Recently, an acquaintance asked me for some financial advice.
“Give me your easiest financial tips. You know, stuff that I don’t have to work too hard at. I’ve got to pay off some debt and save up some cash for a vacation.”
Privately I was thinking, “Way to set the bar low. Wouldn’t want to work at anything, would you?” (You must understand that this acquaintance almost always looks for the easiest, laziest way to do the minimum on any task. She’s frustrating to be around, which is why I don’t refer to her as a friend.) At any rate, I started offering up suggestions.
“Open a savings account and have money direct-deposited every pay period.”
“Nope, I’d have to go to HR to get that set up and they’re a pill to deal with,” she said.
“Okay, turn off lights when you leave a room and raise and lower your thermostat a few degrees.”
“No. I want to be comfortable and I don’t like stumbling around a dark house.”
“Coupons at the grocery store?” I asked.
“Too much effort, too little reward,” she said.
“Brown bag your lunch.”
“No time to put that stuff together in the mornings.”
“Okay, cut down on or eliminate things like cable, eating out, vacations, cell phone plans, etc. Go to the library.”
“I don’t want to deprive myself. That’s hard to go without that stuff. And the library is nasty.” (This is the same person who gets grossed out by library books and other frugal options.)
“Have a yard sale and make money off your unused junk.”
“Eh. That’s a lot of work to set up and manage,” she said.
Finally after a few more basic ideas I gave up. “That’s the easy stuff,” I said. “From there it gets harder like moving to a cheaper house, getting rid of one car, drastically downsizing your life, getting a better or second job, learning about investing, or starting a garden.”
“Well, that stinks,” she said. “I thought at least some of it would be easy.”
I just had to shake my head and walk away to keep from saying something stupid like, “Lady, it doesn’t get any easier than taking a shorter shower or flipping a light switch.” But later, when I reflected on the conversation, I thought maybe I’d been too harsh in my judgment of this woman.
I’ve been living frugally for so long now that almost everything seems easy to me. I’ve downsized, bargained, and cut so many things over the years and mastered so many DIY skills that it all seems like second nature. If I think back, though, to when I was less careful with my money, I can remember a time when something like using a coupon would have seemed like a monumental effort. Not that the task itself was difficult (how hard is it to get the scissors and cut out a piece of paper, after all), but that the effort would have seemed pointless. I probably would have thought, “Saving fifty cents on a toothbrush? Will that really help anything?”
Of course now I know better. I know that every little bit counts, both in money saved and quality of life gained. (After all, frugality has allowed me to travel and have more freedom than I otherwise would.) Applying money saving tips day in and day out has placed me on the cusp of being able to semi-retire at the ripe old age of (slightly north of) forty. That’s worth all the work and learning I had to do.
What I think is lacking with my acquaintance is the will to do any work, let alone hard work. She knows she needs to save money, but she isn’t willing to do anything or sacrifice anything, no matter how small, to get there. She wants the infomercial method of saving money: Sit at home, do nothing, and somehow rake in thousands a week. And we all know that’s never going to happen.
Until she’s truly ready save, everything is going to seem difficult and stupid. Once she reaches the place where she’s serious, though, suddenly nothing will seem difficult. Sure, it might take some effort (learning how to repair your own faucet, for example, requires some education and a little practice), but nothing is insurmountable when you’re ready to live a different life. When you’re serious about making saving money a way of life, everything is easy. My acquaintance hasn’t reached that point yet. When, or if, she ever does, she’ll likely look back and laugh at how “hard” it all was.
(Photo courtesy of Gisela Giardino)