Baby boomers can remember a time when we paid cash for everything. Unfortunately, we’ve become a country of credit card addicts.
On average, an American has $4,717 of credit card debt. Only 35% of credit card users don’t carry a balance. That means if you pay off your bill every month, like you’re supposed to, you are in the minority.
For most of our lives, my husband and I happily fit into that latter category. We lived debt-free with the exception of a mortgage and at times a car loan.
We wisely stayed out of credit card debt which was incredibly freeing.
Perhaps part of that reason is that we’re baby boomers.
Our generation was taught to stay home if we couldn’t pay for a trip with cash. The same goes with buying new furniture, designer clothes, the latest technical gadget, or unnecessary stuff we couldn’t afford. My father, who went through the Depression as a child, always taught me it was a huge no-no to fall into the trap of credit card debt.
In today’s world, however, it’s oh-so-easy to use plastic to pay for things we want. In addition, even with the best of intentions, sometimes debt is unavoidable. Credit card debt isn’t always a result of a lack of budgeting or over-spending. For example, a medical emergency or the loss of a job may leave people no choice. Recently, my husband and I were forced to use our credit cards for legal expenses.
This turn of events in our financial lives has motivated me to take a closer look at living more frugally. If you’re in debt and tired of the stress or just want to save more money for retirement, to travel, or to pay off your mortgage early, living more simple and prudently is certainly worth a look.
Why Live More Simply?
Living frugally or as a “cheapskate” may have a bad rap. Now, I’m not talking about reusing plastic bags, making my own shampoo, dumpster diving, or foraging through the forest for food like some of the cheapskate websites suggest. Kudos to you who have that kind of self-discipline, but I don’t have the time and patience for all that.
Just some simple lifestyle changes, such as eating out less, carefully considering purchases, and setting spending limits.
Still, making changes is never easy. Trying to adjust spending habits without good reasons to motivate you will likely fail, leading you to return to your old ways. So, let’s dig a little deeper on the benefits of living frugally for some inspiration.
Jeff Yeager has been dubbed the “Ultimate Cheapskate.” In his book, “The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means” Yeager personally interviewed 300-plus self-described cheapskates. He noted that, surprisingly, for the vast majority, their decision to live a frugal lifestyle wasn’t based on money.
“Their attitudes and approaches to money were most often grounded in something bigger, such as spiritual, religious, or ethical beliefs,” Yeager writes in his book. “They weren’t hoarders or people intent on amassing a large bank account for the sake of having a large bank account. Rather, they were people who were content, by and large, with what they already had.”
Let’s examine what inspired these cheapskates more closely. What are some significant benefits of living frugally and debt-free?
Nurture Your Spiritual Side and Help Others
If you live prudently, you’ll have more time and money to help others.
This may surprise you, but frugal people tend to be quite generous when it comes to giving to people in need as well as contributing to charities and other social causes. As you know, helping others is a surefire way to make you happier.
When you’re chasing the almighty dollar and working around the clock to support an extravagant lifestyle, it only stands to reason that your spiritual life will be pushed to the side.
If you’re a Christian, you may be familiar with Bible principles that tout the wisdom of keeping money in its proper place, being humble, content, and grateful, avoiding envy, the value of careful planning, and steering clear of borrowing. Living frugally will help you put all those principles to work in your life.
Living below your means will provide you enough wiggle room to do something meaningful with your money. In addition, when you live frugally you are more appreciative of what you have and learn to make the most of your resources.
Freedom to Live the Life You Want and Retire Early
“Let’s face it- being fashionable and hip is time-consuming,” Brook Raymond points out in his article, Frugal Living: Seven Hidden Benefits. “When you’re intent on always having the best, you have to spend time figuring out what that really means. You have to shop around. You have to read product reviews. You have to flip through consumer magazines to see what other people are wearing, doing, and using in order to get up-to-date on all of the hottest trends.”
True, true. When you’re not trying to keep up with the Joneses, you have more time for what really matters. You’ll be free to follow your dreams.
Debt is a burden that can sink you into despair. It can tie you down to a job you hate or a place you don’t want to live. You can easily become a slave to money and things – spending all your time working to keep up with your neighbors to the detriment of your family and other important relationships.
What’s your perfect day look like? I would bet it’s not slaving at a job all day to pay for things you really didn’t need in the first place. Perhaps it’s waking up without an alarm clock, doing something meaningful with your day, spending time playing with your kids or grandkids, or strolling through nature. Financial freedom is the ticket to do the things you really want out of life.
If you’re older and still saddled with debt, in all likelihood, you’ll watch your retirement dreams slip away.
On the other hand, being frugal now means that you can put more away for retirement. Instead of spending your golden years working, you’ll have the freedom to spend time with your family, volunteer, travel, enjoy hobbies, garden, or any other number of pleasurable activities.
If you learn to live frugally now, you won’t be accustomed to an extravagant lifestyle that you’ll strive to maintain when you’re older. You can live on less and still be happy, which means there’s less to put away.
Sounds good to me!
Benefit the Planet You Live On
Here in California we’re in a severe drought, so our family has saved money and water by using artificial grass in our yard. Oh, I balked at the idea at first, but I adore the low maintenance and the much lower water bill. We also got off the grid with solar power which lowered our electric bill here in the hot desert by about $300 a month during the summer months. We planted our own garden and started a compost pile. Love it. The beauty of all that is it saves us tons of money while we’re helping the environment.
On average, each American creates approximately 4.38 pounds of waste or trash per day. That adds up quickly in an alarming way. If you live frugally, you’ll make fewer purchases which means you’ll throw away less. Instead of automatically tossing out stuff that stockpiles in landfills, you’ll find ways to fix, recycle and re-purpose things. Because you’re grateful for what you have, you’ll refuse to let things go to waste.
You’ll drive your old car for 10 years instead of buying a new fancy one every three years. During that time, you’ll save money so you can buy your next used car without going into debt. You’ll use fuel efficient cars or public transportation, reducing the greenhouse effect and global warming. You’ll find simple ways to use less electricity by turning down the thermostat, flipping lights off when not in use, and planting trees for shade.
You get the picture.
Enjoy the Benefits of Better Health
Obviously, people who live frugally tend to have lower stress levels, which we all know means better health.
In addition, eating simple, healthy meals at home saves a ton of money and is much healthier than fattening dinners at fancy restaurants. Buying fresh food and produce that is in season tends to be cheaper than packaged junk foods.
While saving money on gas, cheapskates walk or bike whenever possible which provides exercise with all its health benefits.
Using homemade cleaning products instead of all those chemicals is healthier and less expensive.
Be Happier, More Fulfilled, and Content
Spendthrifts, compulsive shoppers, and those trying to impress others often picture frugal people as tightfisted, Grinch-like, miserable types who pensively pinch every penny until the day they die.
However, that’s a misconception. Living frugally does not mean a life of deprivation. Quite the contrary, frugality can lead to happiness and make you more satisfied and fulfilled.
As Yeager writes in his first book, “I’m afraid we live in a culture that’s more concerned about amassing a quantity of stuff rather than amassing a quality of life.”
Studies have repeatedly shown that putting experiences before things fosters long-term feelings of happiness rather than brief bursts of excitement.
What have you got to lose? Try living more frugally and reap the benefits. Become part of the “cheap pride” movement. Make cheap the next cool.
Images in order of appearance, courtesy of Mister GC, hyena reality, and Stuart Miles, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.