The experts say that money problems are the number one cause of fights in a marriage, more distructive to more relationships than cheating or lying or even addiction issues. And no wonder!

Money is not only what pays for our basic survival needs but also for those comforts we crave, including the small indulgences that bring a little joy to life — a movie night, or coffee with a friend, or the ability to give a gift… whatever.

When money is tight and those little comforts must be sacrificed to keeping the proverbial wolf from the door — food, housing, utilities, transportation, all that — then a lot of emotional and mental stress can build up fast.

We see other people going about their lives with nice clothes and new toys and dinners in fancy restaurants, while we’re desperately trying to save cash to pay the phone bill at the first of the month…

Stress can build up fast.

The problem is, trying to save money is way less fun than spending it!

Saving is boring, frankly. There’s no immediate reward for not spending money — numbers on a bank statement, or the absence of nagging phone calls from bill collectors, those things just don’t cut it. And you can’t take it with you, right?

But to my mind, a frugal lifestyle is not about saving and drudgery and penny-pinching and coupn-clipping martyrdom. It is not even about doing without those objects and activities that give genuine pleasure or help to enrich our lives.

It’s about making your money work as hard as you do.

Just that simple.

Jay, over at dumblittleman, has says:

Last month a friend (who is constantly broke) asked me how I always manage to have more spending cash than he did. Bear in mind, this guy makes $30K more than me each year and has NO kids! So for the last month I have been listing things that I do, that he doesn’t.

For one thing, Jay eats fast food only once a week, and the rest of the time he takes a sandwich. Do the math: 5 days per week x $6.00 per fast food lunch = $30.00 per week. Multiply that by 4 weeks and there goes $120.00 each month!

The question to ask ourselves is this: are those quick hamburgers really worth $120 out of our monthly budget? And how many hours do we have to work in order to earn that money — after taxes?

Speaking of taxes, Jay says he invests in the services of a decent accountant at tax time, and she has saved him a great deal more money than he pays out for her fee.

Maybe frugal, maybe smart… Either way you look at it, it’s my money. Why not keep as much as possible?

Tax forms are complicated, and the government isn’t about to let you know if you missed out on a deduction… even if they could somehow guess what receipts are stashed away in that shoebox in your closet.

Yes, I buy such things as birthday-cake candles and gift ribbons at the dollar store, but when it came time to put new windows in the house it was an easy decision to invest in the higher quality product with low-E glass and high insulating values. The party stuff only has to do it’s thing for a day, but I want those windows to last a lifetime!

The lesson here is that sometimes it just doesn’t pay to “cheap out” on what you need. A winter jacket that’s knocked together in a third-world sweatshop is unlikely to have the stuffing to keep you warm, even if the cheap zipper doesn’t split after a month of use, and a flimsy pair of shoes is unlikely to survive the season.

Okay, one more example:

Books are my big addiction, as some of you will know by now. Confession — at one time I was spending more on books for one than on groceries for two — talk about something that could put a serious strain on a relationship!

Truly, I just hadn’t realized how it added up, all those times I was “just ducking into the bookstore to have a look around”… Soul-searching ensued, and it was clear that not all books are created equal.

There are certain books that I need in order to be able to do my work effectively, and some books I want to own so I can enjoy them again and again, but there are many that I only need to have in my hands for just long enough to read them.

So now I go to the public library every week to borrow books — but I only go browsing aorund Chapters or B&N once every six weeks. I shop around online for best prices and/or buy used books, usually through Amazon. Sometimes I download the classics from the Gutenberg project website. I write book reviews in exchange for lovely big boxes of newly released books delivered to my door by the publishers, and usually get paid for the review as well! And of course there’s an active trade in favourite books between family and friends.

Which leaves more money for groceries. Which means that we can indulge in more of the exotic ingredients for interesting gourmet meals that wouldn’t fit in the budget before… yet I still have full access to all the books in the world, more than I could ever read in a lifetime. No sacrifice was made.

See, frugality is simply about paying attention to the difference between what we need and what we merely want. Do that one thing, and it’s almost magical how the money tensions will ease right up!

This fits in with Jay’s final and, I think, most important point — you should at least know where your money is going each month, he says. “You will naturally start cutting things out that aren’t worth your sweat.”

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. domestika

    Hi Kel, looks like you’re already building up a “track record” as a reviewer, with your book review blog, so it shouldn’t be hard to get yourself on some publishers’ lists for review copies.

    You asked for advice? Here’s my 2 cents:

    Start with the small presses – they tend to have a hard time getting press, in competition with the big guys and bestsellers – and write a nice note to the promotions person, to let them know that you’re open to receiving review copies. Tell them your stats on readership of your blog, if you think the numbers might impress them!

    But do be aware print is still valued more highly than web publication, in the book world, so it would help if you can hook up with your local paper or a print magazine of some sort – scholarly publications often run on zero budget and are grateful for reviews.

    To start out, you’d normally write the reviews without payment from the periodical – your payment is in keeping the review copies and establishing your credentials as a book reviewer.

    Hope this helps!
    :-) Jen

  2. Kel

    thanks for this post. I know what you mean about the books. My family is big into libraries, but I’ve lived in about 3 different places in the alst few years and it takes me time to figure out my way around a new library. I’m only just remembering how much good stuff they have there–you just have to look!

    Also, any tips on getting free books in exchange for reviews? haha, that sounds like it’d be fun.

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