Do you think you can still be frugal if you like new things? Can the love of novelty co-exist with being frugal, or is your frugal lifestyle doomed?
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Sometimes the ‘frugal’ part of me gets stopped in its tracks by the ‘curious’ part of me. They don’t always feel like they coexist peacefully. Ever since I was knee high, I liked new things. That hasn’t changed and I’m still as curious about the world and trying different things as I ever was. This didn’t manifest in a desire to own new things, or upgrade material possessions. It has manifested in craving novel experiences. This doesn’t always pair well with frugality, but it is possible.
I have lived in several places across Canada and the U.S. over the years. I was born in Toronto and went to university in Montreal. After university I moved to Wyoming to work at Yellowstone Park, then briefly to Vancouver. Another move took me to the Yukon where I got to explore parts of the Yukon and Alaska. Now I live in a prairie city right in the centre of North America, and my exploring is with my husband and our tiny sidekick toddler.
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I still miss big parts of living in Yellowstone Park. Like that view…
Seeking novelty doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money
All this moving meant a lot of different jobs. New experiences, new friends, new explorations. It could have also meant a lot of purchasing. Furnishing each new place could have burned through any money I was making in those cities. Because I loved living in different places, but absolutely detest packing, I used each move as the motivation to simplify.
I either donated or gave to friends much of my clothing before a move. Some items I sold – click here to find the perfect place to sell your stuff for the most money. Furniture was the same. Some places I rented from came furnished; others I outfitted with pieces found from second-hand stores. There was no need to spend a lot as I was already comfortable with the idea that I would be leaving most of it in a few years or sometimes only months.
I love books so more of those criss-crossed the continent than probably made sense. But that is current me looking back and for past me, what I did made sense. I do love libraries too and am slowly changing to let libraries store more of the books than I hold on our shelves.
Can you still be frugal if you like new things
Recently I left a comment on a Frugalwoods blog post. The topic was about what to pack for lunch, as packing your own lunch is a great way to save money day-to-day. This was what I wrote:
Something that trips me up with being more frugal with food is my love of novelty. I think there’s something in having a bit of a system down so you know you have inexpensive meals that you know how to prepare. I experiment quite a bit, and sometimes this can lead to having too many different types of ingredients around. It’s something that gives me pleasure so I’m not axing it from my life, but these past two weeks I’ve had to simplify my cooking due to health reasons. A side effect has been that I’ve spent less money and have had more time as I haven’t been creating elaborate meals.
I didn’t learn to properly cook until after university. The first two years in university I stayed in places where I had a meal plan. Being able to have my choice of anything buffet-style three times a day? I loved that and it meant that I was not doing any cooking. The last two years of university I lived in an apartment and had to learn to fend for myself. There was a lot of pasta made that first year. And probably the second year too. My freezer was always stocked with some version of Amy’s pot pies or pizzas. Breakfasts were cereal or toast. Basic and not very well-rounded.
Learning how to cook – a big step to being frugal
I started learning how to cook when I moved up to the Yukon. It was probably a combination of the cold weather, the dark winter, and the exorbitant food prices especially for my beloved prepared foods, which caused me to be interested in learning to cook. I bought cookbooks. This classic Moosewood cookbook was the one I turned to the most, and ended up with the most dog-eared, sauce-splattered pages. I took an Indian food cooking course. Then I learned how to bake bread from scratch. I hosted dinner parties, trying out new recipes on guests.
Over the next several years (and a few more moves) I learned how to cook vegetarian food, then vegan food, then paleo. It was not that I was jumping from diet to diet. I still ate how I do now, which is generally healthy, lot of fresh foods, and definitely still desserts. When I eat meat it’s either organic, or free-range. Up in the Yukon I ate game meat, like elk and moose that people hunted. But I loved the novelty of learning how to cook these different ways. As you can probably guess, vegan cooking is extremely different from paleo cooking! I even had a few weeks where I got into learning how to make raw food recipes and made some delicious raw ravioli (or rawvioli as the cool raw kids call it).
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Liking new things and the goal to be frugal – do they go together?
Was I saving money by being so adventurous in the kitchen? Absolutely not. I had been living frugal all along in so many areas of my life, eschewing new clothing or household items for finds from second-hand stores, and not at all keeping up with the Joneses. Or even caring or being aware of what the Joneses were doing. But food-wise, I was not budgeting. Each new style of cooking often brought entirely new ingredients, pantry staples, and even new kitchen tools like a shiny new mandolin for all that raw food prep I was doing. Curiousness and frugality were not working well together.
Saving money on food
A couple of years ago I decided to reign in the food spending. We started implementing these steps:
- paying attention to sales
- doing meal prep on Sundays (this is the best resource I have found for meal planning)
- shopping with a list instead of choosing items on a whim at the store
- regularly eating from the freezer or pantry to eliminate food waste
- making sure we ate leftovers and not letting them sit in the fridge for days and then go bad
None of these steps are super revolutionary, but if you’re not doing them, they can seem huge. For a foodie free spirit like I was, it took time to add in each step. It would have been too big a change for me to do all at once.
You’ll notice that none of these alterations involved me curbing my experimental ways. When you’re making changes you have to assess if it goes with your own personality, or if it’s something that really makes sense to your life at the moment. For me, the other changes were enough. We were already seeing big savings in our food spending. One of the ways I express myself is through cooking and baking. It’s a hobby, a stress reliever, and a creative outlet, all in one. It was not something I was interested in giving up or changing about myself. If your goal is to be frugal, it shouldn’t be a punishment, and if an aspect of frugality doesn’t work with you, that’s totally fine.
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Forced out of my experimental ways
Fast forward to a couple of months ago and I was having problems with my stomach and getting massive pains after eating. At first doctors thought it was my gallbladder but an ultrasound ruled that out. Now they think it might be an ulcer (fun times). While we were sorting this out and starting me on a medication, this greatly affected how I ate. I cut out many things that I love: chocolate, coffee, cheese, elaborate sauces, bread, salads. Breakfasts stayed pretty much the same, lunches were leftovers from dinner, but dinners were very much simplified. I either ate bland chicken or eggs, prepared in a very basic way. Vegetables that hurt the least were sweet potatoes, cooked carrots, or corn, so I stuck with those. I would have either pasta or rice with just a bit of butter or oil, no sauce. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
For someone who craves novelty in many areas of my life, and definitely with food, I’m surprised that this new way of eating didn’t drive me batty. I think I was so relieved to find something that caused the least amount of discomfort that I went with it.
Learning how to be frugal with food
Two huge positive effects came from this. One is I was spending even less money on food. I wasn’t eating less food overall, but because I was sticking to the same simple foods without fancy extras, I was naturally saving money. The second positive effect was I had more free time in the evenings. I wasn’t spending large amounts of time concocting more interesting dinners. I had more time to help my daughter with a big floor puzzle. Or go for an evening walk now that it’s lighter outside again.
Would I want to keep this restricted diet forever? No, I really would not. I hope I can eat a plethora of foods again soon. Since being on medication, I’ve already added back a variety of things I used to eat. I don’t know what I will be able to eat in the future, or what food triggers I might have to stay away from.
So can you be frugal if you like new things?
This repetitive way of eating was so different from usual, and did show that my tendency to try new things can be a hindrance to frugality. But there are very few people (in privileged countries) who are able to be frugal in all areas. There were those other areas where I was novelty-seeking and frugal at the same time. Moving around the continent, working in different places, having completely different jobs, these didn’t mean a hit to the finances.
I will continue to be mindful of my food purchases and keep up with the changes I implemented above. But if experimenting and trying new things in the kitchen is something that brings me joy and adds value to my life (it does!), that isn’t something I’m going to overfrugalize anytime soon. So a resounding yes! It’s not all or nothing!
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Does being frugal mean living cheap? What do you think? Share in the comments below!