A few weeks ago a friend, someone I consider to be quite frugal, was telling someone about a good, nearby source for low-prices on produce, and that a few days earlier she had stocked up on organic mangoes, on sale at 3/$1.00. The listener asked her what she did with all of them, and my friend said they kept three freezers full of all their frugal finds.
Three freezers? My first thought was that there was no way I would want to manage or keep track of three freezers full of food, that this was w-a-y more complication than I needed or wanted to take on in my quest to live more frugally.
That got me thinking about frugal living versus simple living. What was I after, anyway, and which was more important to me and our family?
Frugal living does not necessarily equal simple living. Even if I shop at Goodwill, other thrift stores or yard sales, if I buy a lot of stuff and bring it into our home, that’s not necessarily living simple although it might have saved me some money. We still end up with more stuff. If I’m driving all over town to get the best deal with my coupons, that uses up both time and a lot of gasoline in the pursuit of saving a few dollars. For me anyway, it’s complicated keeping track of a lot of food, or taking the time to drive all over town, and there are lots of other things I’d rather be doing with my time. The same goes for our girls’ extra-curricular activities. The one they each take part in keeps me and my husband on our toes and is more than enough for all of us. I honestly listen to other parents going on about their kids’ multiple activities and how tired they are and I ask why?? No one has to say yes to everything.
For me, simple living simply means doing more with less. This does not mean we don’t look for the best prices, have reserves (we do), or buy extra when something is on sale, or enjoy the hunt at a thrift store. It means we set limits that work for us. Being frugal for frugality’s sake isn’t an end in itself. It means that we, as a family, continue to learn how to do it better with less.
After three years of consistent effort we remain a work in progress. So, one freezer full of food along with a well-stocked pantry is enough for us. I know what we have without having to resort to spreadsheets or calendars in order to use what’s on hand in a timely manner. We all have enough clothes for work, school and time off to where we only have to do laundry once a week. We don’t need more. We have less furniture than we did three years ago, and it’s turned out we really didn’t need so much after all. It’s less to clean and dust and the house is more open and light. Our garage now has lots of space, again just from getting rid of all sorts of stuff we once thought we needed.
More than anything else we’ve done over the past almost three years, cutting back on not just possessions but on the time we spend acquiring possessions (including food) has allowed us to focus more on paying down our debt. It’s been liberating, and helped me get more to the core of what I need to feel secure, content and even happy.
Just being frugal wasn’t the answer for us because frugal living doesn’t always equal simple living, and that has turned out to be our ultimate goal: A simple life. Getting rid of our debt is only the first step.
What simple living means to me or our family might be too complicated or too bare-bones for someone else. We all need to find our “sweet spot.” For my friend, that may mean having three freezers full of food. For me, that has meant not only spending within our means, but having the time to do the things we enjoy, and not feel burdened by the need to always find the best deal around or “have it all.”