I always have a good time reading the latest explanation for how easy it is to save money if you just make a few simple sacrifices, whether it’s your daily latte, your breakfast avocado toast, or whatever other “excess” has seized the imagination of our Baby Boomer media publishing overlords.
But even I was surprised when a reader tweeted me the other day to say “you are brilliant at being frugal.”
Here are all my great frugal living tips
- Instead of buying a morning latte, I make a pot of coffee every morning, which produces roughly 12 cups of coffee. A 24 ounce bag of coffee from Whole Foods costs about $12 (more like Whole Paycheck, amiright?), and lasts about a week. I pay $0.14 per cup of coffee!
- Instead of renting phones from wireless companies and buying into preposterously expensive contracts, I buy my iPhones outright and then pay $55 per month for wireless and data service. I also keep my iPhones for years and years instead of replacing them every one or two years.
- Instead of making car payments, paying for car insurance, and buying gas, I ride the subway and walk.
- Instead of owning a TV and paying for cable TV service (and replacing my TV every few years), I stream, buy, or steal whatever I want to watch.
How much money am I saving?
- If a daily latte costs $4 per day, that’s $28 per week, so I save $16 per week buying coffee in bulk.
- If an iPhone SE costs $499 and lasts 4 years, by paying $55 instead of $100 per month, I make back my “full price” iPhone in about 11 months and every month after I save $45 per month.
- I spend about $100 per month in subway fares, compared to whatever my monthly budget would be as a car commuter.
- I spend $39.99 per month for internet from a local cable internet service provider, that provides no premium channels, no sports, and no news — because they don’t provide any television service at all.
I’m not frugal
The idea of calling this “frugality” is based on the idea that a person starts out life with cable TV, a new smartphone, a cup of designer coffee, and a car. From that maximal viewpoint, everything you don’t do can be credited to your “frugality bank” as some kind of merit you can store up in heaven, or elsewhere.
But I never bought a cup of espresso every day. I never signed up for a never-ending treadmill of mobile phone contracts. I never bought a car, let alone borrowed money to buy a car. I never bought a television, or paid for cable TV service.
I can’t take credit for all the money I’m saving because I think it would be absurd to spend money on the things you spend money on.
I don’t know why you do the things you do
I am struggling, if it’s not apparent, to keep this from coming across as judgmental. But it’s not judgmental at all! I don’t have the slightest interest or desire to sign up for the kind of expensive, ongoing purchases that are apparently treated as normal by your typical Baby Boomer financial columnist.
But you know yourself much better than I do. Maybe a new television gives you the kind of pleasure a trip back home to watch the rodeo gives me. In that case we can agree that neither of our activities is more or less frugal than the other: I spend money to go watch the Western Montana rodeo, you spend money to hang a new 11D TV on your wall.
At the end of the day, I’ve never cut anything out of my life in the name of frugality. I wouldn’t “prefer” to rent a cell phone than buy my own phone and pay for service. I wouldn’t “prefer” to rearrange my apartment in order to liberate a wall I could mount a flat-screen TV on. I wouldn’t “prefer” to drive instead of walk. I wouldn’t “prefer” to drink store-bought espresso instead of my own home-brewed coffee.
But that’s often the language used around frugality: that people should sacrifice something or other in order to meet one financial goal or another. I don’t buy it. I say you can build the life you want to lead from the ground up, instead of tearing somebody else’s ideal life down to the studs.