The point: being frugal just for the sake of being frugal isn’t being virtuous. It’s being cheap.
Let’s pretend this is the first time you’ve been on the internet, and you feel like you need personal finance advice (one of these scenarios is probably easier to imagine than the other.)
What does the internet tell you to do? Invariably, overwhelmingly, (annoyingly), the internet tells you to be frugal.
Ask any search engine “how do I save money on…”, and you will be bombarded with tips like always making your own coffee at home, never opening the oven door to check on your food, always line drying your laundry, and keeping your thermostat three degrees lower in the winter.
None of these activities are inherently bad, in the same way that “being frugal” isn’t bad. But none of these activities are inherently good.
Self-control is a virtue. Frugality is a tool. Don’t get them confused. Practicing the former is something to admire; practicing the latter is virtuous only if it furthers some other (meaningful) purpose.
The opposite of frugality isn’t convenience; it’s wastefulness. But – and here’s the tricky part – the cult of frugality has conflated the two, and leaves average North Americans with the overwhelming impression that the way to build wealth is to stop buying coffee on the way to work, and that the person who hangs her laundry out to dry is more virtuous than the person who uses a dryer.
Practicing rational frugality lets you consciously transfer money from a less important goal to a more important one. Making your coffee at home instead of buying it on the way to work lets you transfer the money otherwise spent on a daily Starbucks cappucino to something else, like another twenty dollars of groceries. But only if you value the groceries more than the coffee.
Although the internet would like you to believe that frugality is the only answer if you have too much debt, can’t afford to do the things you want to do, or are chained to a job that you hate, it’s not.
Not even close.
If you’re denying yourself conveniences, pleasures, and even necessities without reallocating the savings towards activities that will either bring in more money or create a cheaper, more enjoyable lifestyle, then you’re denying yourself for no reason.
Frugality without a goal in mind isn’t virtuous, it’s stupid.
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