Overcoming Unjustified Frugality My Way

When is frugality out of place? Far too often, unjustified frugality tries to stop me from spending money on something I want to do or have. And I call it unjustified frugality because there is no financial reason for it. So I’ve developed ways to overcome my unjustified frugality.  Here’s what I mean.                                                                                                                                                                                                         


unjustified frugality can be a chain around my wallet

unjustified frugality can be a chain around my wallet

When is frugality out of place? At what point does it become a hindrance rather than a help? Far too often for my taste, my embedded bent for frugality threatens to get in the way of my spending money on something I want to have or want to do. There is no financial reason for this; there is plenty of surplus money. It is a knee-jerk emotional response. What some might call a Scrooge response. And I’ve had to develop a way to overcome that response so that I can enjoy my discretionary spending without feeling guilty about it.

Unjustified frugality automatically tries to block me any time it looks like I am going to make an unplanned impulse buy of something I don’t actually need. Like the $195 silver-plated Chinese warhorse statue that absolutely grabbed me while I was strolling through a curio shop. Or even the $21 Rome Season II DVD set that caught my eye while doing my regular Walmart buying. And that’s in spite of the fact that my dividend-paying investments generate some $20,000 a year in excess of my basic living expenses. So what the hell is that all about? As it turns out, it’s about self-imposed limits.


Subconscious Spending Limits

My desire for that Chinese warhorse didn’t just come out of the blue. I do collect horse figures and have done so for a long time. But I have done it frugally, with a self-imposed limit of $25 per horse. I also collect DVD movies that I will repeatedly watch – with a self-imposed price limit of $5 per movie. You could say I have given myself automatic “permission” to spend that much on a horse figure or a DVD movie. But not more. At least not without some mental debate and soul searching.

So what happened with the $195 horse statue? I walked out of the store and thought about it while I continued my stroll. Did I really want it? Yes. At any price? No. At what price? $150. Again I had set a spending limit, although this one was a “special situation” one. So on my return walk I went back into that curio store and ended up negotiating with the owner to buy that warhorse for $142 including tax.

And what about that $21 DVD set? I stood in front of it and considered. There were 6 discs in the set. Twelve episodes representing 12 hours of viewing material, which is equivalent to 6 full-length movies. At $5 a movie, that DVD set was a $30 “value.” As it turned out, the Rome II DVD set was already within my spending limit. So I got it.

But why should I set limits at all when it is not necessary?


Ways to Use the Money

Pete from MrMoneyMustache once made the comment with reference to an impending impulse buy of his own that – for him — the item in question might as well not cost anything at all. He explained that, in the context of all the surplus passive income he has over and above his basic living expenses, anything and everything else might as well be considered free because it would be obtained with unneeded money that otherwise would either just sit in cash in a bank account or go into an investment to generate even more unneeded money. Well, at a lower level, I’m in that boat too.

My basic living expenses are now less than $15,000 a year. My sources of passive income generate almost 3 times as much. And I can only think of five things to do with the surplus money.

One, I can increase my basic living expenses. But I am already adapted to and perfectly content with my basic day-to-day lifestyle. I don’t feel any need to “puff” it up.

Two, I can store up the cash in an Emergency Reserve. But I already have such a reserve. Plus a swelling Discretionary Fund.

Three, I can invest the surplus money to generate even more passive discretionary income. But that won’t make sense to me until I get to the point where I am actually spending the discretionary income I have now.

Four, I can give the money away. But I already do that – up to the self-imposed limit I have developed for that.

Or five, I can simply spend it on optional wants. Which brings us back to the topic of this article.

The fact is that, at least in my case, frugality should not apply at all as far as my discretionary spending is concerned. It is unjustified frugality because there is no tactical financial reason for it. It adds nothing to my quality of life – except more unused money. So, what to do?


Sidestepping Unjustified Frugality

If I looked at frugality as something to do on principle and for its own sake, then there would be nothing for me to do (and no issue to be writing about). But I do not see frugality that way. To me, frugality is a financial tactic. A tool. Not a lifestyle philosophy. So I’ve had to find a way to get around my “frugality imperative.”

To sidestep my unjustified frugality, it has become necessary for me to bifurcate my financial management and base my spending on a double standard. For my basic living expenses, my standard is frugality without sacrifice. But for my discretionary spending, my standard is personal want gratification. Or should be.

Operating on this basis is a mental (and sometimes emotional) struggle. But, like anything else, it should get easier with practice. So I spend on. Or at least try.

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image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. “If I looked at frugality as something to do on principle and for its own sake, then there would be nothing for me to do (and no issue to be writing about). But I do not see frugality that way. To me, frugality is a financial tactic. A tool. Not a lifestyle philosophy. So I’ve had to find a way to get around my frugality imperative.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this comment. For me, frugality is definitely more than a financial tactic — it is a conscious decision to live more with less in a world of unconscious consumerism. I do this for reasons of ecological sustainability and psychological wellbeing as much as financial security. Each to their own.

    1. Agreed. Frugality can work as either a life principle OR as a financial tactic. And you and I have each found the way that frugality works best for each of us. It’s all good!

  2. RTW,
    I found you from some comments you made on MMM forums. I’ve now read all your blog posts, thank goodness you haven’t yet achieved MMM prolific levels of posting.

    I love your lifestyle and what you have done. Your ability to live on $15,000 (approximately) per year is outstanding.

    I’m 65, and retiring Dec 1 of this year. I was late getting my shit together monetarily speaking (and in many other ways I’m sure). So I will enter retirement with only about $300,000 investments, plus a $30,000 travel fund, and plus a $54,000 54-month Draw fund until my wife’s social security starts 54 months later. I did manage to get my home paid for, it’s worth about $300,000 and really too big for us.

    My social security will be about $2,675/mo, and I have a small pension of $650/mo, plus $1,000 from my draw fund, means income of $4,325. Our total expenses will be about $2,800/mo, so I’ll be able to save $1,525/mo in retirement.

    You might have noticed from this that I’m not planning to draw anything from my $300,000 investments — I’m just going to let it grow, there’s no need to touch our “nest egg”.
    Anyhow, I love your blog, and subscribed to it. I quit drinking 5 years ago, but might buy me some Chivas Regal in your honor for medicinal purposes only!

  3. Do you have a picture of this awesome Chinese Warhorse? I am also a horse statue collector. I typically don’t buy many new ones anymore, but I like the vintage ones if I happen across them at the right price. Sounds like you got a deal! Way, way cleaner and cheaper than the living and breathing variety. Plus you can typically flip them for more on eBay if you get ever tired of them.

    1. You’re not the only one who’s asked to see the warhorse. I’m going to pix it and use that as the image for this post. Give me a few days to get it together.

  4. So where’s the pic of that famous war horse?:)

    I must say I do think along the same lines – I have a mental barrier to purses above $25. – almost unrealistic in todays world:) But, somehow I do manage to find them in my price range. The last one magically appeared at the HSN outlet store as a Managers special for $19.99 – the same purse they sell online for $139.99 Life is good:)

    Still working my way through your posts and the more I read, the more I feel a kinship with your approach.

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