal.
So What is Going On?
How can we only expend 12 K a year on discretionary variable monthly expenditures and yet live such outwardly flashy lives? Easy, we choose things we value and splurge on them. Other items we either do not purchase or we spend very little on. To name a few:
- We eat out once a week. What I did not mention before is we tend to eat out more for convenience than different foods. My wife is an excellent cook and we’re generally not wanting of an expensive dinner while eating out as a result. We also tend to eat out at cheaper times of day like breakfast or lunch. As such we’re spending very little on food as a family of 4.
- We have services like Netflix and Amazon prime instead of cable TV.
- We do a lot of credit card hacking and cash back schemes like Ebates to pay for the travel aspects of our life.
- We purchase new cars but we do so about once every 10 years or so. My Corvette is 9 years old at this point for example.
You get the idea.
So the point here is you can live a happy life based on what you value with little money, so long as you remember to focus on those things and exclude/limit the rest. You can be what some other people call frugal, without depriving yourself of fun and happiness. All you need to do is learn to choose what brings you the most happiness. To do that, take a step back from your life. Do not think about I want this latest item. That leads to too much influence from marketing or your latest whim. Do not even think about a specific thing.
Instead think about how you spend your time. At what times are you the most happy? It’s different for everyone, for my family it’s hiking at some natural wonder. It’s also driving a nice car on a deserted road. Guess what? That’s what you value. Buy more of that and cut the rest out. It really is that simple to get ahead and be happy.
Do you consider yourself Frugal? Do you see me as Frugal based on what I’ve written? Do you know what you value? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
At the end of the day, if you are saving 50% of your income, then you are doing your personal finance job. Who cares if you spend your money on cars or travel? It’s not like it’s going on credit cards… it’s because you have saved your money and been wise about your spending.
I’m saving 50% of my income and believe I’m frugal (or cheap). It’s about having different priorities… I don’t want to spend my money on cable or silly material items and would rather spend my money on income producing assets.
Thanks for sharing.
Great point Erik. There is certainly a point where your being a responsible financial adult.
You are frugal with a twist. I like it. Definitely nothing wrong with spending on things that bring you joy. Especially not if you are still able to maintain such a high savings rate.
I don’t think that there is a standard measurement for frugality as most people’s finance depend on their income. What really matters is one is able to set a living standard for oneself to be able to live comfortably in the present and save a reasonable amount of income to be financially secure when one retires. On top of this, what you save is one thing. How you grow your savings is another. I try to maximize my savings each year, but I also want to maximize the earning potential of my savings too. If I am able to grow my savings at a higher rate (8% or more per year) then I don’t have to save that much every year.
Very true, savings is but one leg of a stool. Investing is another important one and to quote another blogger saving is the third. All three ultimately bring financial success.
Sounds like you are giving your FB friends major FOMO! 😉 I think the point you made about splurging on what is important to you is so important.. We all know the Frugal Police are quick to jump on a large and indulgent purpose but what difference does it make if you spend on a car or go out to eat? You saved your money in order to do so – live and let live!
My biggest expense is travel. I will save all my pennies to be able to visit a foreign country – and when i am there I spend whatever I want, no question. I understand there are some negative connotations with the word frugal but I think that is often because it is confused with being cheap. Frugal to me means saving for what is truly important – delayed gratification if you will. Cheap means saving just to save with no intention of ever spending. Someone looking in might see me as cheap, but I am just saving for what really matters to me. Again, to each their own so get in that Corvette and drive!
Frugal and cheap, despite the connotation are definitely different beasts. When I think cheap I think Ebeneezer Scrooge nickel and dimming his employees combined with poorly made early 80s Chinese plastic toys. Frugal is not necessarily cheap, it’s purposeful. Thanks for the great add.
I like to spend money on things that I value. For the most part I don’t have a lot of wants so it’s pretty easy right now. But down the road there are some bigger toys that I’d love to have. So I’m trying to position myself so that I can afford them in the future.
I’d say that $1k per month on day-to-day spending for a family of four is on the frugal side. It sounds like you are careful with your finances and don’t waste your $$$ on things that don’t provide joy. So perhaps measured frugality.
I’d say that we are frugal in some areas but more free spending in other areas. And I appreciate quality over quantity any day.
Exactly. Measured frugality is a great way to phrase it.
It sounds like you’re frugal but I think most agree it’s more important to be intentional. I don’t buy a bunch of crap I don’t need, but I don’t consider myself frugal at all. What separates me from the truly frugal, I think, is I value time and stress free living more than penny pinching. In other words, I don’t like taking the time to compare offers on small purchases or shopping at big club stores or cutting coupons. Nor do I enjoy worrying about a cup of coffee or a dinner out. If I’m hungry/thirsty, I’ll pay for something.
BTW, where’s the line between frugal and cheap? I was thinking about this one night when eating with friends and I was the only one who didn’t want to split the bill exactly 4 ways and give the waiter 4 credit cards. I find that annoying. Let one or two people pay and we’ll square it up next time, or never, it doesn’t matter.
Not being cheap is definitely a consideration. Being like Ebeneezer Scrooge won’t bring you too many friends or happiness.
I wouldn’t consider myself frugal, but I do consider myself financially savvy. Although I do spend about as much money as most of my friends do, my quality of life is much better. Instead of eating out every week, I go on vacation a couple of times every year. Instead of keeping up to date with the latest gadgets all I time, I spend a ton of money on healthy, low-carb groceries.
Life is all about choices. Thanks for stopping by.
Nice Vette! I wouldn’t say you are frugal. You just like spending money on what is important to you and cut out the things that provide you no value. It just makes you selective with your money.
That is a pretty good synopsis of us. What would you define as frugal?
I’ve used the word frugal to define me but in hindsight, that probably isn’t the best describing word. When I think of truly frugal, it would be something like eating Ramen noodles constantly to save money and selling your vehicles to ride the bus. Kind of like Dividend Manta did when he was saving money to eventually quit his job. I’m certainly not at that level or anything close really.
That’s a lovely Corvette! Is it a manual?
I can’t hardly wait for the Zora (mid-engined) one to come out soon.
And I like your attitude. Of course, I’m trying to justify the NSX! 🙂
Of course, it would be a crime to buy a fun sports car as a manual. I still think you’ll be fine to get the NSX:)
Yes, it’s an absolute crime! Slushboxes are for posers!
Great post! I think it all comes down to percentages. Like Erik said, if you are saving 50% of your income, then being frugal is s moot point.
Thanks Reid. The question this raises though would be where is the cutoff?
It’s amazing how deceptive social media can be, right? I think it drives our consumer culture even more because we’re aware of how so many others are living, or are trying to seem like they’re living. It proves we never know what’s really going on behind the scenes with how others spend their money. Well done! 🙂 And I agree with Erik’s comment above about not wanting to spend money on things that don’t matter.
So very true. What you see is rarely reality.
I think the key point is about living below your income. My household is pretty frugal but we don’t feel we miss out on anything. We get a couple of holidays a year, eat well and have everything we need. We buy quality over price. My car is 15 years old and I maintain it myself learning useful skills. We are totally debt free and that means much more to me than driving a brand new car every few years.
It all comes down to living within your means and understanding where you get the most value out of splurging. What are your goals and values, that should define your spending.