Finding Joy in Frugality: Understanding and Overcoming the Obstacles

frugal obstacle

Imagine yourself in an ongoing battle against clever marketers exploiting your desires, your human nature compelling you to keep wanting more, and social pressure pushing you to keep up with everyone else.

If you’ve every tried making more frugal choices, you understand this conflict well.

Here’s the thing about being frugal.  It’s not always easy in practice.  

That’s why having a deep down understanding of the upside is key. 

We’ll dive deep into the obstacles, and more importantly, we’ll learn how to overcome them.

Marketers Are Good at Their Jobs

There are some big factors working against you. 

The first is our wonderful economy at work.  A big contributor to the growth of the economy over the last century is marketing.

Companies have giant teams of ridiculously smart people working every day to take more money from you.  Think about this for a minute.  Every day, these people wake up, go to work, and live and breathe ideas about making their companies’ products and services more attractive to you.

They don’t care if it’s the best choice of how to use your money for YOU.  Their job is to push every emotional button, so you give them your money.

Have you ever considered all the data that grocery stores have on product placement, pricing, loss-leaders, coupons and the like?  There are teams of people pouring over this data every day to figure out how to squeeze even more profit from their products and stores.

All of this creates a consumerist culture.  We start believing that our lives will be better if we keep buying newer and better things.

The thing is, it’s a great feeling to learn to spot their tactics in action.  You’ll become more and more aware of your emotions around spending.

Armed with this, you’ll feel much more in control.  This is such a great feeling.

Human Nature Works Against You

The second thing working against you is good old human nature.

We’ve thrived as a species because of our desire to want more.   If we were always happy with what we had, we wouldn’t have made the progress we have as a civilization.

Our ancestors, that always wanted more, were more likely to survive.  The fittest, were continually looking for more food, better shelter, and more resources.  This protected them against lean times.  

There’s a concept called goal gradient hypothesis at work here as well.  Humans keep moving the goal post.  Once we achieve a goal, it doesn’t take long before set a higher goal. We’re generally not happy with what we have very long.

Guess what? Just the awareness of situations in where this is happening to us, can improve our lives.  While goals can be a great thing, enjoying the ride can be even better for our wellbeing.  

If we just keep moving the goal post, we’re never satisfied with where we are, and what we have.

Societal Pressure

Societal pressure to spend takes many forms.  

One of them is that old feeling of keeping up with the Jones’s.

Every time we look around and see something someone else has, that’s nicer than ours, it’s hard not to want those same things.  

When one of your friends buy a new house or car, you may question how nice yours is.  I’ve had this feeling creep in at times when, just before, I’d been completely happy with what I have.

This isn’t always physical things, either.  If your friends go out to eat 3 nights a week, that may make that feel more normal.  You may have the same feeling if your friends go on a couple of expensive vacations a year.  Seeing others doing these things normalizes them.

These days, with social media, these things are thrown in our faces many times a day.  

Seeing everyone’s vacation picture posts, may make you question why you skipped a vacation this year because it didn’t financially make sense.  You know you made the right choice, but still feel the emotional pull to do the same things.

How often have you looked around and thought, how in the world do these people afford to spend on one thing or another?  I do every time we go to a restaurant.  It’s crazy how packed the restaurants around us always are.

At the end of the day, the best way to handle these feelings is to try and step back and get a little perspective.  

There are always going to be people that have more things, or do more fun things.  Of course, there are also always going to be people that have and do less.

Taking stock in how fortunate we are goes a long way in helping us stomp out the desire to keep up.  

Not only does this help us control our desires, but it also helps us develop gratitude.  And more gratitude always adds joy to our lives.

Emotional Spending

Emotional spending is very often an obstacle to frugality.  Good old retail therapy.  It’s been given that name for a reason.

There’s also a real physiological effect on our bodies when we shop.  This study explains why we feel happier when we buy something.  We get a dopamine hit from shopping that lights up our brain to feel that way. 

Of course, the problem is, this is very short-lived.  It’s not long before we have to feed the monster again with more shopping.

Shopping can also be a form of distraction.  Often, we put off doing things we should be doing by shopping instead.

It can be used to distract us from dealing with painful or stressful parts of our lives.  Shopping can take your mind off whatever is bothering you at the moment.

Similarly, when your life feels out of control, shopping can give you a sense of control over something.  

When you spend hours pouring over reviews, comparing prices, comparing choices, you feel like you have it all figured out.  You have complete control over making the best choice.

This can be a great feeling when other things in your life seem overwhelming.

People often buy things to fill a void in their lives.  A good example of this is buying things to impress other people, to feel better about ourselves. 

I love this quote that sums up what filling a void can look like.

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

― Dave Ramsey

When you catch yourself spending for these reasons, take a step back.  Ask yourself what emotional trigger you may be trying to satisfy.

Just remember, these things are like an endless treadmill.  The only way to keep these feelings are to keep doing it over and over.  That dopamine hit is very much like the one you’d get from an addictive drug. 

If we want true happiness in our lives, we need to jump off this treadmill, and stop feeding the beast.  It’s such a temporary high, that leaves us feeling even lower after the high wears off.

Only then can we notice and find other things in our lives that give us lasting happiness. 

Time and Convenience

It often takes more time and effort to spend less money.  

Think about eating out vs. eating at home, for example.  Eating at home takes more effort than showing up at a restaurant.  

Cooking at home takes meal planning, grocery shopping, prep time, cook time, and the dreaded clean-up.  All these things take time and effort.

The same goes for fixing a car, or appliance.  It’s easier to drop your car off to be repaired, or call someone to fix your dryer. DIY takes more effort to learn how to solve the problem.

All things being equal, the low effort choice make sense.

Here’s the thing, though.  Paying someone else to make your meals or fix your things deprives you of the satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment.  

Life isn’t just about making things as easy as possible on yourself.  If everything was given to us, and done for us, life would be pretty boring.

Part of living an enjoyable life includes personal development, resilience, and finding meaning and purpose.

Doing things yourself, and solving your problems on your own, can help you develop all of these things.

Lack of Knowledge or Skills

Frugality is a skill like any other.  If you want to get better at baseball, you play more baseball.  If you want to get better at being frugal, try to make more frugal decisions every day.

This stuff isn’t taught in school.   That doesn’t mean it can’t be learned.  Once you realize that a more frugal life is a more enjoyable life, you’re well on your way.  

Next, you just need to make a plan on how to start working more frugal choices into your life.  

Learning this new superpower can be so much fun.  When we are forced to learn things, like in school, it can be a grind.  However, learning something you’re interested in can be a lot of fun.  

And the learning never stops.  You just get better, and better every day, at spotting the waste in your life.

It’s important to keep all this in mind as we work to gain control over our want and needs.  

It really comes down to keeping the greater benefits we get from controlling our money, at the top of our minds.

If we’re able to do this, we’re much more likely to not see frugality as a chore, but rather a source of happiness in itself.

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