I am going to make a bold statement. Ready for it? Here it is!
Frugality is the single most important characteristic in an individual who seeks to attain financial independence.
Take a look at the financial independence expression:
Passive Income > Expenses
By being frugal, you work BOTH sides of this equation. Your expenses are reduced, while your savings rate increases, allowing you to invest in assets that provide passive income.
Have people succeeded without being frugal? Absolutely! Look at Grand Cardone and Donald Trump. They focus solely on increasing their incomes as opposed to reducing their expenses—yet they are still financially independent and live very lavish lifestyles.
Politics is my least favorite topic of discussion, so we will not talk about them here, but look at their reputations. Their followers are split amongst those who worship them and those who detest them.
Instead, let’s take a look at some of the most famous figures who value frugality. There have been many, but I am going to focus on two: Ben Franklin and Warren Buffett.
Ben Franklin was essentially the founder of the financial independence movement. He created the first franchise known to the world, a printing business. He sold half of it and amassed enough passive income through the other half that he was able to retire at 38 years old. At the time, he was very wealthy, yet still spent as if he were poor. This freedom allowed him to pursue his passions and discover a few small things you may have heard of: the lightning rod, bi-focal glasses, electricity, and the United States of America.
Related: A Case Against Frugality: Why Pinching Pennies is NOT the Best Path to Wealth
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, has amassed a net worth of over $85 billion (2018) by being the stock market’s best investor for the past 50+ years. How has he amassed so much wealth? The Snowball is a great book that illustrates this, and you can probably get the idea from the title. He kept his spending significantly lower than his expenses and invested the difference. With compound interest and above-market returns, his investments created the massive amount of wealth he has today.
Let me ask you this: Who would you rather be associated with? Grant Cardone or Ben Franklin? Donald Trump or Warren Buffett?
In this article, my goal is to help create more Ben Franklins and Warren Buffetts in the world. The first step is through frugality. Frugality might seem like a bad word to some. This is largely due to the five myths described below. I am going to debunk them.
Myth #1: Frugality makes you “cheap.”
I recently wrote an article called The 4 Stark Differences Between Being Frugal and Cheap. This article debunks this myth in and of itself. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll leave a summary of the four differences here:
- Someone who is frugal saves money. Someone who is cheap saves money at the expense of others.
- A frugal person happily spends on things of value. A cheap person saves in any possible scenario, at all costs.
- A frugal person values time. A cheap person values money.
- A frugal person looks for value. A cheap person looks for the least expensive.
In other words, a frugal person does not value material items. They do not try to keep up with Joneses. They are perfectly OK driving their used Toyota Camry, finding deals at Goodwill, and packing a lunch. However, they do spend money on the parts of life that matter most to them.
Myth #2: Frugality doesn’t allow you to truly live.
This is the funniest one. I get it all the time. “Craig, you need to live a little.” These people clearly don’t know much about me.
As the song “Live Like You’re Dying” goes, I have been sky diving (in the Swiss Alps), Rocky Mountain Climbing (in Colorado), and even rode a bull (maybe he was named Fu Manchu?). I’ve climbed volcanoes in Guatemala, scuba dived in the Galapagos, and have been all over the United States.
That’s what “living” is for me. Those adventures and the people I meet doing those things are what I live for. You know what I don’t live for? Crappy restaurant food. “Nice” cars. Superficial clothing. Going to the same bar with the same friends every weekend. You get the idea.
It’s not just me. Talk to anyone who values frugality. Compare them to those who spend more lavishly, and I can almost guarantee the frugal person, the one who needs less to appreciate life, is infinitely happier than the lavish spender. They are more fulfilled, have more things that matter, and acquire less clutter.
“The richest man is not who has the most, but who needs the least.” I don’t know who said it, but I love it!
Myth #3: Frugality is too hard.
Congratulations! You are no different than 95 percent of the country. The “too hard, I can’t, it’s too much work” statements that spew out of Americans’ mouths baffles me.
Rather than think of ways to save 50 percent or more of your income, which, if done correctly will likely allow you to “retire” in 5-10 years, you would rather come up with the “it’s too much work” excuse and work 40-50 years.
I’m no mathematician. But it seems awfully clear that you are going to be putting in a LOT more work if these excuses persist.
Related: Living Frugally vs. Spending on What Matters: How I Achieve a Happy Medium
Myth #4: Increasing your income is better than being frugal.
This is a half-fair statement. You can absolutely make more money by increasing your income. However, the trap that most Americans fall into is that immediately as they increase their income, they increase their lifestyles. They reward themselves with a new car or live in a more expensive apartment, etc.
Increasing your income is a great way to go about achieving financial freedom. While there is unlimited scalability, it is far less efficient.
Back to the financial independence expression:
Passive Income > Expenses
Increasing your income only allows you to work one side of the equation. Frugality works both! By decreasing your expenses (right side), you are able to invest in more passive assets (left side).
Not only that, but when you cut expenses, you are saving after tax dollars. Ben Franklin’s quote of a “penny saved is a penny earned” is actually outdated with our current tax system. A penny saved is now 1.33 pennies earned (depending on your tax bracket).
Myth #5: If you have a family, frugality is impossible.
Having a family definitely makes it harder than if you were single. However, frugality is still possible. I am still the last node on my family’s tree (no kids), so I can’t relate. However, let me talk about a few people who can.
Meet Mr. & Mrs. 1500, Mr. & Mrs. Money Mustache, and Mr. & Mrs. Frugalwoods. I could go on, and I promise you do not have to have a “Mr. and Mrs.” in front of your name to be frugal. Let me give you a brief rundown of the 1500s and Mr & Mrs. Money Mustache.
Mr. and Mrs. 1500 started their journey of financial independence with two kids! Once discovering the concept, they set themselves a goal that after 1500 days they would be financially free, mainly through frugality. The 1500s live in a wonderful town outside of Boulder, CO, travel regularly, and Mrs. 1500 just purchased the car of her dreams. It all started with frugality.
Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) is the original frugality badass. MMM worked as an engineer for a few years and quickly realized he was amongst the few that were saving large portions of their income. After “retiring” at 31, he realized he was on to something. This freedom has allowed him to start one of the most successful personal finance blogs in the space, spend unlimited time with his son, and do things he loves to do.
There you have it—five common frugality myths, busted! Now, quit your whining, and take action! Here’s a challenge/action item for you.
Look at your finances, whether you use Mint or Personal Capital, or you just look over your most recent bank statement. Then, determine ONE THING you can cut from your life. This is preferably something with a meaningful impact. Perhaps you can cut your restaurant spending in half? Or maybe you can ditch that silly cable bill.
Whatever you decide, go at least 60 days without it. After the 60th day, if your life is just incomplete without this item, then bring it back in and cut something else out in its place. Run this experiment every single month.
Over the course of the next 12-24 months, these effects will have compounded, and you will have changed 12-24 things that you were wasting your money on. Your life will be optimized. If you’re a median income earner, your savings rate will likely be at or above 50 percent. You will be on the fast track towards financial independence!
Do you find that frugality is a necessary step towards achieving your financial goals? Is it something you struggle with or embrace?
Share your experience and strategies below!