…it is merely a strategy.
I’ve never had a particularly positive view of competition, probably because I have most often seen it used for selfish reasons. I think of some of the less-reputable athletes at my high school who thought it was fun to dominate those less-athletic in gym class. There are some very good things about competition, though, things that build up oneself and others, and it has also proven in business to drive prices down, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”.
But humans seem to be inflicted with this terrible plague, in that we are always doubting ourselves, always fearful. The easiest way to counter these fears is to believe something good about ourselves and to lash out when this is challenged. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and so has everybody else.
In a way, we always believe we are right, otherwise we would believe otherwise. By definition, our opinions are what we believe to be true. The trademark of kind people is being willing and able to suspend these beliefs at time in favor of consideration for other people.
It doesn’t surprise me that even a good thing like frugality can become competitive. I see this most often on the forums I read.
I don’t actually know how frugal I am. Sure, I have a 50% savings rate, but I also routinely exceed my grocery budget. Some might consider that budget item frugal, others might not. Likewise, I think it ridiculous that anybody would ever spend $200 on a pair of sunglasses, while others may think it ridiculous that I spent $200 on my primary snowshoes. Does it change the situation if it is told that I have a history of losing sunglasses, and other people may have no interest in snowshoeing?
There is really no point evaluating another person’s spending because there are too many factors at play. Dave Ramsey tells a story in his book “The Legacy Journey” of a very wealthy man who had a net worth of nearly 2.5 billion who gave 500 million away in one year. He ‘treated’ himself to a $100,000 car…and received hate mail from Christians in his church. If only we all had a little more perspective!
Now, people fall astray of good money practices because they are too busy constantly ‘treating’ themselves to expensive gadgets, toys, gear, cars, etc. They get so accustomed to their spending that they fail to see the greater problem developing, fail to realize how much they are wasting. It is fairly easy to spot this, especially if high-income earners are complaining about never having money. You can do a news search for this and find dozens of hilarious articles of people who have lost touch with reality. “Let them eat cake!”
But there isn’t some master list of frugal commandments. Our spending is as varied as our personalities. I believe one of the best ways to gauge whether a purchase is good is to evaluate how often you find yourself using it. This past Spring, I thought about taking advantage of a large sale to buy a backpacking backpack and a backpacking sleeping bag. As cool as these would have been, I realized that the chance of me using them more than once or twice a year was very, very slim. So instead, I spent half the money on a pair of excellent trail running shoes and a hydration vest, and have enjoyed using these nearly 7 times this past season alone. I’m actually very happy with those purchases and they aren’t wasting away in the closet. In fact, they’re in this room with me right now.
Similarly, there’s no moral imperative to get the greatest return on financial investments possible. Would you say that spending $10,000 on lottery tickets is a responsible financial move? Of course not, because the risk of losing is so high. In the same way, the highest ROI on financial investments often comes with the greatest potential for failure. Sometimes a lower return is more responsible.
Frugality is great as a strategy toward a specific goal. I want to be financially independent, and being frugal helps me focus on what I truly care about and save the rest. Some people may be frugal in order to take care of their families. Others may just be saving up for a big purchase. Some may even be frugal for it’s own sake or as a means toward having money for a rainy day. But your goals will be your own, so it isn’t enough to boast of your frugality as if that were an expectation others should follow. I want to encourage everyone to be frugal so they can set themselves up for success and avoid the trap of Middle Class consumption and debt. Oftentimes I feel people are asleep at the wheel, steering themselves off a cliff, so I speak out about money frequently, hoping I can inspire a few. And sure, sometimes my friends make purchases I would never make myself, but it doesn’t make any sense for me to be bothered by this (not that that hasn’t happened on occasion, because I’m definitely not perfect).
Anyway, I would argue that having a true goal is the key here. Maybe you’ve been paying for Audible and never use it. Then stop paying for it! Maybe you are paying for a gym membership and never use it but keep it because it’s a “good rate”. Stop paying for it, you’ve probably wasted more than the advantage of the good rate! Trim the excess from your life, focus on what you love. Have money set aside so it doesn’t keep you awake at night. Bless others with your goals, and budget for those things. But it’s just not a competition.