3/7/2013 3:51 PM ET|
Living frugal but looking rich
You know those people who can afford to travel, to pay cash for their cars and to buy homes? Not all of them are wealthy.
It's not often that you hear it from a 20-something, however.
In this post on Budgets Are Sexy, blogger J. Money shares an e-mail rant from his friend Tiffany A., who's gotten some attitude from co-workers about her love of travel.
"Oh, you are so lucky -- you must be rich," they say.
Tiffany doesn't see it that way. Here's an excerpt from her self-described "rant":
"What frustrates me most about people my age is that they spend their money frivolously on stuff that doesn't really matter in the end. In my opinion, if you do that -- then it's your own fault you don't have more money!
"Harsh but true. $30 manicures 2-3x a month and eating out 4-5x a week? If that's your choice, fine, but don't come crying to me saying you have no money … It just doesn't make sense to me. I know I am more disciplined than most but this isn't rocket science!"
Tiffany turned 23 earlier this week. Right now she's working 60 to 70 hours a week: Starbucks barista, fast food shift supervisor and an occasional gig testing online coupons. She'll keep up that pace until late August, at which point she'll study in France for four months, as part of a master's degree program in "global innovation."
She still finds time to go out -- "just not every night" -- and to meet with friends. She just started a blog, Extraordinary Reasons, that will focus on personal finance for young adults.
'You're responsible for your own choices'
Tiffany acknowledges that she received two very significant advantages: Her parents were very frugal (her mother in particular modeled a watch-your-spending mentality) and they set aside money for their daughter's education.
Is she "so lucky" and "rich"? Yes and no. Tiffany was given advantages but is working to make the most of them. If college money hadn't been available she'd still have had the job and the scholarship -- and she'd have opted to room with others to keep costs low after graduation.
"You're responsible for your own choices and your own consequences," she says.
The 70-hour workweek won't fly for everyone, obviously. In some regions it can be tough to find even one full-time job, and most people need more down time. Tiffany says she just likes to work, and that she chose her second job because it satisfies her love of good coffee and the coffeehouse atmosphere. (One of the job's perks, as it were, is a free weekly pound of beans.)
Strategy, not penance
No matter how many hours you work it's vital to live below your means, not at them. Some people live paycheck-to-paycheck because they aren't paid enough to keep up with the basics of living. Others spend every dime because they can't see any further than this weekend's activities.
You're not cheating yourself by choosing a frugal lifestyle. Living intentionally means eliminating the buy-buy-buy mindset that will keep debts coming. Taking control of your finances means taking control of your life.
That doesn't mean a life of lack. You can look rich while living frugally. Inexpensive ways exist to house, clothe, feed and entertain yourself. Tiffany brown-bags her lunch and shops at Goodwill -- but she also travels outside the United States every year.
This is strategy, not penance. It's done for a specific goal. In Tiffany's case, that's to leverage her work ethic and, yes, her initial advantage into a debt-free adulthood.
It can be tough to be frugal in your 20s. Your peers spend every penny (and then some) while you make careful decisions to achieve specific financial goals -- dreams that sometimes seem awfully far away.
But you are responsible for only your own choices, not theirs. Ten years from now they'll be wishing they'd been a little more intentional about their spending.
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WHAT IS FRUGAL COOL?
Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN
Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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