In indirect response to this post, friends began discussing radical frugality, noting they’re not keen on that path.
I am close with a number of people who choose radical frugality. Some live on abandoned farmland with food harvested from the wild or scavenged from dumpsters. Others join monastic or lay monastic communities which provide a simple bed in a shared room, with two small meals per days which are wholly dependent upon the most recent batch of donations. An acquaintance in Seattle lives a relatively mainstream life—working two jobs and AirBnBing all extra space—but scavenges much of his family’s food and sleeps himself and his children in a van in a parking lot. An elderly family member rarely buys furniture, instead draping second-hand fabric swatches over cardboard boxes to serve as tables.
Whether money is or is not a focus in any such lifestyle, the decision to live radically frugal can have a positive impact on one’s sense of peace, wellness, freedom, joy, and/or wealth.
Nevertheless, it’s not for me. I lived very frugally for a long time, by force of circumstance. When renting a room in a shared, derelict house uses up 90% of your income, you learn to make do.
But now? I have enough for anything I want. And radical frugality is not on that list.
But radical prioritizing? I’m all over that!
When I radically prioritize, I choose my top 4-8 needs and live according to those. As a natural outcome, I’m not spending on daily lattes out, monthly hair colouring treatments, concert tickets, hotels, and so on. To be clear: If any of these fell within my top values—perhaps staying near a family member during the height of her long term illness, or supporting a musician friend to take the leap with her craft—I would indeed spend on them.
As it happens, my own top values at this stage in my life include:
- health (privacy, silence, solitude, dense nutrition, etc)
- integrity (being able to live and speak honestly, and in alignment with my nature and my son’s nature)
- contribution (donating time, energy, skill, or money to specific causes)
The material needs extending from the above values include:
- a place in which I can hermit while simultaneously allowing my extroverted child to independently access other healthy people
- a high-protein, high-fat, low-starch diet, because that’s what keeps my son and I well
- close to 24/7 contact with nature
- for both my son and I, freedom (see this and this)
- donating to causes close to my heart (including the writing of my book)
Currently, the first six of the above priorities cost me approximately $1300/mo. I rarely spend on anything outside of these.
I’m not frugal—in the past six months I’ve bought myself a shiny new washing machine (privacy, freedom, health), an evaporative cooler (health), and a shredder (contribution). I’ve taken three trips, and gifted family members and others. And I already had a robotic vacuum, a car, a home, a giant stuffie, and more. Radically frugal? Not so much.
Radical frugality is a great fit for some, but for many of us, radical prioritizing is a much better fit. Keen to try that? In my book, I offer three exercises to help you determine your financial priorities.