Frugality is not an all or nothing proposition

Slip-ups don’t mean failure and failure doesn’t justify quitting

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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.

One thought on “Frugality is not an all or nothing proposition”

  1. Hi, Liz, From experience I can tell you that if you’re thinking about the budget, and if you’re aware of bad choices when you’re making them, that’s a HUGE help to eventually righting the ship completely, which you will do. While perfection is probably impossible, I bet you’ll come closer than you ever imagined if you just work toward incremental progress. As always, I really appreciate being able to hear your journey and share mine with you, too. Think about all of the debt you’ve already paid off. That’s SO awesome. Just keep going, you’ll get there!

    Like

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