The other day I had problems with the old van I drive to and from work. A friend saw me struggling to get it started in my employer’s parking lot, and the next day said, “Man, I felt bad watching try to get the old van running. When do you think you’ll be able to buy a nicer car?”
That afternoon, while standing outside waiting on a ride home, and feeling a tad bit sorry for myself, it occurred to me that living frugal often gives people the wrong perception of your financial health. When others see you making frugal choices, they automatically assume you are doing it because you have to, not because you want to. Sure, I could go out and sign the next five years away with a new car loan, but I choose not to.
Over the last year or two there has been a growing trend towards frugality, and many people in the media are anxious to see if it lasts. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will, for one main reason.
Most Americans, myself included for far too much of my life, are overly concerned with what other people think of them. I mentioned the ability to ignore what others think of us briefly earlier this week, as part of my seven steps to financial independence, and Neal mentioned comparing ourselves to others in yesterday’s guest post. Living a frugal lifestyle means living within our means – our means, not within a fairytale lifestyle depicted in the media as the norm.
As we go through our day making little sacrifices here and there, voluntarily passing on opportunities to spend a lot of money, people not living a frugal lifestyle will naturally assume we can’t afford to keep up with them. That’s fine; you can’t control their thoughts and assumptions.
The fact is, most frugal people are in much better financial positions than those feeling sorry for them. The classic example is Sam Walton, who right up until his death drove an old pickup truck around Bentonville, Arkansas. Those who didn’t recognize him probably thought he was just an average guy not able to afford a “nicer car.” We know he could have easily carved $60,000 out of his billions for a shiny new Mercedes, but he didn’t need one. His old truck suited him just fine.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t think that way. So the thought of living frugal frightens many egos out there into thinking they may not appear as successful, or wealthy, if they shop at thrift stores, drive old cars, cut their own hair, clip coupons, and make their own homemade laundry detergent.
Just remember my take on a line from Dave Ramsey: If people are laughing at you, or feeling sorry for you, you are probably doing something right when it comes to your financial plan.