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Does My Frugal Life Make Me Miserable?

This is a response to Trent’s post The Backlash Against Frugality, which itself is a response to Anya Kamenetz Yahoo Finance article Staying Frugal in the Age of the iPhone. The long and short of it is that Anya wrote an article about frugality, and the comments left on it are very, very divided. Although there was a lot of positive, the negative comments unfortunately stick right out.

What really stuck out for me were all the comments calling Anya’s life “miserable.” Most of the negative comments took offense to the idea of Anya buying second hand clothes, and not having a TV. (Since when, I wonder, is the television the only bringer of happiness?)

My own situation is not all that different from Anya’s. In fact, in some respects, I’m more extreme. I’ve been Compacting since January – that is, not buying anything new except for food and toiletries. So I started thinking about it – am I more or less happy now, as compared to before I started compacting?

Before I get into anything, I would like to say that this is entirely non-scientific. There are a lot of other things that have changed in this time period (my job, my major, this blog, the house I live in…), so it’s nearly impossible to tell. Still, it’s worth musing on.

The Television
I’ve spoken before about my ability to live without a television, and I stand by it. I now often forget that I can flip on the television and watch live broadcasts – I’m no longer used to the idea and it almost never pops into my head as an idea for entertainment, or even as a procrastination tool!

Not watching TV has given me so much more time, and flexibility in my time. The television I do watch, I watch on DVD or on syndicated internet – I choose when I watch it. I believe I am much happier having control over my TV instead of being bound to its time slots.

Yes, you could argue that a Tivo would offer me the same benefit, but think about it. I already HAVE that benefit – why would I need to buy a Tivo and pay a monthly subscription for a benefit that I already have?

Second Hand Clothes
Easily the second biggest beef negative commenters had with Anya’s article. I have to admit, I haven’t actually bought any second hand clothes… ever. Not even since I’ve started Compacting. I have a dresser and a closet full of clothes, so the need for new ones simply hasn’t come up.

I have no problem with the idea of buying and wearing used clothing. I’m not sure why it bothers other people, but I can’t see it affecting your level of happiness. I don’t think it matters at all where clothes come from – what matters is how they look and make you feel. If a sweater falls really well on you, does it matter that it came from Goodwill?

Not Buying… Things
I have a “things” problem. Even now, after having moved house and scoured my possessions, trying to only bring with me things that really mattered… I still have too much stuff. Most of my stuff is still sitting in boxes, waiting for me to get around to organizing my new bedroom.

Even having not purchased any “things” in the last 9 months, I still have an entirely messy room with too much stuff in it. Getting more stuff is simply going to compound the problem.

Buying Experiences Instead
I’ve been to more concerts and amusement parks. I’ve gone out with my friends on hikes and seen places in my neighborhood that I had no idea existed. I hang around on my campus and enjoy the free or cheap entertainment ($1 for two comedians this Saturday – I’m so in!). I hang out with my friends and play wacky card games.

Spending less money on things means having more money to spend on life. A few months ago, I tried to think about the thing that matters to me most. It’s not my computer (although sometimes it may seem that way), and it isn’t my collection of all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s my friends and my family.

I love my computer because it’s an easy tool for contacting people. I love my car because it takes me to the places where people are. I love talking about Buffy with people even more than I love watching it. The things I value most in my life are those that help me reach people. I’m happiest just spending time with people. Just last night I had the time of my life… grocery shopping with my friends.

Happiness is not confined to objects for me anymore. I know, it all sounds very cliche. But not spending money hasn’t turned me into an awful miser. I feel much happier having a handle on my money, and I really don’t believe anymore than owning “things” is the road to happiness.

28 responses to “Does My Frugal Life Make Me Miserable?”

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  2. Jeff

    Well said Stephanie. I think we should all take a reality check and figure out what’s important to us. We should then invest our whole lives, not just our money in investing in those things.

  3. Anitra

    It’s funny, I don’t know why people get all grossed out by second-hand clothing. I think it’s a great idea, and I give much of my old clothing to Goodwill.

    I rarely shop at Goodwill & thrift stores, though, because I don’t have the patience. I don’t really enjoy clothes shopping to start with, and I really don’t have the patience to go through racks of oddly-sized clothing looking for one or two pieces that look decent and might fit.

    I’d rather have less clothing and have every item be one that I’m really happy with, even if I have to pay a lot more per item… I’m working on that goal, though my husband thought I was crazy when I came home with a $90 pair of black pants. They’ll be the only black pants I need until they wear out ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Geoff

    Your post amazed and astounded me – there’s only seven seasons of Buffy?

  5. Anya

    Thanks for the post! I really should have done a better job in the article of explaining that I do all these things because I enjoy them and they make me happy. I feel the same way about not having TV: much more free time, and my time is freer.
    I’ve been buying thrift store clothes since I was 12 for the very reason Anitra doesnt: I love clothes shopping! Only in thrift stores can you shop all day, find a bunch of outfits, and only spend $20.

  6. jrochest

    Stephanie and Anya — I couldn’t comment on the Yahoo finance article itself, because I can’t remember my password for the site! I had a similar response to the comments. They were, seriously, tragic: most of these kids refer to salaries under 90,000 as ‘poverty’, and responded to the idea of second-hand clothes and furniture with the kind of horror associated with dumpster diving. The idea that a couple who live in NYC might have better things to do than sit at home and watch TV didn’t occur to many of them (BTW Anya — it was pretty obvious to me that you’d simply trimmed things that you didn’t care about to have money for the things you do care about — like living in the city. I don’t think you needed to explain that).

    The saddest were the comments from those who insisted either that a) the US economy would collapse in smoldering ruins unless everyone, collectively, spends all their income every month or b) that Anya (and anyone else) needed to Make More Money rather than living within her means. The assumption buried in the last two comments is that jobs with very high salaries are easy to get, easy to keep, and are directly correlated to intelligence and capacity. The writers assumed that they will (of course) always make more money year over year, because they deserve it and ‘are worth it’. I think most of the problem is that these kids have never known an economic downturn: when the next one comes, they will rapidly discover that a good salary is neither a certainty nor an entitlement. And if, as sounds likely, they’ve allocated most of their salaries to payments ranging from cars to cell phones, their lives will evaporate with their salaries.

    I’m in my 40’s, and am now, after grad school, making good money and clearing away my student loan debt. But I spent all of my 20’s and 30’s living the life of an artist and student: renting shared apartments, shopping at Goodwill, travelling (extensively) on a shoestring and living on very little money. And you know what? I had a blast — I got to live in fabulous cities all over the world, do fascinating and challenging work, and have *adventures*, which are worth much more than things.

    That kind of existence gives two gifts: freedom and power. Freedom, because I wasn’t chained to CC payments, car payments and loan payments, I could take risks, relocate and try new things, some of which worked, and some of which didn’t. Power, because when you’ve lived on very little but always pulled your weight you know that come what may, you can make a happy, rich and healthy life for not much money.

    I think at least some of the resentment comes from people who are spending their precious youth chained to desks to pay off car loans, student loans and mortgages, looking enviously at someone who isn’t in that kind of bondage.

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  8. Mrs. Micah

    I’m very glad it doesn’t make you miserable. I’m quite happy as well. Those Yahoo posters often sounded ridiculous. They’d clearly never had the fun of going through a thrift store looking for treasure (I don’t buy clothes often, but I do enjoy thrifting from time to time). Or of having a rummage sale/clothes swap where most things are in great shape.

    Besides, if something’s really gross, then I wouldn’t buy it. It’s not like being given clothes, one still has a freedom of choice.

  9. Thrifty Penny

    I’d sacrifice TV in a heartbeat. I consider it a waste of my time. I understand people need to relax, but you can relax other ways.

    I like how happiness is not equated to the number of objects a person owns. I wish more people will realize that.

  10. Meari

    Well said, Stephanie. Frugal should be my middle name. LOL, j/k. My SO gets a kick out of how frugal I am. I just love when people compliment me on my outfit (not knowing that I paid less than $5 at a thrift store). I don’t have cable/satellite because I can’t justify the cost. I rarely have time to sit and watch TV, so the syndicated shows are just fine for me.

  11. Karin Dalziel

    I keep finding the less stuff I buy the happier I am. Stuff, for me, gets in the way of what is important. When I sit down an make priorities for my life, owning a particular gadget isn’t one of them.

    And I’m with you on the TV. I have a TV, but I only use it as a giant computer monitor to watch what I want, when I want. Not that there’s much time with school and work to watch much….

  12. Ashley B.

    I’m so glad I found this blog! I could live without TV too – it’s SO much better watching on the Internet.

    I’m definitely a spender too, but it’s hard not to get sucked into the vortex of peer spending. I try to spend on experiences too, but one of the biggest things I can’t decide about are restaurants – there are a ton of awesome restaurants where I live, but I hate spending money on food.

    Except … I love trying new foods.

    So my compromise has been to avoid spending money on restaurants until this year (senior), and now I’m going to only buy at places I’ve never been to or that really offer a unique experience. Pizza places and fast food are out.

    What do you do?

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  14. mandy

    I think what you’re doin is great. I have been trying to cut down on things for a long time now. I realize how much money I could save. I would like to invest the money I have in my savings. Do you have any suggestions what to invest it in?? Safely that is….


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  16. San Diego Plumbers

    Excellent advice.

    I have since stopped watching TV. Also you suggestions on Buying Experiences rather than objects is a great tool to save money.

  17. Sam Jackson

    Love to know that you’re a Whedonite!

  18. DebtFreeDave

    Being frugal can go both ways. I think it can only work in a mindset of abundance. It you think poor you will stay poor… think rich and you will be rich. I’m not saying to be dumb with your money but I think you need to live a little.

  19. star

    i coudlnt have said it better. wow i have too much clutter and between me and my 9 and 11 yr old i really dont see how we accumulate so much!!!!
    But i am constantly giving to and does that ever make peepz HAPPY!!! they love my designer clothes and toys that my kids have WAY TOO MUCH of and i can free myselft for other things although my Momma keeps sendin me MORE clutter everytime i see her, LOL..she lives so far away that i guess thats how she still spoils me!

    Happy freecycling peepz!
    and think of this alternative to the goodwill. Goodwill has gotten SO PRICEY and ive seen my good donations marked up to more than i paied for them in the first place, also saw workers clam onto the stuff and only put the trashy stuff on the shelves. Goodwill isnt what it used to be

  20. living in a frugal way

    I definitely think that decluttering and stopping the need to consume increases happiness.

    Why buy new clothes why clothes already esixt!! I know that in Vermont there is a great shop calle dplatos closet where they make the clothes all fresh, repaired and clean
    and still cheaper than retail….

    As for TV I only just started watching it again after most of the year without it. I normally just leave the news running in the background.

    You may enjoy the video on my thanks for signing up page…. normally people see it after sign up but I didn’t want to seem like I was pushing for that so here is the link ๐Ÿ™‚ (the guy in the video tried living for a year without buying stuff)



    living in a frugal way’s last blog post..Unlimited free stuff from the web – Coffee & Tea

  21. Zen

    I think as a society, we’ve become too reliant on “stuff”. Living a bit frugal has never killed anyone, and it may just make you more likely to enjoy the simple, free things that life has given us.

    Zen’s last blog post..80 Things That Make Me Happy

  22. Monica

    It’s amazing how we all seem to think & assess situations differently. I think we should all take a reality check and figure out whatโ€™s important to us. We should then invest our whole lives, not just our money in investing in those things that will come and perish.

  23. Top Banana

    Remeber – a bargain is onlya bargainif it is something you wanted anyway.

  24. Matt

    The reality is is that you can’t really make the judgment of whether you’re happier or not. You are experiencing a different kind of happiness, one that is less focused on materialism and consumerism. Is it better? Tough to say. But if it is genuine and experienced happiness then it is real and should be enjoyed for what it is. I know we always tend to compare, and analyze ourselves. I do it all the time. But I realize that my friends who are experiencing happiness with the things they are buying, or doing, are simply getting a different type of happiness that (i hope) works for them. Being a grad student, and having little free time and money – I have to find my happiness in other places: e.g., my successes, teaching, etc.

    The thing is that when you live a less material life you learn to really appreciate thie things you have. I’ve got a new jacket this winter and boy does it do the trick. My old jacket was crummy, and I never would have realized just how lucky I am to have this new jacket. I take care of it, I admire it, and I am proud to have gotten it as a gift.

    My point is, its not what you own. It is what you value. That’s your brand of happiness.

  25. stacey hoffman

    This is a really great post. I sure do understand your point, and the fact is- anyone who feels like this is butting up against the worlds teachings that money and things make people happy- and who teaches the world what the world wants? Marketing execs. They wouldn’t make any money if they couldn’t convince us that we needed the latest cell phone and tv line-up. Or designer clothing and newest model cars.

  26. Deborah

    Stephanie is right on the dot.

  27. quatinn

    I think the main problem people have with this lifestyle is greed. The need to have more than you actually need. I live on the lowest side of everything. If I can get something used versus new, I do it. I haven’t had TV for years and I’m proud to say it. People don’t realize that we live in a socicety of waste and excess and they think the only way they can possibly be happy is to have more than whoever is sitting next to them. The modern media has made fear ridden drones out of the average person. I live with far less than I could and I think I’m happier than most. I don’t have the media telling me to be scared to go outside for one.

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