I have new Ms Frugal Ears business cards. I am quietly proud of them. On the front I describe myself as writer – frugalista – kitchen cook – mother. On the back I have a picture of my new Ms Frugal Ears logo. Every time I hand them out at networking events, at least one person asks me, “what is a frugalista?” (Others ask me what the go is with the ears. It is because my ex Mother-in-Law, who is Taiwanese and understands the whole Chinese face-reading thing, used to tell me my smallish ears indicate I have a frugal personality. I think it is a compliment, or maybe not.)
What is a frugalista?
Well, quite simply, my interpretation is that a frugalita is what a fashionista is to fashion: I aim to make saving money cool, show that it can be enjoyable and worthwhile. My quest is to make frugal living the latest trend. Frugality challenges me to get the most out of life, the most out of every dollar (every cent, actually). To be mindful about the way I spend my money. To respect my finances and provide a more financially sound present (and future) for myself and my two young boys. To see beyond consumerism and to think more critically about the things I really want. To avoid unnecessary waste, especially food waste, and in the process help the planet as well.
I think frugality is a whole heap of fun. But some people get turned off at the sound of words like frugal, thrift, make-do, and possibly the least favourite word in the dictionary – budget. Many people are conditioned to think of frugality in negative terms such as scrooge, cheapskate, tightwad, penny-pincher, miserly, and mingy. Who wants to be seen as stingy in front of their friends?
For me, frugality is a life style choice as well as a necessity. I choose to live frugally, and have lived that way for a long time, because I like to make conscious decisions about how I spend my money. Why pay more for the same thing? Why part with money for something I don’t need? Why live in a house cluttered with things I don’t need? Why not get joy out of watching your savings grow and know you are creating a safer financial future?
But for some people, however, frugality is a necessity, a fact of getting by. Some people are always in a rut. But sometimes your relatively affluent life can change in an instant and, for a short period or a long time, you can no longer afford the lifestyle you once took as normal.
Mary’s husband was diagnosed with a personality disorder related to a traumatic event that happened in his childhood. His personality changed suddenly and he was no longer the same man she met and fell in love with. After fifteen years of marriage, she asked him to leave after she realized he had stopped taking his psychiatrist-prescribed medication. He started dating another woman the next day, and they moved in together in less than three months. Mary suddenly faced uncertainty about how she would pay the mortgage and raise her two children herself, and financial decisions were complicated by having another party in the picture. She had always been good with money, but her husband had depleted their savings by taking out loans from his family that she had not been consulted about. She decided to sell her home and start again from scratch.
Cynthia discovered, a week before Christmas, that she had a brain tumour. The only surgeon available in her area insisted on taking private health insurance patients; luckily he was able to operate within 48 hours. The out of pocket expenses totaled over $10,000. Thankfully the tumour was not cancerous, but she required nearly three months off work and felt exhausted for months afterwards.
Sarah was working part-time for people who were essentially dishonest. The business was about to go under. They could not pay their taxes, and had not paid staff superannuation. It was a husband and wife business, and their relationship was in turmoil because he was having an affair with a sales consultant. Sarah felt constantly stressed working in that environment, and it was putting a strain on her health. She did her sums and realized that if she lived a bit more frugally she could just scrape by without having to work for them (or anyone) at all.
Why I am frugal out of necessity
Sometimes life can dish out lemons. Buddhism is based on the belief that life is suffering. I remind myself of that sometimes when unexpected and unbudgeted things happen. Frugality has helped me build resilience to get through some really difficult times, to scrape through rather than fold. And to still maintain a savings and investment plan.
I have always been frugal. Even my wedding was frugal, budgeted down to the last dollar. Frugality (and hard work) helped me put myself through university, fund a year’s study in China living in a not-so-luxurious US$2/day shared room, study for another year in Taiwan, save for a house, invest in residential investment properties, get married and now – get divorced.
My ex was mad keen on property investment, and together we accumulated ten properties. This was a source of pride for us both. But it was also a burden to maintain the mortgage repayments, especially as I was the main salary earner. I did not live like a wealthy landowner. Once we served a notice to vacate on a tenant because she was consistently late on her rent. She did not respond to the notice until it was due because she was on holidays. She sent an apology via her iPhone (this was before they were common). It was many years later before I myself had a smartphone. I still don’t have the latest model, nor do I have an iPhone, even though I am an active blogger and Instagrammer. And I rarely go on holidays, and when I do they are short and local.
After separation, there was an anxious few months as I balanced paying large legal fees (payable within seven days!) while still paying childcare fees for two children and servicing ten mortgages. Thankfully my ex was (mostly) responsible and we were able to maintain dialogue about joint bills, and neither of us went out and maxed out credit cards or incurred debts on the other party. My Dad helped with some of the early legal fees. We had a quiet Christmas with re-gifted presents for the kids. They were young enough not to notice.
There are a lot of things about the separation and property settlement that are arguably not ‘fair’. I could be angry and resentful about the need for separation (it was an abusive relationship) and certain financial aspects of ongoing care for the children. Thankfully I am frugal and resourceful and I got through the most critical first year of separation – I celebrated one year just a few days ago while at the Problogger conference on the Gold Coast. I am not financially free and independent yet, and we are still selling off assets and I am still paying legal bills and mortgages. But I can see my investment egg begin to grow again, even if the graph dips up and down, and it is so very rewarding.
I want to be a billionaire. I don’t know yet how it will happen, but I am confident that one dollar at a time I will get there. I don’t think it is a coincidence that most of the world’s billionaires are frugal and good at saving money. When you respect money, it respects you back. It is not about hoarding, but rather a deeper understanding of the value of money, saving it and putting it to good use in sound investments rather than splurging or wasting it.
Passing on the frugal story
I hope you can follow me on my frugal journey. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. And I will be chronicling and sharing it on my site as I go.
And I very much want to learn from other people, from other bloggers, about if you are a frugalista (or passionate about saving money) and if so why. I am now passing the baton to the incredibly talented and artistic Anna-Maria from The Shopping Sherpa, my frugal mentor and fellow garage sale companion in crime Trish from We Love Retirement, and Michael from Spending Hacker.
This article was entered into the 2015 Heritage Bank Savvy Saver Blog Awards.