This past weekend Trent at the The Simple Dollar, one of my favorite blogs, wrote a provocative narrative of how a media interviewer viewed him as a cheapskate and he wouldn’t think of him as a fun person to hang out with because of his frugality. After assuring his audience that he wasn’t a cheapskate, he states that the issue is all about first-impressions, most importantly the immediate assumption that making frugal choices is a negative, or the belief that not spending money and buying products will bring you sadness and ugliness and social failure and career failure.
I’d like to explore the other side of his experience. If you’ve been a regular reader of our blog, you’re familiar with the flippant attitude we have towards our financial situation and money in general. We’re not hardcore frugality enthusiasts, we don’t write about saving money, and we don’t write about how awesome we are because we save for our purchases. For having this stance, we have been vilified, mocked, admonished, and ostracized. Spending money, wanting things, or even having things will not bring doom, destruction, blight, and locusts.
For us, frugality is a tool that we use in order to help us get what we want in life. While we recognize the necessity of money management skills, we’re more of the type to enjoy nice restaurants, go to an art opening, or buy a goofy little trinket for ourselves or each other just to see even a fleeting smile. Frugality is simply a means to an end, not a lifestyle that we feel the need to fully embrace. What bothers me is the almost religious belief that frugality, above anything else, is the key to happiness and success. To spend money is a part of life, not an evil act that must be repented.
What bothers me the most is the incredible amount of self-righteousness found on personal finance blogs. I often see statements on the order of, “Well I saved for the things that I bought, and everyone else just caused the financial meltdown so I’m so much better than you nyahh nyahh,” and it makes me GAG. It is that pretentious frugality that is not fun to be around. No one wants to be around perpetual Debbie Downers and have to restrict their fun.
To me, it seems that frugalists don’t take kindly to hedonism on any level. It is of my observation that a large portion of money-savers are “fun-haters” who frown upon spending cash in order to get any type of happiness. In fact, oftentimes I read statements from frugalists that invalidate others’ feelings of happiness only because of the existence of their debt. Just as some of my most fun times have been when I haven’t spent money, I have a whole bunch of other memories that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t spend any money. Our having debt doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to feel happy, whether it is money-fueled or not.
Much is said on personal finance blogs on “needs” versus “wants”. To many, it seems that self-flagellation in the form of seemingly indefinitely delayed gratification is the only true key to happiness. To have too many wants is a Very Bad Thing. I disagree – having wants is what life is all about. Let’s face it, all one really NEEDS is a home to live in, some food to eat, some clothes to wear, and a pot to piss in. But for the majority of the frugalists, there is a belief that having too many wants will lead to ruin.
I don’t disagree that spending money frivolously is a bad thing when done too much. And yes, having too much debt is a bad thing. The tenets of personal finance are true for everyone. But when debts are paid, retirement is funded, and savings are growing, then who cares what disposable income is spent on? Or should income NEVER be disposable?
Trent gave the example of how a person who is driving a run-down vehicle can be a millionaire. Conversely, why can’t a person who drives a BMW be financially responsible? What if that person saved up for his car? Just because he owns a luxury vehicle he is automatically thought to kick puppies? That guy could possibly be in better financial shape than most.
So before you assume that the Starbucks-drinking, Banana Republic-wearing, Mercedes-driving person is up to his eyeballs in debt, he may think that you’re a total bore. First impressions work both ways.