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When Frugality Hurts You

Is there ever a time when frugality isn’t a virtue?

When saving money isn’t in your best interests?

Two stories to put frugality into perspective:

 

Penny wise, pound foolish

Years ago, I gave one of my softball teammates, Mike, a lift to a game. En route, I realized that my car needed gas. Since we had a lot of time before the game, I told Mike that I would make a quick stop for a fill-up.

When we drove right by a gas station, he asked, “Why didn’t you pull in?”

“Because the Petrocan a couple blocks further away typically has a better price,” I responded.

“How much better?” Mike asked.

“I think it’s like two or three cents lower per litre,” I said, feeling proud that I knew where to find “the deal”.

“How much does your tank hold?” he continued.

“Around 40 litres.”

“You realize you’re driving out of your way to save, at most, $1.20, assuming your tank is completely empty, which it isn’t. Congrats – you’re about to save less than a dollar!” Mike said with a smile on his face and a tone of voice that told me I wasn’t going to win any genius points any time soon.

Damn. I had never done the math. I had just assumed finding a lower price was the smart thing to do.

In that instant I realized how daft my behavior was. I was driving out of my way to save less than a dollar.

What’s worse, the message I was giving to the universe and to myself is that my time is worth squat.

 

Not an isolated incident

It turns out that that wasn’t the only way in which I had deluded myself into thinking that I was being financially wise.

The year after my husband died, money was really tight because I was in the process of paying off $400,000 of debt. If I could cut a corner on costs, I did, figuring that the best use for every possible dollar was to knock off that damn debt.

At the time, I was participating in a series of retail shows across Canada. I started in Vancouver and worked my way to Ottawa, via multiple stops in between, all in an attempt to sell more of the remaining products in my late husband’s company.

My goal? Save every dime possible and put it toward the debt.

So what did I do for accommodations? I stayed in the cheapest places possible: the Y in Vancouver (think austere closet), a friend’s basement floor in Toronto (yes, literally on the floor in between racks of designer clothes), and cheapie motels in most other cities.

It was depressing.

I hated every second of it.

I spent my evenings staring at worn furniture and trying not to walk barefoot on any of the floors because who knew what those stains were all about, all the while wondering how my life had gotten to this point.

It is an understatement to say that the situation sucked, but I kept telling myself that all my sacrifices would be worth it some day. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Did I save a bunch of money?

You bet. Heaps.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely not. In fact, if probably delayed my recovery by years after my debt was repaid.

 

Smarter with hindsight

So many people look at my story of repaying $400,000 of debt in two years and they think that’s the magical part. It’s not. The magic is what I learned in the years following my financial reset.

And I’ll boil it down to three words: Mindset is everything.

Mindset isn’t a touchy-feely concept that only pot-smoking women with flowing robes, long hair, and crystals clutched in hand indulge in.

It is an essential component of financial success. It’s something that every goal-achieving woman takes seriously, whether consciously or unconsciously.

What I eventually figured out is that the way you spend your money is a reflection of your mindset.

Back in my bottom-of-the-barrel motel phase, I was solidly in the land of scarcity mindset: money is hard to come by, it’s a struggle to earn, I have to be ultra-frugal with every dollar to have enough to live on, I can’t “indulge” in anything because there are better uses for those dollars, I can’t afford it, regardless of what it is, and if I spend too much, I’ll be in even worse shape.

What those beliefs – that mindset – did was keep me in a state of low energy. Everything felt hard and heavy.

I eventually crawled my way out of that financial and mindset hole. It took a long time and it was hard.

You know what did the trick and eventually accelerated the process?

Spending more on things that protect my energy and enhance my mindset, including better hotels.

 

A room with a view

In 2015, I had decided to write my book, Protect Your Purse. What I was finding, though, is that it was hard to carve out time to write from my business and my life as a mom with two kids.

At one point, my husband Mark suggested that I accompany him on a business trip. He would be gone for four days. What if I were to spend the time during the day writing while he worked?

I jumped at the idea! We left the kids with family members and off I went to Edmonton to write while Mark taught his course.

Here’s the thing: Mark does not have a scarcity mentality. When it comes to accommodations, he has rarely accepted anything that doesn’t provide him with a comfortable, restful, attractive environment.

From our earliest days together, he would insist on staying at “nice” places. When the girls were old enough to do so, they got their own room.

Why?

For Mark, it’s all about preserving his energy and helping to ensure a positive outcome. Of course, he doesn’t describe it that way, but that’s what it boils down to. He spends money on things that will help him have the best experience possible and leave him ready to show up for the day in great shape.

When we arrived at the hotel room in Edmonton, we were greeted by a spacious, lovely room with a view of the Saskatchewan river and the river valley. There was a large desk, tons of light, and a comfortable chair from which to write.

In those four days, I wrote 50% of my book. It was easily the best writing I’d done in a long time. What’s better is that I felt happy, satisfied, inspired, and energetic. At night, we would go out for a lovely meal and take long walks along the river.

It was worth every penny.

 

What if?

During one of my breaks from writing, I thought about all the crappy places I had stayed in during those dismal years of trying to solve a big financial challenge.

What if instead of scrimping and “saving” on all those awful accommodations, I had agreed to pay just $50 more for a decent room?

How would that have affected mindset?

What would that have done for my energy levels?

Would it have made a material difference in my life if I had spent $1,000 more overall? In terms of debt repayment, not at all. It would have taken a bit longer, sure, but not much.

However, it would have made a huge difference in the way that I felt about myself and my life.

Here’s what I know: It’s hard to solve hard problems when your energy is low. It’s hard to summon your inner creative genius when you’re playing and feeling small.

This isn’t a knock against frugality; it’s a reconsideration of frugality as a driving principle.

When frugality supports your highest, best interests, it’s brilliant. Read this post about what I refuse to spend money on.

However, when frugality keeps you playing small and diminishes your energy, it hurts you, whether you realize it or not.

 

Where are you playing small?

Take a look at how you spend your money and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where am I cheaping out on myself?
  • Which choices are the result of a scarcity mindset?
  • Where am I saving money, but undervaluing my time?
  • Are my frugal choices congruent with my core values?
  • Do any of my cost-saving choices diminish my energy in any way?

 

It’s worth your time to do an energy and mindset audit with respect to your financial choices. You might just discover what I learned years ago: When you spend more in key areas, you add rocket fuel to your capacity to solve challenges and achieve your goals.

I didn’t achieve financial freedom because of the financial decisions I made; I got here because of the mindset I developed, which led to financial choices congruent with the goals I sought to achieve.

If you’re dealing with corrosive debt, it’s especially important to check in on your mindset. You can throw all the tactics you want at your debt problem, but unless your mindset is on board to help you reach your goals, nothing will stick.

Work to develop a healthy mindset.

Cut back mercilessly on things that don’t matter (targeted frugality).

Spend abundantly on things that do.

That’s the magic.

I’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts on frugality below!

 

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