The Realist thinks he has me pegged. He’s right about the 1999 REI Bookpacker Plus backpack, but in his calm by-the-numbers approach he is missing a lot of the reasons frugality is great.. no, not just great.. it’s the only non-ridiculous lifestyle for the thinking person. And this is because for many of the happily frugal, there is a higher cause beyond just money.
There are many reasons why the act of going to a store and Buying Yourself A New Manufactured Product should hurt a little bit. And while we’re all still going to do it, it should be done carefully and after some thought, and after considering the alternatives.
One big reason is The Earth. Many of us feel some sort of love for our planet and a desire to preserve as much as possible of its healthy ecosystem for the rest of our fellow plants and animals to enjoy. Maybe even our children. Well, unfortunately, buying products and preserving the Earth are at great odds with each other. You’re not helping the Earth by buying a Toyota Prius. You just caused the burning of 1500 gallons of fuel and the mining of about eleven thousand pounds of Earth herself, just to produce a car of that size.. before you even buy its first tank of gas. Eating meat, building a new house, and lots of other fun activities are equally destructive. Assignment: Watch a few of the great documentaries like Fast Food Nation and Food Inc., and An Inconvenient Truth.. then you might build up the appropriate level of guilty awareness to take the innocence out of shopping.
But then, you get to cheer up again. Adm Karpinsk has got the solution for you. As luck would have it, not buying things is not only the solution for saving our planet, it is also the solution to your financial problems!
“But what about being happy?”, you ask. “I am buying these products to make me happy. Won’t my happiness level drop if I stop buying them?”
Great question! That brings us to the next Big Reason Frugality is Great: it actually makes you happier, and there’s science to back it up.
OK. As logical people we probably agree that our main goal in life is to be happy. But what does happiness mean? At the lowest level, it means that something in your body is releasing the right chemicals that wash through your bloodstream and make your brain interpret the situation as “good times”. What triggers these chemicals? Usually, things that we evolved to think are good for us – eating rich foods, having various pleasant experiences with potential mates, enjoying social status among our peers, and doing satisfying tasks like nesting, building, creating things. It’s easy to understand how these things contributed to our survival in the past, so our brains evolved to reward us when we do them.
Shopping satisfies some of the later things in that list – you might get social status by having the latest trendy type of shoes, or you might trigger your nesting reward center by buying super cute shelving and accessories to organize your closet. It’s a valid form of happiness, except it comes with the cost of taking away your freedom (money), which makes you have to worry more in the future – and in most cases, the short reward causes a longer period of suffering, so you’re not coming out ahead.
So what is the alternative?
What if you were to write down the top ten activities that make you happy and are good for your long-term happiness and health, then start spending most of your time doing those things? You would probably find that most of them are not expensive, and that they take so much time you don’t have time for the expensive ones.
For example, for me the list would have things like:
– have breakfast with my family every day
– have some playing, learning, reading time with my son every day
– read 1 new book per week for myself
– practice guitar at least 1 hour per week
– work out with weights and ride bikes 3 times per week
– family hike or other outing 2 times per week
– try cooking a new semi-fancy recipe for the family or friends once per week
Wow, wholesome but fun stuff there.. and it already adds up to more than the amount of time I have available!
Like most people, I still have material cravings. And my unconscious mind is automatically trying to rationalize each one even as my conscious mind resists. For example, right now I have inexplicable desires to buy
– a new computer with a gigantic 30″ monitor (for creative pursuits like music-making and blogging)
– an Apple iPad (for the educational games for kids, and around-the-house convenience for us adults)
– a few new high-end tools to add to my already-complete tool set(because I’m a professional carpenter these days… I shouldn’t have to compromise by using any of remaining amateur-grade Ryobi tools even though they still work.. should I?)
– a $200 Zojirushi bread machine (to replace the rattly $10 garage one I use that still works fine)
But I just acknowledge the desires and put the research time needed for those purchases at the bottom of my to-do list. If I get everything else on the list done, I’m allowed to buy those things. Meanwhile I can feel good about leading my existing simple life because the Earth doesn’t want me to buy extra things anyway. See? There is a higher cause.