Conspicuous Frugality

crispydoc Uncategorized 5 Comments

Many folks pursuing Financial Independence (FI) as high income professionals often opt for a lifestyle comparable to average income households, arbitraging the difference in income (greater than households at similar spending levels) and expenses (far less than peers in their profession) to supercharge their investments.

A modest lifestyle with high income and financial literacy can combine to act as a powerful and forgiving wealth-building strategy.

Yet there also seems to be a subtext of judgement implicit in the choice to spend on certain consumption items (doctors driving Teslas make for reliable clickbait) that can either invigorate or abruptly halt the discussion, depending on one's perspective.

I was curious if I've been unwittingly contributing to that judgmental aspect in how I represent my daily life, and thought putting myself under the microscope might be an interesting exercise.

Am I a saver who spends bigly or a spender who saves bigly?

I tend to write routinely (if selectively) about aspects of being a frugal misfit:

When I think it over, this gives a distorted view of my lifestyle. You see, I also spend lavishly:

  • I own a doctor home in a community in coastal southern California. Although it was purchased before I underwent my financial literacy conversion experience, we have not right-sized or downsized like other, more motivated friends have done.
  • We partly chose our area for excellent public schools that are walkable from our home - a rare luxury in LA, but one that we have paid dearly to enjoy.
  • Come to think of it, just living in the state of California is a luxury spend.
  • When I go to those thrift stores, I remain inclined to purchase fancier brands of used clothing. Maybe it's a proxy for quality or durability, but if I'm honest there is pleasure in scoring ostensibly "luxury" items for less.
  • We continue to utilize help in the home when it comes to cooking, cleaning, and child care. I once suggested to my wife that if we cut out these services it would significantly boost our savings rate. She said if we cut out these services, she would take on an extra job just to afford them once more. I conceded the argument.
  • We have taken 3 week European vacations (Greece and Spain) for the past two summers in a row. Sure, we used credit card miles to pay our entire airfare on the last trip, stayed in lower cost airbnb housing, and saved money by eating out only once a day. But that's still ridiculous.

In retrospect, I've been guilty of conspicuous frugality - a term, it turns out, that has been bandied around for quite some time. To quote one such article:

...status seeking through frugal and low‐​key consumption — is becoming increasingly beneficial.

Hmmm. Am I simply trying to elevate my cool points among the popular kids at the new party I'm hoping to be a part of?

I suppose it's a possible incentive for my actions, although that proverbial party I'm hoping to join doesn't seem to be held close enough to feel the status I'm allegedly seeking outside of the virtual world.

Gasem in particular has raised the alert that many in the physician finance blogger world simply find alternative means of virtue signaling, and his critique is well founded. What if I'm precisely that sort of poseur?

I'd like to believe my motives for putting it out there are true: if enough people who secretly make similar choices feel that the stigma is removed from their less normative decisions, they might express themselves more freely and connect with others like them. (The selfish angle: Perhaps I'll make a new friend when they come out of the closet.)

I'd still maintain that the net positive of having a plurality of distinct voices in the physician finance world has created a virtual doctor's lounge where one can find a niche that is likely to speak to one's particular circumstance.

Does part of me feel a little shy about inviting friends over who don't know me very well?

Sure. I'm every bit as flawed, fragile and human as the next person.

Who knows? Maybe revealing my inconsistencies will inspire others to feel comfort in their lack of philosophical purity.

We are each the sum of prior lousy choices and newfound discipline - the former are often a precursor for the latter to naturally develop and successfully take root.

So I'll keep sharing the ways I'm a frugal weirdo.

Maybe you'll realize that you're one, too. Maybe not.

Can we still be friends?

Comments 5

  1. Haha. I’m definitely one too. I can relate. There are plenty of ways in which I am guilty of conspicuous frugality as well.

    It all depends on what we truly value. 🙂

  2. We are dominated by the herd. Even the “weirdo” is dominated by the herd of weirdos who stand juxt opposed to the conventional. This is the nature of politics. We are in fact eaten up with politics, and fed a steady diet of political mind control whether it be left or right, it has a single purpose and that is control. There is big money in control. You might just buy a pillow that gives you the best sleep of your life, or jet off to Sandals to stay drunk for a week and dream of getting laid, but never quite attaining enough sobriety to actually get laid. One thing for sure however, the $10,000 credit card bill. Do you really think free points on the credit card are actually free?

    Any one of us has enough sense to behave sensibly, but to behave sensibly requires a modicum of discipline, and a steely will to adhere to what is obviously essential in the face of some political whim some herd or another attempts to enforces. Once you learn the joy of missing out (JOMO) you grasp the true freedom you seek.

    I think it’s about to hit the fan. Victim status only works in a land of perverse abundance, yet that is what we have been trained to claim as a default. I think we have 40 minutes till a recession officially commences. I here them speak of a “shallow recession”, I think whistling past the grave yard. Shallow or deep, essential ism is the key to survival.

    The past is past. I had the chance to sell a couple million bucks worth of stock 10 days ago. I’ve considered it long and hard for a year but in the end I didn’t pull the trigger. What matters now is what I do going forward. So start anew. The bet you make today is the one you can build upon tomorrow. In that case bet on what is essential and eschew what is frivolous. Make your bets count and let the good times roll.

  3. Sometimes it feels like there is a new class of Joneses out there but instead of flaunting wealth it is a competition of who can out frugal the other.

    Any behavior, taken to the extreme can be made perverse. If you are self denying just for the fact that you can boast about it on social media then the concept has been taken too far.

    I have no problem spending money when I get some happiness from it (trips and food are high on that list (and yes even my Tesla). But I also choose not to spend on things that do not bring that same level of joy and can be considered frugal for those items.

    1. Post

      Could not agree more, Xray. Eccentricity, and even deviant behavior from pathological social norms can be a refreshing basis for a friendship. The moment judgment and sanctimony start to taint self-expression, you treading on dangerous ground.

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