Frugality or deprivation?

When I got married, my wife had just graduated with a degree in HR. I was completing an internship between my sophomore and junior years. We were broke. We had a little bit of debt and still needed to pay for school. On our honeymoon we packed a cooler full of soda, ham sandwiches, and fruit that was left over from the wedding reception. Then it spilled in the hallway of Mandalay Bay on day 5 of our trip. Here we are with that very cooler.


I started back up in school, and my wife was on the hunt for her first career job. Companies weren’t calling back, so she took a job serving at Olive Garden. These were meager times for us. Here’s the time my wife invited her best friend over for a baked potato dinner, and to see our apartment. We eventually bought a table, but bins got us by until then:

Kitchen Tables

During our first year of marriage we ate pasta with Prego sauce so much, that it still makes me sick thinking about it. On a positive note, I graduated with no student loans, no car loans, we bought a house, and had some money in the bank. Eating baked potato dinners 3x a week, buying a $35 half-broken sofa, opting for used appliances, driving old cars, and other money-saving habits went a long way to getting us through those times.

I feel like the picture below encapsulates those times. During my internship, we didn’t want to splurge on an expensive mattress, since we wouldn’t have a way to transport it to Utah at the end of the summer. Here we’re loading up a cheap mattress on top of my $650, 96′ Chevy Lumina, which was totaled 2 years before.

Lumina with Mattress

Instead of putting the insurance money towards a new car, we found a semi-matching door, lived with the cosmetic damage, then drove it for another 3 years. I sold it for $750 when I realized the repair costs to get it to pass an inspection were greater than the value of the car.

Nowadays, things aren’t as dire. For the most part, if there is something we want, we have cash and income to cover it. However, one of our biggest wants is financial independence and to take some long vacations with no obligations anchoring us to a location. The quickest ways to get there… increase income, increase investing, and reduce spending.

The Dilemma

So why don’t we just go back to the pasta with Prego sauce diet, sell our luxury vehicles to get the ol’ Chevy Lumina, and live in my parents’ basement? Well there are some luxuries I deem worth paying for. Some things do bring happiness and enjoyment to our lives. When I was in college, I was more concerned with keeping food on the table, than what was on it. The blandness of the food was less painful than the financial stress that would have come through steak and lobster dinners. It’s important to find balance, happiness, and purpose in the process. I don’t want to deprive my way into an early, 50 year retirement, then continue to deprive myself to stay retired.

Get Frugal

Although we save a lot now, I think it’s important to regularly take inventory of our expenses, analyze where money is disappearing to, and where money is not leading to personal fulfillment. I think a good place to start is with subscription services. Music services, magazines, apps, streaming/TV services, etc. When things are on autopay, you sometimes don’t see or feel the money leaving you. I swindled my way into almost 2 years of free Dish Network, but I’ll need to evaluate if it’s worth $90/month when that deal runs out.

Find ways to pay less for everything: We travel a fair amount, but spend close to $0 for flights, hotels, and car rentals. Credit card sign-up bonuses, credit card rewards, hacking work-related spending, and price-tracking goes a long way. We also eat out a lot, but we use coupons, accumulate rewards, and share meals. We all have to spend money to fuel up our cars, so why not get it at a discount. Currently, a credit card gets me 7.5% back on gas, but I’m always getting at least 4% back. We get a thrill out of gaming these things and save/make $1000s each year on them.

Identify what things bring you unnecessary stress, financial or otherwise, and get rid of them. Focus on spending your time and money on things that bring you happiness and are sustainable in retirement.

Bottom Line

I am glad we went through those meager times at the beginning of our marriage. It helps us realize we can be happy with very few tangible possessions, and we could do it again if necessary. That being said, I’m glad we’re past that stage. Moving forward, I’ll try to understand what spending adds to happiness and fulfillment (see if I can find coupons/rewards attached to it) and eliminate unnecessary spending that does not.

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