Our frugal philosophy

In our first post on our lifestyle approach, we mentioned the interplay between frugality and minimalism: Catchily, Minimalism is frugality for your things, Frugality is minimalism for your wallet. We’re following on the KonMari Method in the minimalism series, so you can see how that works out in practice for us. And now we’re going to give frugality some focused attention.

First, let’s dispel some myths. Frugality isn’t:

  • Being stingy or cheap: no-one’s getting a bottle of Fairy Liquid for their birthday

  • Living like ascetics - you can have have tv, you can have holidays, you don’t need live in dungarees 24/7 (although, that does appeal…)

  • It’s not neo-primitivism or full self sufficiency. We’re splashing around in the prepper pond, but we aren’t having a long soak .

This isn't quite what our ideal living room looks like...

This isn't quite what our ideal living room looks like...

So, what is it then?

Frugality for us, is not spending money when you don’t have to. It’s making the most efficient use of your money. As an example, shortly after moving in together, we went down to one Netflix account and one Amazon Prime account between us - we still wonder if the Prime account is necessary. We almost never rent a movie on Prime as between the two platforms there’s a great selection. Aaaaaand more than a few times we’ve rented on Prime only for it to turn up on Netflix a week later.

So, for us: stingy is refusing to pay for Netflix or Prime (together, £17 per month), when films are my great love/obsession.

Financial Frivolity is renting movies whenever, going to the cinema weekly, not waiting for a Netflix release, getting a Curzon account as well.

We like to sit balanced in the middle, maybe leaning more stingy than opulent, but trying to satisfy our love of film with our frugal goal. We spend £8.50 per month and get around 14-20 hours of entertainment for that.

So aren’t you denying yourself? Don’t you need to have fun?

Probably not? The thing is, things have a huge range of prices. If you want a drink with friends, you could buy Tesco value lager and host in your living room, or savour £16 cocktails in a Soho speakeasy. In the middle, there’s heading to the pub, making homemade cocktails, heading to a cheaper bar, etc. The point is, you can adapt to your preferred price point and while we could hit up the Soho speakeasy generally, we prefer to pitch a bit lower. We have friends round and make Gosh Darn Delicious cocktails ourselves most of the time.

The other benefit of that, aside from not having background chatter, excessive pub music and risky pub toilets, is that now we’re nifty at a fair few cocktails and have a knowledge of  how to make some classics, and how to put our own twist on old favourites. We saved money, gained skills, cultural knowledge and a hobby - that’s very much our preference. Where some people adore being pampered and served, and good for them, we get some much more from experimenting and learning for ourselves. We most definitely have favourite pubs and cocktail bars, but they’re treats to us.

We’re flexible with strategies - some things taste just fine when cheaper: Tesco value sweetcorn is just as tasty as a name brand, so if you can’t taste the difference, why pay 2.5 times as much? Those differences are small but they accumulate. Your weekly groceries go from £80 a week to £40 a week. That’s £160 a month, £2080 a year and so on. That money can make a big difference down the line, which we’ll talk about later.

Aren’t you missing out?

We’re definitely having fun, we just don’t need to always spend as much as we can to do that. That’s not anyone’s real position of course - I don’t think anyone who’s not currently the Sultan of Brunei thinks, ‘I have £600 in my account and want a kitkat, where can I get a £600 kitkat?’

(Hotel minibars, that’s where.)

This isn't what our fridge contains. (Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels)

This isn't what our fridge contains. (Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels)

No, you likely think ‘I want a good quality thing, but need to leave some money for later’. That’s all we do, we’re just systematic about it.

For instance, we still go out and eat out, just less frequently. We’re ‘missing out’ in terms of numbers of trips, but we find a balance where we appreciate those trips more. That might sound judgemental, but there’s a concept called the hedonic treadmill. How much do you think the lavishly rich enjoy their champagne? How much do people enjoy their games console in the 8th month versus the 1st month?

We all know the idea better than the name. The hedonic treadmill is the phenomenon of mentality adjusting to our current conditions. Our ancestors coped in the past without the luxuries we have, because that was their ‘normal’. We get super excited about things when they’re shiny and new, and then we accept them and get used to them. It’s fine and natural.

So when you’re eating outing all the time, it’s not as rare. If you keep it rare, you enjoy it more - so that’s what we do. This is our other strategy - we wouldn’t do the equivalent of buying Tesco value sweetcorn when it comes to whisky, which we’re big fans of. We like quality whisky and it wouldn’t do us good to have it as a daily drink at lower quality, so we keep the quality high and enjoy it as a rarer treat.

In your own lives though, you probably saw the financial expression of the hedonic treadmill. When you were independent, you lived on the salary for that job. Then, we hope you moved on and upwards, increasing your salary with each change of title. You probably also increased your spending, unconsciously adjusting your budget to the new income. “Hey, I can afford that now! Time to treat!” becomes “I’ll get a couple of these for Tuesday” really quick and you don’t even notice.

If you were cool on £22k, and now bring in £36k, do you necessarily need to change your spending? No, you don’t, but everyone generally does. It’s called lifestyle inflation. I did this myself, until I saw what I was doing and began to reel myself back.

Our two principles

Those 2 frugal strategies in full:

  1. Where the quality is equivalent or less important, go for the cheapest option.

  2. Where quality is important, keep it a rare treat.

That might not work for you and that’s fine, but it works for us. I think particularly because we get a lot from doing things ourselves, trying and failing and experimenting and improving until we’re good at a new thing.

There are many more frugal strategies we use, but there’s a question that needs to be asked first: why do you do this? Why go frugal instead of making the most of your salary? That is a whole other post.