|My super frugal grocery shops- for me a pleasure, for others,|
just barely surviving
This person, however, said that she felt my blog was more surviving, not thriving, since I talk about family cloth, dumpster diving, and getting free chicken frames and such.
Hence this post.
Because I need to explain something that, I feel, is the essence of my approach to life and finances and frugality.
Frugality is not one size fits all. In any way, shape or form.
Not only does everyone have a different financial situation, you can have two people with the exact same income, and frugality for each of them would look different.
Because, at least according to me, the ideal frugal lifestyle is a life in which you live within your means, while at the same time, be happy with where your money is going. If you look at your finances at the end of the month, seeing where every penny went, and you realize that the vast majority of your money was spent on things that aren't important to you, and you didn't spend the money on things that were important to you, you missed the point.
I've written before about the difference between frugality and miserliness, and I think part of that is that miserliness is just penny pinching for the sake of pinching pennies, with no ultimate goal in mind other than seeing how little money you can spend or how much you can hoard. Conversely, frugality is conscious spending, deciding what things are important to you, and cutting back on your expenses for things that aren't important to you, so that you can afford the things that are. In short, I'd call frugality "Put your money where your heart is".
Not only should your version of frugality be different from someone else's, even within your own life, you shouldn't be stuck on one version of frugality and ways of doing things. Rather, you should regularly evaluating your life and priorities and see where money should be spent, and where it can be cut back.
When someone is thriving on a small budget, in my opinion, it means that despite there not being a lot of cash to go around, they managed to prioritize their expenditures so that they figure out how to get and do the things that are important to them, so they don't feel like they are suffering, and instead feel like they are living a life filled with joy and wonderful things.
Frugal bare bones survival, on the other hand, is when your lifestyle means that you aren't able to have the things that are very important to you, where you feel emotionally neglected and feel like you are suffering because of all those lacks.
This can happen because of a few different reasons. It may be because someone didn't sit down with their finances and prioritize what is important to them and what is not, and ends up spending on things that aren't important to them so there isn't anything left over for the things that are their emotional needs. It can happen because there simply isn't enough cash to go around, no matter what, so there's no way to cut back in one area to have extra for another. And sometimes it is because someone's expectations in life are way too high and far above their financial means.
For the first, the fix is relatively easy enough. For the second and third though, the solutions are much more difficult. When there simply isn't enough cash to go around, you need to do something to either cut your expenses drastically, bare bones grocery budget with the bare bones in terms of food, or move to a significantly cheaper home, both of which can be emotionally even harder, and make you feel like you're struggling even more, that you're surviving and not thriving... Or you can do what you can to bring in some extra cash. When we were in that situation, I did anything to earn a buck or two, including working as a cleaning lady, which I didn't enjoy, but at least it brought in money. My husband took on as many extra hours at work as he could, even if it meant coming home exhausted.
As for the third, when your expectations of life and what you need to be happy are well above your financial means, the only solution to that (other than increasing your finances if possible to be able to afford your emotional needs) is to do a lot of emotional work and mindset shifting from what needs are to what are extras and "nice to haves". I'm not claiming this is easy by a long shot. This may very well be the toughest thing you ever do in life, but if you can change your expectations of what is normal and needed even a little bit, it can pay off in the long run tremendously.
One way to help with that is to try to surround yourself with people who live the type of lifestyle you can afford, even if it is far from your ideal lifestyle or how you grew up. When you live around people that have "the good life" and you see them having all the nice things you wish you could afford, it can be very challenging to be the only one without, and jealousy can eat away at people.
Sometimes moving to another location with people who may be with a lower socioeconomic level, or at least whose values are more in line with "simple living" can help you adjust your expectations, because attitudes rub off on people, and you may absorb these via osmosis. If moving isn't an option, social media can either help or hurt in this aspect. Joining simple living and frugal minded and even extremely frugal minded facebook groups and message boards can accomplish similarly to living in such a neighborhood, and reading blogs of bloggers who write on such topics can help.
Conversely, keeping on touch with friends and family members who are "living the high life" when you cannot afford to live that way can make things extra hard. Friends of mine in such situations found that unfollowing them on Facebook, or disabling their news feed on Facebook in general took away a lot of the emotional pain that they got every time they were seeing what their friends were doing that made them have the urge to have similar.
I'll admit that, despite in general trying my best to look at the good I have in life and counting my blessings, and appreciating them instead of looking at what I lack, and really trying to not "keep up with the Joneses", I too was influenced by what I saw my friends and family posting about on social media- when I saw so many people going away on fancy vacations for their tenth anniversary, and mine was fast approaching, a desire for a nice vacation to celebrate turned from something nice to do, that was at the back of my mind to what felt like a real need, emotionally, without which I didn't know how I could manage. It really and truly became an emotional need, which is important to take care of, and fortunately we were able to swing it financially, and it was a wonderful experience. But even so, I noticed how much it affected me to see people talking about that, and I began to understand why people either leave Facebook or shut off their news feed.
I learned a lesson from there. When a local group about home building, that I joined to get ideas about things for our new home, started having posts showing their glamorous kitchens and homes, much nicer and larger than our new home that, until that point, I was really excited about, I decided to stop then and there. I made the decision to not read any posts in the group about people's dream kitchens or how to design their dream home, because I knew the power these things had to influence my attitude.
So back to surviving or thriving, it all has to do with attitudes and perspectives, and what is important to you, not on actually what you're doing. My friend Juli and I were talking about this today, and I realized that while some people may consider family cloth and dumpster diving and getting free chicken just bare bones surviving, for our family it wasn't or isn't. For the record, as much as my family's use of family cloth earned caused us to gain some notoriety, I didn't suffer from it at all, and in fact, preferred it to toilet paper. But for the past few years, we have not had a single drop of family cloth used in our home- its plain old toilet paper, at my husband's request. Dumpster diving, again, isn't something that bothers me in the slightest, and I know people that are wealthy who dumpster dive when they see something nice, because of environmental consciousness or otherwise. And lastly, getting free chicken frames and such from the market doesn't bother me at all.
You know what would make me feel like I was suffering, and wasn't thriving?
If the only things I could afford to feed my family on our budget was legumes and grains as the staple of our diet. I don't feel good on a vegan diet, and even back in the day, when our budget was tighter and I did make lots of vegan meals, I only did a few days vegan food before eating a meal or two of animal proteins, because if I go more than 3 days or so without some animal protein, I end up really feeling the lack and start feeling deprived. I would much rather scrounge around and get free chicken and eat necks and chicken frames and fish heads on a regular basis than eat lentils or beans. Because that's me and my priorities and what matters to me.
I'd also feel really deprived and like I was suffering if I could only afford white sugar, soy or canola oil, and gluten based foods. Healthy eating and gluten free especially is extremely important to me, and I'm happy to cut out so many things financially to be able to buy my healthier products while staying within our budget.
If I had to eat the same foods again and again, if I couldn't afford diversity in my diet and just had a rotating weekly or bi-weekly menu plan, I would suffer. As a lover of good food, I crave variety. If I don't have it, I just lose my appetite. I have no interest in eating the same foods ad nauseum. That would be yet another reason if I had to survive off of rice and lentils or beans I would suffer. The monotony!!! However, because I make things from scratch and forage wild edibles, I am able to really diversify the cuisine that I cook, so that I never get bored from eating the same foods too frequently. Even the same items can be made differently and thereby be less boring to me and enhance my life by cooking a variety of different culture's foods from scratch, especially when made with foraged items that vary by the season and by what I can find. The fact that I buy only produce that is in season in the grocery store means that what comes into my house varies week to week and by the season, so I'm constantly forced to come up with ideas using what I then have available. What would cause one person to suffer (not being able to have their favorite foods) actually enhances my life.
I can go on and on about things that would make me feel deprived, if I didn't have them, but many others are happy to do without (such as- in no specific order- birthday celebrations, date nights, alcohol, desserts, home birthing, trips with my kids, presents, coordinating color schemes in my home, fashionable clothing that fits properly for myself and my kids, not having plenty of reading material, etc...) and what things I do frugally and super frugally that don't make me feel deprived in the slightest (going car-less, dumpster diving, buying second hand, borrowing things, buying cheap quality accessories from China, going to free days at local attractions even if they are super packed, or just going to free events and parks instead of paid ones, making things from scratch, etc...) but what makes me feel deprived if I don't have it, and what makes me not feel deprived even if it makes others feel that way really isn't relevant.
The point is that I figured out what things I'm ok doing without, the ways that I can save money without sacrificing my sanity, and still have the things that are important in my life. If someone wants to be able to thrive and not just survive with their budgetary constraints, they need to figure out their priorities and what things are less important to them that they are willing to do without, and won't feel like they are suffering. I plan on making a mini e-book (for free) to help people figure that out for themselves, but that will take a little time to put together.
In short though- the difference between surviving and thriving is a combination between your perspective and expectations in life, and prioritizing your money so that you can afford the things that are important to you.
Do you feel, currently, that you are surviving or thriving on your current budget? What things do you feel are emotional needs that others may not feel to be necessary? What things are you willing to do without that others may feel are non negotiable?