Today wasn’t a great day. It’s rainy, my morning started with the dog peeing on the floor (for NO. DAMN. REASON.), F was dragging her feet about going to daycare and I was already stressed out by the time I got to work.
I know (from many years of experience) that stressed Liz makes a lot more non-frugal decisions because, you know, cortisol. And emotions. So today, despite having brought my lunch to work, my co-worker and I went down to the cafeteria where I bought a very large, overpriced, not very good for me taco salad. And don’t you know, I’ve felt like crap about it all. damn. day. Where do I get off coming here, talking about frugal living, when I brought my lunch to work and still didn’t eat it? It’s a stupid thing to feel guilty about, but sometimes, things seem worse when it’s already been a bad day.
It’s days like today, when I make choices that don’t feel good later, that I try to remind myself of my own guiding principle with money: frugality is not an all or nothing proposition.
This is something that B and I (mostly I) sort of learned the hard way when we first started budgeting (turns out we learn a lot of things the hard way- it’s like we’re stubborn or something…). I’m not usually a black and white person, but I took a very black and white approach to budgeting. Either I did it perfectly or I didn’t do it at all (btw, this is NOT the Dave Ramsey approach- he’s very clear that you will fail at your budget a lot before you get it down). Every month, I’d forget to include something in the budget or we’d accidentally go over on a category, or we’d be out and I would have forgotten to bring the cash envelopes.
So every month, I’d toss the budget out the window, because it didn’t go right. I didn’t do it right. I didn’t account for everything.
It took me a long time to realize that I was using perfection as an excuse. By treating frugality and budgeting as something that I had to do perfectly, every month, all the time, I was setting up an unreasonable expectation that I could never, ever meet. And the truth was, I didn’t want to meet it. I didn’t want to have to budget, I didn’t want to have to think about money, I didn’t want to feel stress from money. I wanted to avoid it all and just hope that it all worked out.
Facing myself, admitting that I was being a coward about this and accepting that failure was going to happen was hard. It took a lot of practice not to give up the second that a month ended up having unforeseen expenses (hint: they all do).
But eventually, I came to embrace the 90/10 principle (or 85/15 depending on the month). If I can make frugal choices 90% of the time, then I’m 90% better than when I was doing nothing. Rather than focusing on the 10% of things that don’t go well, I try to remind myself of that 90%. And I try to remind myself that frugality is not an all or nothing proposition. Slip-ups don’t mean failure and failure doesn’t justify quitting. But some days, like today, I really need the reminder.