Sunday, May 14, 2006

Are you "naturally" frugal, or not? (or, Penny Is Hearing Voices!)

Reading Seattle Simplicity's post "Born Frugal" a couple weeks ago got me thinking about natural tendencies towards frugality and thriftiness (or lack thereof). It reminded me of one of Madame X's posts at My Open Wallet a little while ago which totally resonated with me:

I start to wonder if my frugality is actually just a personality disorder, as I seem to suffer from some kind of mall-induced paralysis. When I walk through a mall, I look at every store and start eliminating them as being too expensive, too tacky, or just not what I need right now... It's as if shopping is just something you have to be good at, and I'm not that good at it. This is probably a good thing.

I know that paralysis all too well, and sometimes I'm convinced it's a personality disorder, too! See, Doc, I have this problem where I'm hearing voices... I have a little voice in the back of my head, and every time I think about spending money on something, it speaks up and asks, "Do you really need that? Is it worth the amount of money it costs? Is there anything better you'd rather do with that money? You're gonna regret this..." Every time, without fail.

Now, this is not always a good thing (although on balance I think it's good). For starters, the little voice isn't really about frugality, it's about being cheap. I don't think the selfish/uncharitable connotations of the word "cheap" apply to me, but a big different between cheapness and frugality is wisdom, savvy, and long-term thinking... and that's something I'm still learning and definitely struggle with.

Here's an example: last summer, I needed a new pair of sneakers, and ended up settling on an $8 pair (kind of like these, if you're curious). They were flimsy and had really thin soles, and I thought about choosing more comfortable shoes with good support, but the cheapest athletic shoes I could find were $20, and so my little "cheap voice" pestered me until I picked the $8 shoes. But I do a lot of walking, and after the first couple miles in my new shoes, my feet were hopelessly sore and I was miserable. I ended up going back and getting the $20 sneakers, which have served me very well ever since. But my cheapness wasn't frugal; it cost me an extra $8, with some bonus foot pain.

I think-- I hope!-- that situations like that are mostly because I'm only 24 and have only really been shopping for myself for a couple years... hopefully experience will help transform my cheapness into frugality. I also hope I can learn to turn off those thoughts sometimes, so that I'm able to more fully enjoy vacations and other indulgences without the nagging reminders of how much X is costing me and regrets/second-guesses about whether it's worth it-- and so I can more easily spend money on important things like eating healthy.

In the meantime, I wonder how many of us have this sort of natural, innate "little voice" or force-of-habit or "personality disorder"? I can see it reflected in many pfbloggers' posts-- but then I read others and think, "No way, he/she is not at all like me in this." I actually admire those people tremendously, since their successes in cutting back spending are clearly much more difficult for them than for me, and involve much more willpower. While I am tempted to take lots of credit for how little I spend, that's not really fair because it's largely automatic for me. That paralysis that Madame X mentions takes over, and sometimes it takes more effort to spend than to avoid spending.

How about you? Is being frugal, cheap, a "saver" instead of a "spender" something that comes naturally for you? (I bet you're handling the downsides better than me! How do you do it?) Or is frugality and saving a constant struggle for you? (Good luck, and I admire your hard work!) Or maybe you used to have trouble, but through effort and repetition you've finally trained yourself into new habits... (That's terrific! Any tips?)

I'd love it if you'd share!


J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly said...

You make some interesting observations, particularly about buying cheap and buying quality. That's always a battle for me: Do I buy something inexpensive to save money, even though I know I'll have to replace it sooner? Or do I spend more on a high-quality item that will last a long time? It's usually a judgment call, of course, and for each of us making these sorts of decisions, it comes down to where our personal values lie.

I need to write an entry at Get Rich Slowly about the Quality/Cost equation. It's an important one.

As for being naturally frugual: I am and I'm not. Some things -- like clothes -- I'm naturally frugal about. I cannot make myself spend more than a few dollars for a t-shirt, a little more for a pair of pants. I just can't. UNLESS it's something high-quality. I'll pay a LOT for a nice jacket, but it's got to be something that will last me a decade or more. (No such thing as a t-shirt I'll pay more than ten bucks for, though, and mostly I want them for five.)

On the other hand, I'm not naturally frugal with food, and it's a constant battle to keep myself on-task with the food budget...

Silvermine said...

I totally agree -- I'd say it's the difference between being frugal and just being cheap. ;) Buying more expensive shoes that are worth it because they will last longer or are better quality (and that difference in wualithy is necessary) is still being frugal.

And yeah, sometimes you make mistakes. It's okay. It's just a learning experience for next time. ;)

I should really buy myself a pair of decent shoes too. The ones I'm wearing just about every day must be three years old by now!

mOOm said...

I find it hard to spend money. Am naturally frugal I guess. But when I buy something it has to be good quality. Can't imagine buying sneakers for less than $50!