It’s not being frugal, it’s being minimalistic!

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money growing

Traditionally, people who stick to a budget and account for each dirham/euro/pound they earn and spend have been called “cheap,” “tight” or “frugal.” I think these terms have different meanings! For me, being “cheap” or “tight” means you avoid paying money back to your friends, you conveniently forget your wallet and expect others to cover you, or buy your family and friends cheap crappy gifts, all in a bid to save as much of your money as possible. I CAN’T BEAR THESE KINDS OF PEOPLE. To me, they take advantage of others’ kindness and of their friends’ reluctance to ask for money they’re owed.

In my opinion, “frugal” is  someone who is quite financially aware and has SMART (Specific- Measurable- Attainable- Realistic- Timed) money goals in mind. This results in her/him having a budget to account for their income and expenditure, so she/he saves consistently and avoids overspending. The reason for this? To always have a set amount of money to live and to spend on wonderful gifts for family, friends, and for her/himself (unlike “cheapos” who ask others for cash with no intention of returning it). I admit I am frugal (according to my definition above) and I can trace back to how I became more aware of my spending and how to control it… It was the year 2010!

In 2010, I spent 3 months travelling around Brazil and Argentina with one of my best friends, Aoife. I had a rucksack and a small backpack that carried my life possessions for those 3 months- I had about 5 tops, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 skirts, 2 dresses, 2 pairs of leggings, a pair of tights, a raincoat, hiking boots, a pair of pumps, a pair of flipflops, and some carefully selected earrings and necklaces. Despite my initial shock at surviving with so few items, I actually grew to love the feeling of living out of a rucksack and being able to create wonderful memories and feelings without material possessions.

travel light

We had arrived to Rio with a one-way ticket, a plan to spend a year in South America, and 3,000 thousand euros to last me the 12 months. As you can imagine, I was a bit worried about having enough cash before we found jobs, so I sort of adopted a bit of a frugal attitude. We would stay at 5 euro/ night hostels, fill ourselves up with the free breakfast, have a bread roll for lunch while hiking or doing cheap/free tourist activities, and then not eat until our HUGE pasta dinner at the hostel later that evening… Literally just pasta, no sauce, meat or cheese!!! Some of you may be shocked but it was actually liberating to not be such a consumer for those few months. It gave me good financial habits for the future, many which I practise today, such as:

  • I don’t spend 4 euros on a takeaway coffee unless it is a social occasion where I am meeting a friend for coffee.
  • I never impulse buy and give myself 24 hours to think about a big purchase.
  • I am not really a fan of designer labels and try to shop in the sales.
  • I try to always keep staples like baked beans, tuna, chickpeas, pasta, feta cheese, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, and natural yogurt at home, so I am never tempted to get a takeaway during the week.

Nowadays, us frugal folk can be called “minimalistic”! Yes, my frugality is now a hip movement, called Minimalism, that rejects consumer society and the pressure of advertising! Millions of people around the world are actually embracing such a lifestyle. If you agreed with the 4 frugal habits I listed above, you might also be a Minimalist too- click here to read 25 signs that you might be one. I take my finances seriously because I plan to be financially free in the next 5 to 10 years. This will allow me to work where and when I want, to travel and volunteer around the world, and to spend extended periods of time at home with my parents as they get older (every expat’s dilemma). Click here to read my post about why I invest in experiences, not possessions! 

Join our supportive Empowering Expat Teachers FB group here where each #eetmoneymonday I share tips and resources to help you become a financially empowered expat teacher.