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Living Frugally vs. Spending on What Matters: How I Achieve a Happy Medium

Elizabeth Colegrove
4 min read
Living Frugally vs. Spending on What Matters: How I Achieve a Happy Medium

Frugality isn’t about being “cheap” — it is about investing in what is important to you and living cheaply in the other areas that you don’t care about. It is about being smart and understanding where you can cut corners and save money.

The truth is, you can live frugally in ANY stage of life with ANY income level!

The reason I say this is because I live it. I consider myself “frugal,” but I am also an “onion” with frugal layers on non-frugal layers. Depending on the layer, I may be willing or unwilling to spend depending on how much that aspect of my life means to me.

Related: I’m a Successful Investor Because I DON’T Seek Perfection: Here’s Why

Splurge “Layers”

  • I have a horrendous Starbucks habit. Guess what? I LOVE Starbucks. It’s my “weakness,” and the best way to make a bad day get better fast. So I am a “frequent flyer” at this institution to the point where the barista knows my order AND name. I have tried to make my own, but no one can beat a Starbucks Chai Tea Latte. So we all laughingly say, see you tomorrow!
  • I love my 2-year-old Toyota Highlander. I have a new car, and I love it! It doesn’t break down, and I feel safe because mechanics aren’t my strong suit. I have a husband who is gone more than home, and I live far from family with friends who have children that I like to visit. So I am happy that I am self-reliant, knowing my car won’t break — AND I love traveling, so yes, I do put miles on the car.
  • I indulge in travel. I love to travel, and staying touch is really important to me since being active duty, we live all over. Over Christmas I did a “Four California City” adventure in two weeks. I have taken three international trips trips since October, AND I have taken three domestic trips since Thanksgiving.
  • I have personal property in the works. We’re currently in the process of buying a 3-bedroom home with an office, a 3-car garage and an amazing pool in the one of the BEST neighborhoods in the town.

After reading my splurges, you can see that my husband and I enjoy life; that at 27 years old, my husband and I are LIVING life up! Would you guess that we own 5 houses, with another 2 planned in the next 3 months? That during our 5 years of marriage, I have only worked a “professional full time position” for less than half of the time?

Now let’s reevaluate those “splurges.”

Frugal “Layers”

  • I have a horrendous Starbucks habit. This is my “habit.” I am not a huge drinker, I eat my lunches at home and I signed up for the “frequent flyer” program. That all aside, there’s no excuse. It’s my human fallibility.
  • I love my 2-year-old Toyota Highlander. My husband and I are NOT mechanically inclined. We also are “new car” people — and we keep them for life. We have jobs where having a car breaking down would damage our careers. So we consider this an investment and acknowledgment to the fact that we aren’t perfect, and while there is room to cut money here, we also drive cars to the ground.
  • I indulge in travel. I love to travel, but I do it really cheaply. I give up my seat whenever possible (made $600 towards my next domestic flight over Thanksgiving). We have a Hilton credit card that allows us to earn status AND points. Therefore, we are to get free hotel nights, breakfast, internet (key for a self-managing landlord) and oftentimes drinks and snacks. We also combine works trips (thank you, this year’s international flights) with personal. This allows us to only have to pay for my flights since my husband is already there.
  • I have personal property in the works. Yes, we are in the process of buying a “nice” personal property. If successful, it is 20% undervalue because we are going through the red tape of a short sale. Instead of living in a nice house for the year my husband was deployed, I lived in a hovel, basically a storage unit with a kitchen and bathrooms. It allowed me to save the downpayment for the house. At the same time, we rented out our previous personal property. So basically, we got our newest personal property for “free” when looking at the downpayment impact. While the rental is $300 higher than our last house, along with high utilities, our previous smart rentals, along with taking career-advancing positions, more than makes up for the cost. It even puts us ahead.

This is only skimming the ice. The point is: choose your battles!

  • Go after the easy money. I am by no means a “couponer,” nor do I exploit every good deal out there. As a working woman building a real estate empire, managing a flourishing website/blog while trying to be a good wife, I don’t have time. Instead, I go after the easy things that make the biggest difference to my lifestyle.
    • Signing up for rewards programs. I sign up for all the easy programs, from Starbucks to Hilton. While I certainly am not perfect, this has allowed me to reduce.
    • Sweat equity. There are all kinds of sweat equity you can put in. While we love fixing up homes, I am not the best “power tool girl.” So I focused on red tape, such as short sales, where I can get the most bang out of my efforts.
  • Spending money to make money. When we were first married, we made it a priority for me to get my Masters degree (part of the non-earning time described above), and for us, that has paid off in spades!
  • Taking advantage of the “lemons,” and making them into “lemonade.” A sucky deployment became a way to save money to purchase my “splurge.” Living across the country became an excuse to travel to explore the surrounding areas, etc.

Related: An Easy, Slow, Low-Risk, & High-Reward Way to Buy Your First Investment Property

While I could keep going forever, the point is: think outside the box! Don’t deprive yourself because you only live once. The point is to know when it is time to splurge and when it is time to buckle down. There have been points in our life when we have had to focus on our goals (obtaining my Masters in 13 months) and other times where we have let our hair down to play.

That being said, we still own 5 houses at 26 years old, and we’re on track for 7 by 27! So playing can’t be all that bad, right?

So what are your splurges, what do you stay frugal with, and where do you hope that your “balance” will take you?

Leave your comments below!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.