Living an Enjoyable Frugal Life

“Enjoying frugal living”? Sounds oxymoronic doesn’t it? Bet it does. But it needn’t be. We have grown to believe that happiness comes from having much. But the more you have, the more you realise how much you do not have, in contrast with the people in your new socioeconomic sphere. In the end it is about contentment, not haves. Affordable living brings out more value in life and helps in raising kids who don’t place value and build relationships with their friends based on what their parents have.

Psychological Aspect

Has it ever occurred to you that no one cares what designer clothes you wear or what car you drive, or where you live? That thought should be liberating. We see genuinely well-off folk everyday, and no matter what car they drive or house they own, we feel pretty much indifferent. That is exactly how others feel when they see you. They hardly even notice or care about what you have. Not least because they know that people know no bounds to living beyond their reasonable means. Not least because they know that people can be short-sighted when it comes to long term planning.

In my previous adventure, at one point, everyone I knew at the company was driving. Including the receptionist. Except me, bar the ladies who were helping in the kitchen. An engineer walking to work? That can be pretty embarrassing from someone else’s perspective. Not from mine. Why? I do not believe a person’s value is in what they own. I do not believe that I should be attaching any sort of social class value to myself to begin with. Now that I live where very few people know me, it is even more liberating. Even the barber gives me discount because he somehow preconceived that I am an unskilled employee. He would ask if I “got a day off again even this Saturday” and I would simply say yes. Indeed, I do have a day off on Saturdays. He eventually asked where I stay and where I work, and he didn’t know what to make of it, for many reasons.

Practical Aspect

In the book “The Tipping Point”, Malcom Gladwell introduces the term “mavel”, in the chapter titled “Law of the Few”. He says a mavel is one who accumulates knowledge. He then makes an example of Mark Alpert, who despite being Jewish knew the price of the cheapest ham, and where to find it. I recently met one mavel too. Despite being an architect, he is well versed with engineering, with software, with wines — the following day after meeting him he insisted on taking me to a winery. And off we went! He also told me where to buy the cheapest groceries, and he knows which days are cheaper, and from what time of day. For example, it is common knowledge that retail chain stores drop the prices late in the day, typically after 3 PM. Wednesdays afternoons tend to be even cheaper as vegetables and other perishables expire. It is a perfect time if you do not cook often like me, and you wish to buy something you can have and finish that same day. Here is an example of what I typically buy affordably — at half the price:

R19 croissants for R10 and R40 samoosas for R20

Planning Frugality

To make the most of every aspect of your life you need to plan for it. For example, you want to ensure that you find affordable housing that just meets your needs. You do not need a two bedroom apartment for example as a single professional — or a young couple for that matter. Here is my one bedroom space that has no kitchen (I use a communal kitchen) and no living room.

My one bedroom space with an old tube telly (bottom left corner)

Not everyone really needs a car. If you do not do field work, and you work in the office at an accessible office park, then a car may be a luxury. Not owning a car relieves you from monthly instalments, fuel, insurance, parking fees .. the list goes on. If you do not drive, it is necessary to look for housing in an area with a good transport system e.g MyCiti is very handy in Cape Town because it has dedicated lanes, so it is time-efficient and also quite affordable. As a maven, you would know that the service is almost 50% cheaper before 6:45 AM and after 5:30 PM, and you would save a lot further still. The Gautrain employs a similar strategy in Gauteng — the universal law of supply and demand.

Below is the distance between home and work. Imagine how much more I would have to pay monthly had I to drive daily on the congested roads towards the city. Instead of staring at traffic ahead, I get the opportunity to read a book or update myself with the news while on transit (so that I don’t have to start browsing when I get to work and use time that is not mine).

People think that being thrift is a punishment on your young energetic self when you should be enjoying yourself after a gruelling schooling path, or before you get married. But that is not necessarily true. When you consistently cut on unnecessary expenditures, you get to afford to do things others don’t get to do. Like doing backpacking once in a while, like spending more on those in need in your life, and in your community, like expanding your investment portfolio.

Frugal living is not a burden or a restriction. It is liberal living — living for yourself not others, living on necessities not wants. It is a way to learn discipline and contentment — which are esteemed virtues. It is a noble way to enable yourself to help others.