Firstly and most importantly, I consider myself frugal. I go out of my way to not unnecessarily spend money and I hate waste.
This post is not designed to offend other frugal people or to make anybody feel bad. However, having been reading about other people’s exploits I’m concerned that many people in the frugality/early retirement niches are getting things wrong.
Early retirement and frugality.
Now we all know these are not the same areas.
Many people are frugal because they enjoy not spending the money and enjoy the frugal lifestyle. On the other hand many people are looking to retire early but are not doing it through frugality, rather they are working harder and harder to earn more money. They do crossover, quite considerably especially in my case.
The things frugal people get wrong.
Mistake 1: Valuing money over time.
Unless something changes over the next 40 years, I will be dying at some point. As it stands the average age for a man to pass away in the UK as of 2015 is 79.1. Since 1990 this figure has averaged a rise of 13 weeks per year. If that trend were to continue over the 44 years I have until I reach the current average then I could have another 11 years after that.
Whilst this seems like a long time it’s commonly stated that perception of time speeds up over time. This theory is ably explained in the book (Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past).
So, if we have limited time, which seems to pass faster and faster, why do some people in the frugal community spend so much of their time completing tasks for such small benefit. For example:
Completing online surveys which return less than £3 per hour – Mrs FrugalFox and myself have both been guilty of this. Sitting in our lounge, both on our phones completing surveys for 40 minutes, ignoring each other. All for the total of £4.20 between us.
Doing a bit of calculating, at 5% interest over 15 years (my chosen maximum time at work) the £4.20 would be worth £8.81. To me this is still not worth the time I could be spending with my wife now.
Time should be treated with such high regard, every moment is fleeting.
“Lost time is never found again”
Mistake Two – Focusing on pennies and forgetting the pounds
I’m not sure who first coined the phrase “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. It’s something still to this day my Dad quotes at me.
I can see how focusing on the small things can add up to big things. This is exactly what it means to be frugal. However some people in the community have taken it too far.
I see this time and time again online, people focusing on saving 1p per mile on fuel when driving. The next paycheck spending thousands on a brand new car that instantly depreciates.
People are cutting their cell phone plan by $5 a month but then queuing up and spending hundred of dollars on a new iphone or an exploding Samsung.
It’s great to make these small savings and they certainly do add up over time but if you ignore the £’s or $’s later down the road the savings become worthless.
Mistake Three – Doing things you don’t like to save money.
I’m not talking about work, many of us like our jobs, some of us don’t. I personally love my job, it allows me to travel the world whilst my employer foots the bill. I’m talking about those things we do that we don’t enjoy doing to save money.
I enjoy cooking, however I’m not a huge fan of baking. If I wanted a cherry pie I could in theory buy the ingredients make the pie and do the washing up afterwards.
The mathematics of this just doesn’t add up. In my local store you can buy a decent (probably better than I could rustle up) fruit pie for under £2/$3. Could I make a pie for less? Possibly, but once you add up, gas, electricity, water, equipment wear and tear and ingredients is it really worth it? Would I enjoy this whole process, probably not. Spending the £2 on a pie doesn’t seem so anti-frugal anymore.
Being frugal is about making the best use of your available resources. If you have loads of free time then by all means spend your days completing surveys. Supposing you want a fancy new car or the new iPhone then by all means spend the money. You enjoy baking (or anything else), then carry on doing it.
We all make our choices, that’s what’s great about life in the 21st century, most of us can decide what we do with our time and our money. It’s just I’ll just choose to do things differently than you.
What frugal mistakes do you make? Am I completely wrong? Tell me in the comments below.