Tracking my expenses is causing some friction between my two selves. Part of me that wants to be Frugality Girl, whose super power is pinching pennies til they scream. Yet I also want to be Low-Stress Finance Girl, who lives a money-aware life without freaking out unduly.
The stress of frugality
It’s not that frugality has to be stressful. But worrying about every dollar spent, always fretting about finding a way around spending money, potentially depriving yourself of every non-necessary thing (damn you, Latte Factor!)… It can lead to tension — especially if you have depression, which tends to lower your tolerance to stress.
So it’s tough sometimes, but it’s not that I don’t want to be frugal. Arguably, I’m already there:
- I cut the cord
- I pay under $5 a month for my landline (because, yes, I’m weird and still have one)
- I pay less than $30 a month for my cell phone
- I don’t eat out as often as a lot of people (though more than I’d like)
- I shop for clothes at thrift stores and (once in a while) Ross or Marshall’s
- I work out at home, no gym membership
- I only get books from the library
- I keep my thermostat at 82 in the summer and 55 in the winter
And so on and so forth. But I don’t feel frugal.
The food issue
Maybe because I’m not cooking. It’s hard to feel frugal when you don’t cook. But the thought of cooking is so overwhelming that it just makes me want to go lie down. Chronic fatigue means that I have a limited amount of energy, and depression means that I have a finite amount of coping. I don’t want to use all of those resources on shopping, chopping, peeling and stirring.
Or maybe I don’t feel frugal because I still eat out about twice a week. Once for takeout and once at trivia.
At any rate, I spent about $70 last month on eating out, and it’s set to be more this month. (More on that in the next spending diary.) I’d say that $70+ in eating out isn’t terribly frugal.
Shut up and take my money
Also, I read about all of these people who DIY their home repairs, while I pay $1,500 for a door to be installed, a sink and counter to be replaced and a ceiling fan to be put up. Or $228 for a mold-laden bottom of a cupboard to be ripped out and replaced.
And this makes me realize that I’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to throwing money at problems, especially house issues. But on the other hand, it greatly increases my quality of life not to have to put up a ceiling fan myself. Could I do it? Yes (probably). But lordy I don’t want to.
So there’s an internal struggle between how much to spend to increase my quality of life and guilt about how much I’m spending. And whether I can truly call myself frugal, even with a savings rate that hovers around 50%.
Living a good life
To be clear, I know that frugality and a high quality of life aren’t mutually exclusive. My mom is proof of that. Many of you are proof of that. You lead good lives and still avoid spending much.
There are a lot of free (or at least cheap) joys in life. It’s just that many of the things I enjoy — attending Meetup.com events, for example — tend to cost me $8 to $20. Which isn’t bad for three to five hours of entertainment, I suppose, but free is better.
Of course, meeting friends for drinks certainly isn’t cheap, but I feel that the time spent greatly improves the quality of my life. And game nights are a great, frugal way to spend time with said friends, but sometimes going out for a few drinks does just sound lovely. So I don’t want to necessarily deprive myself of that, even as I recoil inwardly at the cost.
Asking the hard questions
This slightly rambling diatribe is boils down to this: I’m still getting a feel for how I want live my life now that I’m single.
How much do I want to fret about every penny I spend rather than taking an Uber guilt-free to a party so that I have more than one cider?
How much should I really self-flagellate for eating out two days in a row — in addition to trivia (!) — versus just deciding it’s something I want and that I have enough money to cover that?
Even as I don’t want to get too cavalier about spending money, part of me then gets irked about how much I worry. About how much time and energy I use up feeling nervous or guilty over coughing up money that I can afford to spend. (Though I could also afford to save it, right?)
Push and pull
It’s a near-constant tug of war whenever money comes up. And it comes up often, so it’s really quite exhausting.
I don’t want to be someone who never eats takeout. It’s just that I also want to be the person who never spends money on takeout. You can see my dilemma.
I want a good quality of life, and that means not constantly stressing over every penny spent.
I think I’m getting there. I’m relatively at peace with a lot of the purchases I make because a lot of them are necessary. I mean, I need to mail off taxes. I need lotion (especially in the desert). I need my medications. I needed the tint on the car fixed so I could see out my back window.
What I don’t need is hummus once a week. But on the other hand, do I want to lead a life where a $4.50 hummus that I really enjoy is so forbidden? Meh, kinda.
Let’s make a deal
So I make compromises: I can have hummus every other week. I can take an Uber every second party I attend. I can try to keep drinks out with friends to once every couple of months. But still the worry persists and weighs on me. And it’s exhausting, which means it drains my quality of life.
Some of this is anxiety, which I try to manage the best I can. But some of it is a genuine concern about how much of my life is spent worrying about money — or perhaps how much of it I spend feeling like I’m failing. Sure, my savings rate is great but that has more to do with a high income than super frugality efforts.
And some of it is simply that I’m going out more than I used to. Arguably, out of necessity.
All by myself (don’t wanna be allll byyyy myyyyseeelllf)
Often my ex-husband wasn’t the best company — he was frequently grumpy from pain or depression — but he was company nonetheless. It was human interaction on a daily basis. Divorced and working from home, I don’t get that anymore.
Working at home is great, but also quite isolating. When you work outside the house, you at least some socializing in. If nothing else, you’re around people. For better or worse, in some cases. But the point is you get that interaction. Humans — even introverts — are social creatures, and we need a certain amount of human contact.
I don’t get any of that working from home. In a given day I message back and forth with friends and/or a I get cashier greeting me and wishing me a good day. And… That’s about it. So when I don’t go out once or twice a week, depression starts to creep in.
Thus I’m spending more money on going out to maintain my quality of life. I do it as frugally as I can (while not being a cheapskate at restaurants), but going out and spending money is the opposite of frugal.
Or maybe it isn’t. My mom likes to point out that frugality is about saving on the things that aren’t as important so that you can spend on what matters to you. And to that extent I guess I’m upholding frugal ways.
Because socializing matters to me. Being able to get the occasional takeout matters to me. Cable doesn’t. Nor do designer clothes or a fancy new car. In reality, I don’t spend much compared to the average person. Compared to frugal people, though, I feel like I come up short.
I’m not sure if that’s perception or reality. I won’t truly know until I’ve tracked my expenses for at least one more month. What I do know is that, while I’m desperate to feel more frugal, there’s also only so much I’m willing to cut back on.
As noted above, socialization is non-negotiable. So is my annual FinCon trip, where I get to see all my personal finance blogging friends. And I’m too vain to not color my hair to cover the grays. And I like the other beauty services that cost me $52 a month (even while I don’t love the price tag).
These things, however superficial, help to improve my quality of life — quality I finally have now that I’m free of an energy-draining, sometimes soul-sucking marriage. I don’t want to give up that quality due to peer pressure, especially peer pressure that’s probably mostly (or entirely) in my head.
So what’s the answer?
I don’t know, really. If I did, this post would be a lot less rambling.
I’ll keep tracking my expenses to see if I’m really spending as much as it feels like I am. After all, last month had a slew of unexpected costs (and one ill-advised night out on the town) — which isn’t typical. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think.
Or maybe it is, and I’ll have to make some hard choices about what kind of life I want versus what kind of budget I want. And see which priorities win out.
Do you ever struggle to balance frugality and quality of life?