Frugality as a Value

I attended my first big MMM meetup in my hometown of Ottawa in July. It was a lot of fun to gather together with so many like minded individuals. Many folks didn’t recognize me and would later see my name tag and say: “Oh! You’re Mrs. Money Mustache!” Yes, I suppose I am.

I spoke with a lot of men and women that night and had some really interesting conversations. Many women wanted to know how I dealt with urges to buy clothing. Everyone wanted to know if I ever felt deprived.

The clothing question is an interesting one – I’ll come back to that another time, but ultimately, it’s similar to the question about deprivation. Did I ever feel deprived? Do I feel deprived now? Surprisingly, the answer is no.

At first, I wasn’t sure why that was… It’s not something I had thought about much. But, as I sit here and ponder this question, I can come up with a few different reasons as to why I felt perfectly happy saving money.

There were two of us saving

Having two adults in one household brings down many costs, most notably housing costs. We shared a mortgage on a $240,000 house and we shared a lot of other things too, like all kinds of household goods. Since MMM and I met early (we were only 19!) we didn’t have much stuff when we moved in together.

We had a common (albeit lofty) goal

Our goals and dreams were big. We wanted kids and we wanted to stay home with them – we wanted BOTH of us to stay home with them. We didn’t know much about retirement at the time, but we had done the math and knew that it was possible. That, in itself, was super exciting. Once we had a common goal, there was no stopping us.

Our income averaged $61,700 each over a 9-year period

This is a pretty high salary. I realize that now, although at the time, it did seem “normal” to us since we were surrounded by people making the same amount of money as us, often more.

We were optimistic

MMM and I were very confident about Retirement. We just did it and somehow knew it would work out. Now that I can see what we did through other people’s eyes, it may seem like we didn’t think of every possible problem that might come up. It’s true – we didn’t. We were just optimistic. I felt the same way when we decided to have a child. I wasn’t ready. You can never be ready to become a parent. You just do it and know that things will work out and that you have the confidence to take care of issues as they arise. If you consider all the “what ifs”, you become paralyzed with indecision.

We were young*

We started saving at a young age, which meant we didn’t have time to get used to all the trappings of a high consumption lifestyle. My “normal” will never include having a housekeeper or flying first class.

I had a frugality and lifestyle coach at my disposal 24/7

MMM was always there, reminding me of the goal. He inspired me to bike to work in the mornings (and I was always glad I did), he made everyday things fun, he made me feel special without buying me stuff, he showed me how to do it and still be happy. He was always excited and optimistic about his plans and that excitement was infectious.

We weren’t missing out on anything

We still went out with our friends, mostly did the same stuff they did, and had just as much fun. We just made slightly different choices when we were out and also in private. We started spending more time with people that enjoyed the same things we did.

Our goals and our values matched

Ultimately, this was the biggest reason that saving became easy and continues to be easy. Our savings goals match our core values. Even without trying to save too much, we were probably spending $40,000 per year. That included our mortgage. Essentially, we were spending my salary (which averaged $40,400 per year over nine years) and saving MMM’s salary (averaging $83,000 per year).

We felt like we were spending a lot. We were spending a lot by some people’s standards. But all those little decisions were adding up to be a lot less than our peers. Why is that? How were we able to make those decisions more easily than others?

We valued our freedom, our health, and the environment above all else. Saving money naturally follows. I’m not talking about buying gym memberships and purchasing environmentally friendly products. When you value your health, you go outside more, ride your bike to work, cook food at home, and you take care of your body by not abusing it. When you value the environment, you don’t buy stuff unless you really need it, you drive as little as possible, you think about how your decisions affect the earth and affect others, you become more interested in donating money and time to causes you care about.

In retrospect, I see this relationship between our values and our savings so clearly. I was on board with my health and the environment from the beginning. The freedom part was hard to grasp at first. What does it mean to buy my freedom? Will that future life really be better? For me, it took visualizing having the freedom to care for our children together to really get on board. For you, it might be something else: time with family, traveling, doing work that you love that doesn’t pay very much, or helping others.

What are your values? Are they in line with your spending or do they often derail your savings?


* Pat Benatar will be in my head all day

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions October 22, 2013, 10:17 am

    I have finally put my money where my values are, and stopped spending it on the stuff that just doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, my husband is not the money cheerleader, but he is incredibly supportive of our goals 95% of the time.

    • Mrs. MM October 22, 2013, 11:25 am

      95% is pretty good. :)

      How were you able to finally make the change? Was it a big leap or was it gradual? In what areas does your husband still struggle?

  • Mr. 1500 October 22, 2013, 11:02 am

    The deprivation question is also something that is brought up whenever I tell someone about my early retirement dreams as well. One friend in particular insists that I need to have a nice car.

    My response is always that they’re depriving themselves of more than I. I am giving up some material stuff in return for freedom. I can still work if I want to, but I can also choose to hit the road and go on a month-long camping trip when the children don’t have school. Living life how I want to live it trumps all.

    • Mrs. MM October 22, 2013, 11:24 am

      Good point, Mr. 1500 – they are indeed depriving themselves more than you. Time, stability, and freedom are rare and priceless gifts.

  • Emily @ Urban Departures October 22, 2013, 11:07 am

    Hi Mrs. MM- I started following you on twitter recently and much to my delight, discovered you also write! My husband (also from Ottawa) and I are avid followers or Mr. MM (and credit him for the shift in our spending mentality); now I’m excited to hear your voice as well.

    Our family has always had financial goals, but they were general “pay off mortgage” and “save for retirement” goals. Recently, we asked ourselves, what is it that really want and what do we value, and from that, came up with more concrete goals. So, to answer your question, our values motivate our spendings/savings. There are moments of weakness where we spend not according to our values, but we’re learning and trying and improving.

    • Mrs. MM October 22, 2013, 11:15 am

      Thanks Emily! We all have moments of weakness – that’s completely normal. But I do think they subside over time as our values become more cemented. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  • Frau Handlebar October 22, 2013, 2:06 pm

    Recently, I’ve started to look at this question of deprivation through a lens of “normal versus luxury.” Our goal lately had been to redefine “normal”, so that the luxuries we were taking for granted become luxuries again. For example, eating out and going to a coffee shop have once again become luxuries instead of daily practices. At first, not eating out every day FELT like deprivation (and the transition has involved hard work), but it certainly doesn’t feel that way any more. I think it’s key to become mindful of and then challenge what we perceive or experience as “normal” so that we can transition to a place where we have more luxuries without even changing our daily practices (or more money if we do change). You and MMM are great at helping us see our lives differently!

    • Mrs. MM October 22, 2013, 2:48 pm

      Very wise words, Mrs. Handlebar. I totally agree.

  • Michelle November 17, 2013, 7:22 pm

    Great post. I love your blog, please keep posting! You are a great example of focus and intensity and I am inspired.

  • whitney November 27, 2013, 10:08 am

    My husband and I are saving diligently and planning on me staying home when we decide to have a child. While we are young, fairly responsible, have great communication involving money, and have managed to save a small nut, my largest issue is Resisting Lady Temptations! And I am terrified of becoming a frumpy mom (one who lounges in sweatpants or pajamas does not upkeep herself and essentially let’s herself go because of not spending money on beauty upkeep.) Working in the beauty industry I get gifted product all the time. Is this something that I just need to wean myself off of, what are your thoughts, is this something that I just need to get over? Its so hard! :) love you and your blog

  • caroline February 17, 2015, 12:14 pm

    Hi, I’ve been reading mmm. I’m delighted to hear all you have to say too.


Leave a Comment