A surprisingly big part of everyday life is built of habits. Some of them were planned, most of them just happened… Like the way you spend your money.
When I grew up, we didn’t have a lot of money. My mother was a housewife, and there were three of us siblings, so in all 5 persons living on one salary. This was late 60’s and early 70’s, and pretty normal in my hometown then. So most of the families around us had the same kind of limited economy. To have secondhand bikes etc was just the way it was, and the important thing was that you could get somewhere on it.
When I first moved out and went to school in another town at age 17, I had second-hand furniture and very limited funds. But so did most of my new friends. We spent time together at each other’s homes, cooked together, talked and drank tea, rented movies and split the cost (or rented one each and had movie-marathons).
On to university in a bigger city – and we kept up basically the same lifestyle. I, like my friends, took the student loans offered by the state and worked at summer to pay the rent since student loans are only issued for school months. Finding jobs was easy back then.
I met the man who became my first husband, and after school was finished we rented an apartment and started building a family. He had a different way of thinking about money (and life, as it turned out). We took out a “startup-loan”. He wanted to build his own business, and I helped him do that – and then things went bad, we got a divorce and I was 22 years old and a single mother.
The startup loan defaulted to me since he didn’t have any income. I got a job, not very highly paid. My ex paid no alimony. But I received some governmental support and made ends meet by careful planning and budgeting. We even managed to get away for vacations most summers, me and my son, by going in the off-season and saving beforehand. And not going very far – but away from home is away from home even if it´s not that very far, and we enjoyed our vacations.
And then I met the man who is still my husband, over 20 years ago now. He was also divorced and had a son the same age as mine. Our economies were very similar, and when I and my son moved in with him and his son, we decided from the start to share everything. All income into our shared economy. But we gave ourselves a “monthly allowance” so that I could buy books and he buy tobacco (or other personal stuff) without negotiations. This system has served us well, at times I’ve made more money and other times he has but we’ve always managed fine together.
When the boys grew up, we were still being frugal by necessity. They got second-hand sports equipment, and eating out was reserved for special occasions. Our car was old, but we still prioritized and managed to save enough to go on holidays. With a tent, but we went. And on a couple of memorable occasions we managed a trip abroad, staying at a hotel even.
Some 10 years ago the boys started caring for themselves economically. And we were beginning to have more money to spend, for the first time in our lives. But then two things happened: I burned myself out, and have had trouble working full time since then. And we backed an economical venture for a family member that failed, leaving us in debt. Again. The last 10 years we’ve been putting money towards paying off our debts in full, and now we’re almost done.
Frugal living is basically the way we’ve always lived, and that’s most likely the way we’re going to keep living. In about two years Mr. L is going to retire, at age 61. I’ve been working part-time (20 hours a week) for the last couple of years, and if I want to stay healthy that’s the way I think it will have to be.
So compared to some, we’ve never had a lot of money (although compared to the greatest part of the world’s population we have always had a lot). But I’ve always thought of my life as a very rich one. We have family that we get along well with, and friends. We have our different interests, and the ones we share. We are different in many ways but have similar values and priorities both regarding money and life. We live in one of the richest countries on the planet, with a good, stable society and security. Most of the things we enjoy don’t cost money, and those that do we can easily afford since we don’t habitually buy stuff that we don’t need.
Living frugally, by choosing to not buy what you don’t need, gives you the possibility to choose. The possibility to choose gives you the opportunity to control your life. That’s why I am glad that I never got used to having a lot of money when I was young, that I´ve always thought of money as a tool, not a goal. That is what allows us to plan for reducing our income with another 1/3 in a couple of years, knowing that we will still have a very rich life.