Dawn at Frugal For Life has written an article about overcoming frugal fatigue. Given the economic problems of the last couple years, chances are a lot of people have been frugal by necessity for a while now, and Dawn’s article is aptly timed. Ever since I was a child, opening my first savings account, I’ve gotten more of a thrill from saving than from spending, so I’ve never had a problem with frugal fatigue. But I do remember the early years of our self-employment, when we were deeply in debt from starting our business (a combination of business debts and debts incurred to buy things like groceries while we were earning diddly squat for income). I had huge amounts of debt fatigue. I had all of our debt amounts listed on a yellow legal pad, and I would sometimes just stare at them for ten minutes, wishing that I could get the numbers to go down faster. Each month was like a puzzle, and I would figure out how much we could put towards each debt, and where it would make the most sense to put extra cash. We were completely focused on paying off our debts, preferably without needing a cash advance, and it absolutely resulted in fatigue. I would imagine how amazing it would feel to see zeros all across my legal pad, and mentally fast forward ahead a few months to picture reduced debt. On one hand, being so focused was what got us out of debt relatively quickly (we paid it all off in about three years), but it sure was mentally tiring.
These days, our only debt is our mortgage. While it’s a much larger debt than our business debt was, it doesn’t feel as oppressive – although we still want to be rid of it, and are working to pay it down as fast as we can. But the mortgage is just one aspect of our long term financial goals now; the rest is focused on retirement savings, cash savings, college savings, etc. We’re just as focused on saving now as we were on paying of debt several years ago, but saving feels like fun. There’s no fatigue from working to grow our nest egg, the way there was when we were digging out of a hole. Both are satisfying, and both have the effect of increasing our net worth, but what we’re doing now feels a lot less stressful.
If you’re feeling fatigued by frugality – especially if you’re focusing on paying off debts – maybe it would help to divert a little bit of your extra money away from debt repayment and into a savings account. For the first year that we were paying off debt, we didn’t save a dime – no emergency fund, no IRA contribution – everything went towards debt. I wonder if maybe it would have been less exhausting if we had opened a savings account and put a little money into savings at the same time. In the end, it all evens out, but if you’re considering giving up on frugality because you’re tired of it, taking a mini break now and then might do the trick to keep you on track long term. Same goes for debt repayment: As long as we keep the long term goals in sight, a little deviation now and then might be just what we need.