Frugal Is As Frugal Does, Mostly

In Articles, Retirement Thinking, Weekly Articles by Adam Cufr

Years ago, when I first began in this business of money stuff, I had it in my head and in my heart that I wanted to help people budget better in an effort to save more money for long-term goals. After all, that’s the subject that attracted me to this business in the first place. My wife and I had enjoyed some budgeting and saving success early in our marriage that lead me to read every book I could on the subject of money management. I decided that we were going to save like crazy people in order to get out of the working game very early.

As I set out in my new career to change the world by inspiring people to budget and save better, the world ultimately changed me. What I discovered over the years that ensued is that people who are frugal – and thus good savers – are already frugal, and people who struggle to save more money aren’t interested in changing those habits until they’re ready to change. I simply wasn’t persuasive enough to move the needle in someone’s life until they’d decided change was necessary. Needless to say, I was pretty bummed about this revelation. In hindsight now, it’s so painfully obvious, but it wasn’t then. As an example, just look at how successful we are at convincing someone else to alter their political views; it’s like that.

As I look at those we serve who’ve accumulated enough wealth to retire, it’s very obvious that they – you – got there by choice, not by outside persuasion. It turns out that frugal is as frugal does. The effect of frugal and financially responsible behaviors, compounded over time, allow for people to experience financial success. To the contrary, lack of desire, coupled with lack of good habits (and sometimes lack of good luck), results in large masses of otherwise hard workers falling short of the retirement they’d hoped for. Like a heart attack patient who wished they’d eaten better and exercised long before that painful day, it can often take a major event to inspire the life change necessary to repair years of neglect.

And while it’s generally true that people are hard-wired to be savers or they’re not, there’s hope for all of us in one exception I’ve witnessed, life seasons. If I look at my own savings story (or lack thereof at times), the season of life I’m in has a LOT to do with my ability to live on a lot less than I earn. Specifically, our ability to save a high percentage of our income early in our marriage was a combination of two important factors: wishing to save a lot, and HAVING NO CHILDREN! Once the kids began increasing in number, our ability to save aggressively began to wane quickly, no matter how badly we wished to set aside large sums toward the future. And taking that season change further, I see the second huge opportunity to save big appear in those critical years before retirement.

I share all of this to give hope to those of you who may not feel that you’re hard-wired to be a great saver. As you may already be aware, there will be seasons when the wind will be at your back and the sun is shining. In those moments, make hay! That is, do whatever you can to focus on your savings efforts when expenses can be reduced (when kids are moving out and moving on, for example), thus allowing you to build your nest egg as aggressively as you can, assuming you have a goal to be out of debt and financially retired at some point in the future. Don’t beat yourself up too badly when it’s tough to save money, but do get hyper motivated when saving more is possible. Many people don’t. The pressures to grow our lifestyle with our newfound prosperity can be tremendous, but you’re tougher than those pressures. You’re in this to win!

It’s great if you’re either predisposed to be a good saver, or married someone who is, but for the rest of us, we can take heart knowing that opportunities may arise to give us some financial margin, if we choose to take advantage of those seasons. It turns out that frugality is a wonderful trait to have, but it can also be a seasonal force to be harnessed. Save on!

All the best,

Adam Cufr Signature

Adam Cufr, RICP®