Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #5 - Frugality
Our new Weekly Series explores improving your life through character growth and a new habit of practicing virtues. To read about why we are exploring virtue, click here.
Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin
Virtue #5 - Frugality
Our consumerist society wants us to believe that we are what we buy. Consumerism says that everything we purchase and the things we own, send a message to the world about who you we are and the values we hold. This makes sense, because the most successful companies in the world are not selling products, they are selling experiences, memories, security and identity. They also know something we don’t: when it comes to our money, we don’t practice self-control.
Our Founding Fathers feared our nation might lose sight of what was most important, and would often point to the Greeks and Romans as examples of what happens to a nation when it lets prosperity go unchecked by temperance and frugality. And although wealthy, Ben Franklin lived a relatively simple life by eating and dressing plainly. Franklin knew that exercising proper self-discipline over one’s money and one’s desires was important in practicing frugality and self-control.
Success in life requires us to have self-control. Learning to control your spending is one way you can develop your self-discipline. The ability to distinguish between wants and needs and to postpone those wants until they are affordable is a mark of a mature individual. This is related to the psychological concept of delaying gratification. What separates children from adults, besides age and experience? Children are born desiring everything, all the time. But an adult can have more foresight and master the ability to delay their own gratification for a greater good. It is often child-like to rush out and buy something because you feel you must have it now. Maturity means having the self-discipline to live within your means. When it gets down to it, being frugal means not buying stuff you cannot afford.
If you think you have the tendency to make frivolous purchases, make a concerted effort not to make that purchase. After a while, you’ll notice that it will become easier to fight the mindless urges to buy more stuff. Self-discipline in your finances can translate to self-discipline in other areas of your life.
A Note From Dr. Andy
I have to admit that practicing the virtue of frugality is not necessarily something that came naturally to me. Interestingly, I practiced horrific money habits at a time in my life when I had the least amount of money (those years in grad school were some lean years financially!). I didn’t set a budget for myself - and was occasionally practicing a form of therapy that I couldn’t find in my textbooks - retail therapy! I would get this temporary feeling of pleasure and experience euphoria after a good purchase - and the sales people seemed so friendly as they helped me make the best purchases for myself.
What finally helped me reign in my spending habits may not be that surprising - but it was after I started dating Abby - and she had a virtual black belt in frugality. I certainly wouldn’t say that my spending tendencies changed immediately - and according to Abby’s standards - she would say that I still have some adjustments to make - but, I realized that if I wanted to create the future that I wanted for Abby and I - that I would have to start living within my means and actually discipline myself to save money regularly. Of course, it helped to finally graduate and get jobs that didn’t pay me with supervised experience - but there was also a significant change in how I spent my money - and my awareness of our financial plan.
Having now been married for 11+ years to Abby - it’s been very gratifying to have been able to purchase a home together, go on some incredible vacations together, live debt free (well, except for the student loans - they are the gifts that keep on giving!), and have money saved and invested that provides us with a sense of security and comfort - so when we do spend our money - we know it’s money we have available. Now, I would still say that I enjoy a great purchase - but, my favorite thing to spend money on now - are on experiences with my family (I have a list of places and experiences that I want to have with my family - and I’m checking off 2 of them this summer!). Having said this - I also really enjoy practicing my version of frugality and knowing that I am in alignment with my core value of being a solid provider for my family.
I hope you find this message from Coach Paul and the resources attached helpful, supportive, and practical in empowering you to live virtuously. This has been a fun and gratifying journey for me - and we would love to hear how these messages are impacting you?
3 Ways to Practice Financial Self-Discipline
START SMALL - You don’t need to immediately cut off all your additional expenses, but rather take an inventory of areas in your life you spend without thinking - such as 1-click online purchases, forgotten recurring subscriptions, or extra afternoon Starbuck’s runs. Eventually, limiting your small purchases can add up to big savings.
MAKE CHOICES IN ADVANCE - Are you at the checkout line and see something that you need? Or are you easily talked into higher packages and services even though you don’t necessarily need them? Get clear on exactly what you need and what you don’t, make a list or do your research ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to say no to others or yourself.
LET TECHNOLOGY WORK FOR YOU - Online apps can help you create a budget, alert you of overspending, and develop financial goals that will keep you on track. Best of all, many are free.