In my twenties and early thirties, I considered myself a model of frugality. My definition of frugal living included saving, reducing spending, and fiscal restraint. I checked off the boxes for each of these tasks then patted myself on the back for a job well done. I thought highly of my thrifty ways, but I was far from a frugal paragon.
A paragon is a model of perfection, a person who acts in a way we want to emulate. A frugal paragon excels in practicing frugality; they live intentionally to conserve resources and reduce wasteful spending.
I lived by the mantras of frugality in my youth, but my motivations derived from broken ideas. Limiting beliefs about money and a deep emotional attachment kept me on an endless quest to earn more and spend less. I lived frugally, but I was far from a shining example that others should follow.
Failing to Become a Frugal Paragon
I wasn’t living below my means because I understood the value of money. I was doing it because I was terrified of going broke. In the beginning, frugality was a necessity. I failed to notice when it became a choice.
If I could go back in time, I would change my approach to money. I would follow many of the same frugal strategies, but I would do so in a healthier way. What have I learned in the last two decades? What do I know now that I wish I knew long ago?
Choosing Your Lifestyle
You can’t become a frugal paragon by asking yourself how much you need to live. Instead, you must ask, what matters to you?
Why am I seeking a life of frugality? Is it to live stingily or hoard wealth? Or is it because I no longer see the value in buying so much? Or because I see the immense value in buying things that matter to me?
In my youth, I wanted to travel the world and take on big adventures. But now, I’m not so sure about those goals. It turns out I prefer a cozy home to a hostel or hotel room. Nomads don’t need a house. They seek worldly adventures. Shouldn’t I want those things? I don’t.
That means I don’t need to put all of my money in the bank so I can jet-set around the globe. Instead, I can pour my cash into home repairs, gardens, and flowering shrubs.
Frugality is not about deprivation or hoarding money. It’s about recognizing what purchases fill your heart with joy. What makes you happy? Use the answer to that question to guide you.
Living with Less
For years, I held on to possessions I might need one day. I didn’t have the means to buy things on a whim. “What if I can’t afford to replace them?” I thought.
But my belief was misguided. How often did I go into the basement to retrieve antique dishes? How often did I reach for a five-year-old can of paint? An old rug developed a musty smell, and faded white dresses turned yellow in time.
Now I live with less because I see the excess. I don’t need a basement full of unwanted objects. I need fewer possessions than I ever would’ve imagined. Happiness doesn’t stem from restraining ourselves as a form of deprivation. It comes from the realization that we don’t need all the excess stuff in the first place.
It’s not about living on less, reducing your possessions to 100, or letting go of every childhood toy you’ve ever owned. It’s about enjoying a simpler life with less stuff.
In the past, I never bought anything for myself, but now I can spend money without feeling guilty. Because I don’t need much, it’s easier to pull out my credit card when I genuinely want something that will increase my happiness.
To be a frugal paragon, you choose to live with less. It’s not about deprivation. It’s about abundance! Sometimes we subtract from our lives to add to them.
Delaying gratification is a staple of frugality. When you live frugally, you suppress your impulses and save for long-term goals, but what good is frugality if you live in misery waiting to achieve them?
I spent a decade living in a house that felt like it belonged to someone else. I should’ve replaced the fixtures and knocked down the walls, but I didn’t. With time and money, I could’ve turned my home into a sanctuary. Every day I could’ve driven to a place I loved.
What good is constantly denying your happiness? I commended myself for saving but missed the big picture. I should’ve used my money to make my house a home.
That includes removing mismatched furniture and spending more on extra-thick rugs. It means adding beautiful photographs and artwork that have no value beyond the beauty they provide.
To be a frugal paragon, you can’t delay gratification forever. You must choose your values and spend accordingly.
Embracing an Abundance Mindset
We can meet new people, forge new relationships, and broaden our social networks as we give more of ourselves. In doing so, we learn that a big bank full of money isn’t as crucial as a dedicated group of friends.
Understand the Value of Money
We’ve all heard complaints about the latte factor. We’re told not to waste our hard-earned money on a $5 cup of coffee, but what if that steaming mug comes with peaceful tranquility.
What if it provides a few minutes of quiet away from daily chaos or provides a spot to meet up with a former coworker or old friend? Learn to calculate the value of a purchase. Don’t think about the amount of money spent on a cup of coffee. Think about the value it provides.
If mindlessly passing through the drive-thru doesn’t leave you with lasting happiness, ask yourself what will. Cut out that cup of coffee if another purchase or activity will provide you with more joy.
Frugal paragons know to match their discretionary income to their values and goals. They spend selectively on things that provide happiness and don’t waste money on objects and events that fail to better their lives.
What does it feel like to buy an ice cream cone on a warm summer day or complete a home renovation that provides peace and tranquility around your home? Which purchases provide lasting joy? Your answer will be different from mine.
Understand the Big Picture
As I get older, my goals change. Each year, life’s simple pleasures replace the flashiness of youth. I treasure the long walk to the bus stop with my children and look forward to a warm cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter day.
The life of adventure I thought I wanted isn’t something I seek in this stage of life. I’d rather spend the evening around a warm fire than take a trip around the world.
A Model of Frugality
Frugality is not about deprivation. It’s about deriving happiness from simplicity. To welcome frugal living, we must release our fears about money and embrace the belief that we already have more than enough.