The F word, the B word, and the C word

Calm down Mom, I haven’t quite stooped to that level of vulgarity in public discourse. I’m talking about Frugality, Budgets, and Cost. What the hell do those three terms have to do with a blog that is supposedly focused on climbing? Well, it’s simple. The length of time before I am permanently relocated to the mountainous Pacific Northwest with a paid-for little mountain cottage on a paid-for chunk of land and a debt free lifestyle is inversely proportional to my discipline in understanding and adhering to those three concepts.

Part of my mind is constantly screaming “You’re young and strong now! Climb and travel and adventure while you can and worry about fiscal responsibility later!” However, the logical part of my brain – thankfully the majority – is smart enough to know that if I play my cards right for the next 2-3 years, I can remain debt free and be financially set for the rest of my life. I can live my life with no mortgage, no car payment, no credit card debt, and a monthly cost of living that I can easily support with a part-time job.

Maybe that doesn’t appeal to you, and perhaps you are more on board with the “live now and worry about paying for it later” philosophy. That’s fine, and I’m not saying that your way is  wrong…but I am currently debt free and on my way to living my dream life, and I love it. If that idea appeals to you, read on!

Frugality

Let me throw a disclaimer out there: I have not mastered living frugally, not by a long shot. I like craft beer and good coffee, and if you happened to read my last blog post, you know I spent an ungodly amount of money on a really sick mountain bike in recent history. Frugality doesn’t have to mean living like a hermit and not having any fun, and I think it should mean something different to everyone! For me, it means cutting back on unnecessary expenditures within reason. I’ve learned that if I live as frugally as I possibly can:

  • I don’t live a physically healthy life
  • I don’t live an emotionally healthy life
  • I get depressed
  • My splurge-o-meter gets all pent up until it explodes and I go on a reckless spending spree

Maybe those bullet points mean I’m weak or undisciplined, but I know from practical experience that they’re true. So how does one live frugally but reasonably?

Budgets

You do it with a budget! Here’s the thing about budgets – they suck. I wasn’t raised with any kind of financial education, and I’m a little ashamed to say that I just got on the budget train about two years ago (at the ripe old age of 26). Transitioning from spending more than I earned every month to drastically less than I earned was HARD. Some months saw a major regression in the form of me deleting the budget file on my Mac halfway through the month and yelling “fuck it, I’ll start being responsible in (insert any month)!” During the two years and four months it took me to pay off $35k of post-divorce debt, I know for a fact that I blew my budget more often than not. Spending money is fun!

Some of the gear stash, stored per my OCD tendencies.

Gear and Beer not only rhyme and provide endless entertainment; they’re also expensive.

But you know what? Just having a monthly budget made me conscious of my frivolous spending, and I still paid off all that debt. The willingness to try, fail, adjust, and try again is the important thing. Make a basic spreadsheet with categories for your anticipated monthly spending, and track every cent you spend on a daily basis. Be ambitious with your spending limits – it’s amazing how little you actually need to make it through a month and still maintain a great standard of living!

Cost

So, you’ve embraced the idea of a frugal lifestyle? Great! You have a budget in place and you’re determined to stick to it? Wonderful! However, vital to truly living frugally and indispensable to creating an effective budget is understanding the truth of cost. It’s simple really (and maybe even stupid to someone with a better financial education), but my concept of cost inspired a sense of positive desperation in me. Honestly, it’s the reason I’m debt free and on track to have well over $10k in savings by the end of 2016.

It goes like this. Let’s assume you take home $150 a day from your job after taxes. It’s a Monday-Friday gig, so you take home $750 per week, $39k per year. I didn’t go to college, but I think that’s a fairly respectable post-tax income for your average college grad. Now let’s say you want to buy a new car to replace your aging junkmobile…it runs fine, but your coworkers are giving you crap for driving that rust bucket. For easy math, let’s say you save up and pay for a $20k vehicle. One way of looking at it is that you got a shiny new car! Another way is that you just condemned yourself to roughly six more months of slaving away at that job that you bitch about on your always-too-short weekends. That $150 bar tab from a crazy night on the town? Another day in the office. That $1500 tropical vacation because January was cold and dreary and you deserved some time away? Another two weeks at your desk.

I'd much rather be here than sitting behind a desk.

I’d much rather be here than sitting behind a desk.

That’s half of the equation. The other half is what I call the Twice What It Seems formula. This might not make sense to anyone else, and that’s okay. It works wonders for me. You wake up on a Sunday morning with no plans and a bit of a hangover, and suddenly brunch seems like a good idea…brunch with a mimosa! Hair of the dog, right? Here’s where the formula comes into play. That $25 you’re about to spend on brunch is actually $50. You’re about to go from positive $25 in your checking account to a negative potential $25 in your savings account. The amount is still $25, but it’s a $50 swing based on your decision to spend or save.

Now. Does that actually make sense? Empirically speaking, I’m actually a very intelligent person, yet no matter how much I think about it, I still have no idea. I do know that the idea of the formula literally doubles the consequence of each potential purchase I make, and that has been a very good thing for me. If it’s actually a bunch of nonsense, please don’t tell me. It would be a blow to both my pride and my financial future.

Happy savings!