Frugal. What springs to mind when you hear that word? I think spinsters, darned stockings and a housekeeping money box. To me ‘frugal’ feels like watching other people enjoy life’s luxuries while I eat a packed lunch consisting of soggy sandwiches and a semi-squashed banana.
I understand why my friends or anyone else doesn’t aspire to be frugal. Whether that means shopping at the discount supermarket or saying no to a night out. Even in my mind frugal seems cheap, plain and self-denying. And if you’re a billionaire and frugal, you’re just plain peculiar. Surely if you have it, you should spend it and if not, you dream of it.
In short, frugality seems like the opposite of the beautiful life.
A place of luxury
Once upon a time I would have described the beautiful life as luxurious, full of beautiful things and completely out of my reach. My vision of the beautiful life included stunning resorts, sensational style and fine dining. I would wistfully look at billboard ads of Kate Winslet sporting her jewel encrusted watch and think ‘if only…..’
Not that I couldn’t buy luxury or beauty, it was that I was, well, frugal and I would never let myself indulge in such extravagance when there was a future to save for. So while my definition of the beautiful life involved luxury and material possessions I felt like I was making do.
Time of My (Beautiful) Life
What I wanted was more time. Dreaming of afternoon picnics, trips to the beach and reading a book after a weekend breakfast, I thought if only I could finish this never ending renovation I would have the time to live a beautiful life!
What did time have to do with the beautiful life? Wasn’t it all about money and the luxury it could buy?
Luxury = the good life. That’s what the marketing machine had always said. Yet if it was really about time rather than money, then maybe a frugal life could be a beautiful life. Meaning that the beautiful life was within my reach. This was one idea I had to test.
An Experiment in Good Living
The experiment started with a Friday evening picnic. We found a grassy spot by the river and watched the late afternoon joggers trot past. The ferry brought waves of commuters on their way home or to after work drinks. It was the first warm evening of the spring and couples lingered in the park while the setting sun lit up the river. Washing away the working week’s worries, I wondered if this was the beautiful life. I sure felt good and all it had cost was a bit of effort and organisation.
I still had to renovate on weekends, but rather than wishing I was at a café, I stopped rushing through breakfast and started paying attention to the birds that had come to feast in our garden. Again, it felt like this was a beautiful life, while costing me nothing.
The experiment continued. I thought more about how to spend my time in a way that would be consistent with the beautiful life. We made the effort to have micro-adventures on weeknights, a special breakfast every weekend and a regular weekend at the beach, staying at a free campsite we’d discovered. I finally got why growing up we’d never been allowed to watch TV during dinner
Frugal through and through, a special Friday night dinner still entailed nachos rather than crustaceans but felt like the beautiful life.
Best Things in Life
The experiment was a great success. Our finances were unchanged, yet I stopped wondering if I was missing out in life, if the key to a good life was winning the lotto as my friends often joked.
I still want to punch the person who said the best things in life a free. The saying has always seemed trite and annoying, but my experiment did prove that it’s true.
Even when the days are packed with obligations, life can feel more beautiful when you:
- Take a moment out of life’s busyness to just take a deep breath and relax your shoulders
- Give a good heartfelt hug
- Savour the flavour of whatever is on your fork
- See the joke in the annoying things that happen
- Switch off the computer and go to bed