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The Case Against Extreme Frugality

WHAT?! Did you read the title correctly? Many in the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) world may disagree with me on this particular topic. I'm OK with that. From what I've observed, the way we spend money reflects our values. One thing that we've been taught over the years in the traditional "retire at 65" cultural status quo is to either "save or spend" but not to evaluate WHY we are saving or spending. The #FIRE community has it correct in encouraging us to save all we can, and to evaluate the WHY of our own FIRE story.

But consider this: all the people in your FIRE community are trying to do the exact same thing you are: be financially independent. And how can we do that if we do not support each other financially? Which is where I come to the conclusion that we also have to have a WHY for SPENDING our money. Both saving and spending should be a deliberate choice. If you ask yourself why you want to quit your day job and be "retired", also ask "until I quit my day job, what do I value and to whom do I want to give my money?" Is it China or any other foreign country? Is it the employee in that foreign country who cannot make a living wage because you want another $5 shirt? Is it the IRS? Is it an organization with a huge overhead which keeps more for administration than helping the end recipient?

Mr. Money Mustache and many others are huge advocates of DIY, develop a skill, use your brain to further your FI journey. I completely agree. But I also agree with, and attempt to live by, Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (AKA the Golden Rule) I WANT people to invest in my business. I WANT people to see the value of #handmade, #homemade, #slowfashion, #slowfood, etc. I WANT customers to support my endeavor. I WANT Americans to buy American, or those in other countries to buy from their neighbors first and foremost. In order to achieve that end, I have to live it. While it may feel satisfying to buy a shirt for $5 from a big box store, knowing I can put the other $45 away for a future purchase (or 9 more shirts), we can train ourselves to feel just as satisfied with one shirt, bought for $50 from a local artisan, who works with American-made textiles, and who is working daily to achieve our same end goal of financial independence. In this case, the entire supply chain supports the FIRE movement, rather than my decisions supporting my FIRE goal alone.

Full disclosure, I have a housekeeper. I hate housekeeping, for one. But beyond that, this person is someone who, like me, is attempting to make a living. She wants to support her family. She wants to have a standard of living of which she is proud. Could I save the money spent on her services and achieve my #FI goal sooner? Of course. But two things would happen as a result (besides having a dirtier house) - I would have significantly less time to pursue my own business endeavors, and I would not be living my ethos. My values conflict would eat away at me (as they tend to do), and I would live in a state of emotional discord. This has far reaching physical as well as spiritual consequences, none of which I want to bring into my life. Emotional conflict can manifest as physical symptoms, which aren't resolved until the values conflict is resolved.

I also buy the majority of my groceries from my local farmers. This flies in the face of FIRE wisdom, which is to bring your grocery bill down to the smallest dollar amount possible. Day to day, there are two adults and one toddler in the house, and we spend approximately 20% of our take home pay on food (this total skyrockets when the other four adult children come to visit, as you can imagine!). This is not a bill for processed food. Nor is it for fast food or restaurants, but just #pastureraised, #organic food. From local farmers. These are people who are also attempting to achieve the "good life" of working while doing what they love. They provide real nourishment, which is a value of our family. We work hard to eat well so we don't have to pay a doctor later to make up for our poor eating decisions today. In the process, we support our local community and build a healthier environment. I stressed about this grocery bill for a long time, until my husband reminded me that he would rather work an additional year at the office in exchange for excellent food, if that's what it took to invest in our family's health. Our FIRE investments aren't limited to the stock market alone.

Perhaps in a few years when we are snugly living within the confines of "retired" before 50, and relying on dividends instead of a salary, we may cut back on a few of these luxuries. In the mean time, however, we will be building a larger FIRE community right at home by supporting others also striving for our same end goal.

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