Monday, March 26, 2012

Frugality is Like Dieting

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The more I think about it, the more I realize how much frugality is like dieting. Biggest difference is- I hate dieting, but love being frugal.

So what exactly do frugality and dieting have in common, and what inspired this post?

When I meet new people, I generally get asked what I do, and of course, I end up mentioning that I have a site and a magazine column about helping people save money. And nearly every single time, I end up getting the same question. "So tell me, how do I save money?"
*Insert eyeroll here.*
I almost want to lie when asked what I do, because I hate this question so much. Ok, not so much the question that I hate, but I really dislike answering that question.
At this point, you might be wondering "Why on earth? You have a website on frugality, after all; you obviously enjoy sharing about frugality, so what is your issue with answering that question?"

I'll tell you why I dislike that question, and it overlaps with the frugality and dieting aspect.

There is No Quick Fix. People ask me "How do I save money?" wanting me to give them a little one line tip that will change their monetary situation for the better immediately. It doesn't work like that. Like dieting, no little one piece of advice will change your life. Becoming more frugal is a gradual process; it doesn't happen overnight. Its a lifestyle change that you implement bit by bit, and slowly but surely, you'll hopefully see your monetary situation improve. Same as dieting- you can't lose 100 pounds overnight. If you want to melt away the pounds, it has to be slow and steady. Me telling you "Stop eating cake" is an oversimplification and won't help much, if at all.

Its Not Easy. No pain, no gain. Many people want to have their cake and eat it too. And oh boy, I've used way too many cliches, but you get my point. People want a quick fix solution that'll be easy to implement, that they'll love every step of the way, and not need to get rid of anything they currently have, not change their habits at all. Dieting and being frugal entail making sacrifices; worthwhile sacrifices, in my opinion, but still a sacrifice.
Part of the reason I intensely dislike answering this question is the same reason I won't offer financial advice to people I know who are struggling financially, nor will I give advice to people when someone sends me their way because "they need frugal advice". Frugality takes work, and unless someone is interested in taking the initiative and making the effort, I'm just wasting my time when I give them advice when they're not really receptive to hearing it.
Posting on my site is different, because the people who are coming to read are coming because they want to find out how to be frugal, and are interested in making changes and implementing the tips. (And if they aren't, they tend to not stick around.) When someone just asks me for money tips as soon as they hear my "area of expertise", they haven't made a conscious decision to become more frugal; they're just looking for an instant answer, and want something easy. When they contact me at a later point, on the other hand, asking for advice, I am more than willing to help someone out. Because those people usually are willing to work with me and not just dismiss things as "too difficult".

There's No Pat Answer. No one diet works for the entire population; what works for someone to lose weight may not work for someone else. Dieting is individual, and so is frugality. A full time stay at home mom with 8 kids will need to utilize different frugality methods than a full time working mother of 2 or a college student or a divorced retiree paying alimony to an ex, and where you live and your health situation and so many other factors are at play as well. If you truly want to save money, you have to tell me a bit more about your personal situation so I can give you frugal advice tailored to your life, otherwise my time and your time will be wasted.

Self Control Needed. Both frugality and dieting means not giving yourself everything you want, whenever you want. They require character work, of delayed gratification and working on self control.

Do It Yourself. I can't lose weight for you, and I can't be frugal for you. When people ask me to save them money, often they want me to be the solution to their issue, when in fact, the only person who can solve their problem is them. They can lose the weight, they can lose the money. I may have tips that can help you out, but in the end of the day, you're the one who'll have to do the work, to implement the changes. I can't do that for you.

In some ways, though, frugality IS different from dieting. Fortunately.

Frugality is doable and has longevity. Statistics say that most people who lose weight end up gaining it back again, or never lose it in the first place despite their efforts. On the other hand, most people who learn to be frugal, and implement the strategies wisely, do manage to get their finances under control, and once they do, don't "yo-yo" and "gain the monetary troubles again".

Frugality isn't all deprivation. Frugality is finding more creative solutions that satisfy your needs and emotions without breaking the bank. Often, the frugal choice ends up being superior to the expensive option in ways other than money. Dietetic deserts... less so. Dieting often just means going hungry or going without, not going "an alternate route" as with frugality.

In short...
I know these people are likely trying to make polite small talk when they ask me how I can save them money, and I know that they probably would like to save money, because who doesn't like extra cash on hand, but I vastly prefer giving frugal advice to people who seek out the answers themselves, because then I feel like my advice actually has a chance of helping people, instead of just being shot down because the people aren't really interested in making any changes...

But I think, now that I'm reflecting on it, I do have a pat answer if someone wants a pat answer on how to save money. "Make sure the way you spend your money reflects what is important to you, and that you're not spending more than you're bringing in". That, after all, is frugality in a nut shell.

Do people ask you for tips to save money? In my position, would you be happy to answer such questions, or would you be more reticent, as I am?
Do you think frugality and dieting have much in common? What else do you feel is similar between frugality and dieting? In what ways do you think they're different?

Linking up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Frugal Friday

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