Last week, I posted a list of 25 things that “we do to save money” and I have been thinking on it ever since. Some introspective questions resulted from the thinking, like: were all of those things done *actively* to save money? or were there other motivations behind the actions - and saving money just happened to be a passive outcome? if money was not a constraint, would we still be doing some of those things?
There are no generic yes/no answers to these questions, but as I was attempting to answer them, I realized that a lot of our actions that save us money (or appear to do so) are (or were) situation specific - probably, saving money was not the main motivation behind all of them.
So, if it’s not always about the money, then what else could motivate you to do something frugal?
To answer that, here are six motivational factors off the top of my head. I will try to explain these through examples to make it easier to understand.
- Time: I walk to school/work and I count that as a frugal activity that saves me money. However, I have pointed it out earlier that it simply takes more time (and more hassles) to reach school if I drive - and that is probably the main reason why I walk to school. The fact that it saves me money on parking permits is only a secondary motivation. It doesn’t matter if I had a billion dollars (or if someone gave me a free parking permit) - I would still walk to school/work if driving is not saving me significant amount of time.
- Energy: We cook regularly, but we don’t cook everyday - mostly, on alternate days. Not cooking everyday is frugal in many ways: there is less washing of cooking vessels, less utilization of electricity (or gas) for cooking, less wastage of food, fewer grocery trips, etc. So yeah, it saves some money - but are we really not cooking everyday to save money? I don’t think so; we just don’t have the energy to cook (and clean things up after cooking) everyday. Here, lack of energy is the frugal motivation.
- Attitudes: There are some things we do “just for the heck of it”. One such example is my worn out pair of jeans in the list of 25 things that attracted a lot of public (and private) attention. Yes, it saves me money because I wear some of my clothes till they wear out (to the point where they get holes in them) - but that’s not the main motivation. Stronger motivation is provided by the fact that I hate shopping for clothes, and that my “attitude” just doesn’t let me get rid of that torn pair of jeans. Even if someone gifts gives me several new jeans, I would be still wearing the torn one for another year.
My favorite (and dilapidated) jeans
- Preferences: Another frugal example, in which saving money is probably a secondary factor, is our homemade lunch routine. Of course, not eating out for lunch saves money, but even if I had a ton of money, I don’t think I would prefer eating at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or Subway (the three fast food joints closest to my workplace) - I hate those places (for various reasons). The main motivational factor here is probably the hatred for fast food and preference for home-cooked meals.
- Lack of Resources: During my early days as a graduate student (when I was single and sharing apartment with roommates), only one of us had a car (and it wasn’t me). That sort of restricted the frequency of my grocery trips, out of town socializing trips, movie theater trips, etc. It wasn’t like I was going only twice a month for groceries to “save money” - it happened because I didn’t have a damn car (and I didn’t like asking someone for frequent favors). Agreed, it was a frugal thing to do, but it was very situation specific. It’s very likely that I would have had a different lifestyle (probably with less “money saving” habits) if I had a car at that time. A resource crunch also encourages the “make-do” attitude - which is probably one of the most fundamental reasons behind a lot of frugal habits.
- Habits: Here, I will quote my own words from the list of 25 things post:
I am also in the habit of extracting the last drop of shampoo from almost-empty shampoo bottles by filling some water in them - doesnâ€™t save diddly-squat of money, but itâ€™s a fun thing to do.
It’s pretty clear right there - it’s a habit. I would probably continue doing it even after I become a millionaire. I am sure it will save a few bucks over several years, but that’s not the main reason why I keep doing it. It’s just for the heck of it.
So, in summary, there are things that are done specifically for saving money (buying a used car, renting a small apartment, etc.), but there are a lot of frugal things that we probably do due to other motivational factors - and save money in the process. The six factors listed above are only some of them and depending on your situation, they may or may not be influencing your frugal behavior.
What are the motivations behind your frugal actions? is money-saving your only driving factor?