I’d like to credit Mike over at Live The New Economy with inspiring me to write today’s post. When you’re done here, go visit his site and check his progress on achieving his goals.
I may be an older dog, but he re-taught me an old trick.
One of the perpetual debates on forums like Early-Retirement.org or MrMoneyMustache.com is the dividing line between frugality and deprivation. It’s a very personal choice and it varies widely across lifestyles.
A car enthusiast may buy only the finest synthetic motor oil and the highest-quality filters to change their own oil every 3000 miles. I buy Wal-Mart’s five-quart containers of 5W-30 and the least-expensive filter every 6-12 months.
Someone else may go straight to the franchise to let the experts deal with it, freeing up their valuable time for earning more money (while they wait) than they’d ever spend on an oil change. Yet all three of us will claim to be frugal because we’re optimizing our resources and our time to take care of our gear.
Why Being Frugal After Financial Independence is Important
Another perpetual debate is why you would stay frugal after you’ve achieved financial independence. You hold on to the money management reins pretty tightly during the first five years of FI to make sure you haven’t screwed up overlooked something, or in case the stock market hands you a bad series of losses. You track your budget and spending. You watch your investments.
Eventually, though, you’ll relax a bit and start to live a little larger.
Maybe you spent a lot of time on frugality when you were saving for FI, but now you’ll give yourself a little freedom to let a franchise change your oil– even if it’s just because you’d rather read a book while they’re working. You’re not going to buy a Ferrari when your Honda goes over 300K miles, but you’ve probably stopped sweating the little expenses.
Others, though, find it hard to let go of frugal habits. Hey, those habits got you to FI, so why stop now? If frugality makes you feel challenged and fulfilled, then you’ll have even more time for it when you quit your job. You may have already won the FI contest in the third quarter and now you’re just running up the score, but you still enjoy playing it. It turns out that we humans like to play games, especially when we’re good at them, and we’ll keep playing long after we’ve “won”.
So frugality may not make a lot of economic sense when you’re financially independent, but if you’ve gamified the lifestyle then you’ll still enjoy being frugal. It’s the thrill of the chase.
In my case, Mike brought me back to old-school shaving– before shaving cream.
How to Save Money on Shaving – And How it Adds Up
I learned this as a midshipman. The U.S. submarine force has a long list of “atmosphere contaminants” that you’re not allowed to bring onboard. They’re usually propellants or chemicals that poison our little biosphere, like bug spray or air fresheners.
One of the forbidden items back then was canned foamy shaving cream, so in 1979 I dutifully went to the military exchange to buy a shaving brush and shaving soap with a Gillette twin-blade razor. I didn’t bring enough shaving soap, so by the end of that underway time I was foaming up with regular ol’ hand soap. I kept up that habit until the end of my second sea tour in 1992.
I’m no Luddite, but I usually stick with what works until a vast improvement has become the cheap established standard. I’m sure that some of you can detect the difference in your shave when you’re using 3, 4, or 5 blades, but I cannot. 33 years later I’m still using that same razor. (I’m waiting for the Gillette Shaving Museum to buy it back from me.) It’s getting difficult to find twin-blade cartridges, but they last a long time now that I’m a military retiree who only shaves twice a week. Besides, Mike has helped me make those blades last a lot longer.
In Mike’s post on saving his family over $214K, he mentioned that he’s started using a shaving brush. The next time I shaved, I found that I also still had my 33-year-old shaving brush– despite having moved to three different homes since the last time I used it. (“But I might need it someday”, and I did!) So I rinsed it, stuck it into a bar of soap, and foamed up.
When you only shave twice a week, you lose proficiency. You’re also not very interested in the project and you might rush a little, so you end up nicking yourself. This time, however, the shaving brush made a huge difference. The razor ran more smoothly, the blades didn’t clog up with shaving cream & stubble, and I didn’t nick myself. Hmmm.
I used to buy state-of-the-art shaving cream. At $2.25/can it seems to disappear awfully fast, so I was probably spending $8-$10/year on it! Whoa! It did the job but it was messy. It clogged up the razor blades, coated the sink, and even hung up in the sink drain to encourage the formation of hairball clogs. In contrast, the shaving brush is much cleaner. We have a whole-house water conditioner and I’m using Zest soap so there’s not much residue in our soft water. The soap & stubble rinses right out of the razor and the sink no longer looks like a hazardous waste dump.
“Best of all”, I’m using soap scraps. Thanks to Amy Dacyczyn, I’ve always felt guilty about throwing them away instead of carefully saving them inside an old stocking to assemble into new bars of soap. (I know, I need help, but it’s my competitive frugality– and I’m winning the game!) Now the soap scraps go into my shaving mug, and I can use them up there instead of patiently growing them into a bigger bar. I don’t feel guilty about opening a brand-new bar of soap just because the old one is too small to handle.
As a bonus surprise, the razor blades are lasting longer. I could never clean the shaving cream gunk off the blades, and I’m sure the moisture corroded them. Now, however, I’m able to rinse the blades clean and dry them thoroughly. I can actually feel the difference in the smooth glide, and I haven’t nicked myself in nearly six weeks. So not only am I saving $10/year on shaving cream and not wasting the last 10% of a 50-cent bar of soap, but I’m also extending the lifetime of those $1.50 razors. Whoa again– the savings are snowballing into as much as $20/year!!
Yeah, I agree, it sounds pretty silly. But I’m actually doing less work, reducing waste, enjoying a better shave, and getting a free blog post out of the experience. That’s priceless.
I have no idea how much longer that shaving brush will last. If the shaving industry reads this post, the price of brushes may spike to $50 overnight.
Frugality is a Lifestyle & a Mindset
I’m not the only frugal one in our family. My spouse makes the most of every freebie on Ancestry.com for her genealogy research. (She’s already saved at least $20.) Our daughter practices once-a-week cooking, so that she can eat healthy while saving the leftover money from her room & board stipend.
Frugality is a mindset, not just time & labor. You can make it a lifestyle. Once you consider how to reduce, re-use, or recycle everything in your life, you have the skill to make big savings out of small changes. It may seem silly to focus on shaving cream and soap scraps for only a few dollars a year– but that same mindset saves you thousands on your groceries, your insurance bills, your home maintenance, and even your investment expenses. It may seem silly to pick up a penny from the sidewalk, but your frugal habits will soon have you seeing $50 bills everywhere you look.
Don’t get me wrong– frugality is just one part of your game plan for financial independence. It’s great defense, and you can score a few points that way, but when you’re working then you can run up the score faster by raising your income. If I can earn more money from one hour of blogging than from an hour of doing my car maintenance, then I’m taking the car to the franchise. If you can use that time to improve your job skills and get a raise, then feel free to take your car there too. If you can earn $300/hour at your career while employing $40/hour assistants to manage other parts of your work and your life, then that’s what you should do.
But someday you’ll stop working. When you give up your earned income, it’s reassuring to know that you have frugal skills and can still play great defense.
So even if you’re a frugal black belt, keep practicing your skills after you reach financial independence. Your habits helped you reach your goals, and they’ll keep you alert for other opportunities to save during the rest of your life. If you want to relax your discipline and only do the parts you enjoy, that’s fine too.
Thanks again, Mike. I may have already crossed the financial independence goal line, but I like the game and I still enjoy the thrill of the chase!
Share your stories here. What frugal habit have you kept going after it’s no longer strictly necessary?