when you’re not naturally frugal // are we doomed?

the blogosphere is full of people touting the virtues of frugality, telling us all how to do it better, and providing great examples of how to save money on literally everything. here’s the problem: it often feels like the folks touting the lifestyle are themselves naturally frugal (or even cheap — an important distinction).

but what if you’re not naturally frugal? is there hope for you?

we ask this question because frugality has never come naturally to us. not that we’re wasteful spenders or big purchasers of stuff by nature, either, but our natural inclinations are to be more generous. to pick up the tab for a group when dining out. to throw big parties and banquets. to buy nice gifts for people we love. we’ve often even bought plane tickets for people to visit us. that generous spending always felt worthwhile to us because it was about having more time with friends and family, and creating opportunities to make memories together. we also loved to support a lot of charities, and sometimes go to swanky charity events. and sure, we’d splurge on travel and meals, too — never four star hotels or anything, but we’d travel a lot and find the most talked about restaurants to eat at because we love trying different cuisines. (thankfully this is balanced by not needing to have the most expensive house we can afford, and being perfectly happy driving cars into the ground.)

of course, now that we’re on the early retirement wagon, we’ve had to reform our ways. but, in our darker moments, we wonder: if we’re not naturally frugal, can we stick to our retirement budget long-term, or are we doomed to blow through our savings too fast? this question scares us.

leaving the job market, even for a few years, will put us at a major disadvantage if we ever want to get back in, especially because we aren’t getting any younger. so we’re taking a significant risk when we pull the trigger and retire early. and what if we ultimately can’t stick to our budget, and we need to find jobs again? this kind of thinking sometimes keeps us up at night.

but here’s why we are confident enough in our ability to stick to the plan long-term to be willing to move forward:

  1. we are now several years into hard-core saving, and feel like we’ve changed our ways
  2. we value time more than anything, and absolutely see the connection between conserving our financial resources and having more free time, which should help keep us motivated and on-track
  3. we are obsessive asset trackers, and hate seeing our numbers get smaller
  4. we love camping and traveling cheaply, and the parts of the world we’re most excited about spending time in are the cheapest ones to visit
  5. we have endless free recreation opportunities all around us
  6. we have lived super cheaply before, when we were paying off debt, and we know we can do it again if we must
  7. we’ve built a good safety net for ourselves (our house is big enough that we can downsize or rent it out, we have a rental property that we could sell, we have sizeable 401(k) accounts that could be tapped absolute worst case, we will plan to keep in contact with past clients so that we can consult part-time if need be, etc.)
  8. we don’t know how many years of good quality of life we still have, which makes it all worthwhile

we know there are no guarantees in life, so we’ll always worry a little bit about falling off the frugality wagon. but — and this is a news flash to no one — every decision in life is a risk. by working until our 60s, we’d risk spending all of our good years at the office. by only working until 40ish, we’re risking that we might run out money. we have to choose one risk or another, but because early retirement is not the social norm, it feels more risky than other choices. we hope, though, to help change that, by setting a good example once we’ve reached our goals. and we hope you’ll join us!

what worries about early retirement keep you up at night? are you naturally frugal, or have you had to learn to adapt to the lifestyle? what tips have you discovered that help you stay frugal?

20 thoughts on “when you’re not naturally frugal // are we doomed?

  1. Nothing really worries me yet since I’m still pretty far away. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally frugal but now I think about my nest egg before spending money. Maybe that is unhealthy to an extent but I end up thinking “is this $100 today worth the $200 it could be worth in 10 years?” That alone has enabled me to cut back on my spending just because of the fact that I want to reach FI sooner. The only thing about your list above that would worry me is #3 where you hate seeing your numbers get smaller. With the ebbs and flows of the stock market, your accounts will go down numerous times during your financial independence, and sometimes significantly. I would just make sure you guys are emotionally prepared for that when it does occur. Take care!

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    1. Good point. We’ve already been through some fluctuations and — not gonna lie — we weren’t fans. :-) We know it’s inevitable, of course, but it’s something we still have to learn to get better at!

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  2. I haven’t set out on the financial independence track YET, but my biggest fear as an unconvinced frugal soul is the power of the status quo. Life says you need to work until 65 and then retire as an old person. I hope to get off the wheel before 65, but I can already see myself getting sucked into “one more year” syndrome. I also know that its a helluva lot easier to earn money by staying at my job, than it is to go rogue for 5, 10, or 15 years and then try to jump back in. I’m just going to save like the dickens and see what happens. Even if I were after FI, I’ve got a long way to go. Focusing too much on FI now, when I have at least a decade left in the work force, is bound to drive me crazy. I don’t want to drink the Kool-aid too soon ;)

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    1. We’ll be the first to say FI/RE is not for everyone! You have to find what feels comfortable for you. But no rush — decide when you’re ready. We’ll only have been saving for a decade total when we quit, and only about six years seriously… So it might be more in reach than you think. ;-)

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  3. I would say that my wife and I are not particularly “frugal,” rather we prioritize where we want to spend. Retiring early is a priority for us, but we also know that the next few years are the last childless years we will likely have for a long time and as such are trying to travel as much as possible. This sometimes requires “sacrifice,” if you want to call it that, which sometimes just entails not going out for dinner when we are invited, but the trade off is totally worth it to me.

    I think for you having done the frugal life before and knowing you can do it again should provide a sense of security!

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  4. First off, wanted to say I just started reading your blog and I love it. Looking forward to hearing more stories from you, especially on retirement life.

    I would consider myself frugal sometimes, and not frugal other times? I like being thoughtful (others might read it at wasteful) with my money like helping my brother pay for college or buying a home that’s perhaps more than I need but is suitable for raising a family. I think as long as you know why you are spending, and the numbers work, you’ll never be “doomed.”

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  5. I think this is a very natural worry. It is said that if you can make it through the first decade of early retirement, then you’re golden. But still, what makes anyone believe that they can make it through the first 10 years? Tough to say, though you’ve said it quite well.

    Our plan is to start small. We aren’t going to quit our jobs and start traveling the next day. Instead, we’re going to enjoy our soon-to-be home in Sedona for a while first and enjoying our time away from the office and out in the elements. After all, every year that early retirees spend with their nest eggs at least at the point that they were when they retired, the easier the remaining years become, both emotionally and mathematically.

    Yup, we start small. Enjoy the first year or so without a job, then start looking at taking some smaller trips, eventually working our way up to full blown “what city did I wake up in this morning” mode.

    It’s gonna be fun! :)

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    1. We’re thinking along the same lines: first year staycation. We live in an awesome place with so much to do, but we spend too little time here because of work travel. So we can’t wait to finally enjoy where we live, and that will be cheap too!

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  6. It’s funny for me to read this post because I would define my husband and I as “naturally frugal”, but yet we do the UN-frugal things you’ve mentioned. Like donating to charities, paying for people’s plane tickets, grabbing the bill, travelling; I’ve even helped out a friend financially for 6-months which I wouldn’t do again – not because it was a financial strain (it was), but because it was an even bigger emotional strain. I still consider myself naturally frugal, because I don’t spend a lot on a day-to-day basis and am conscious of how I spend when I do spend. Maybe that’s too broad a definition, but I don’t feel like I am doomed, nor do I feel our savings won’t be able to sustain us in retirement. Cuz we’re naturally frugal. :)

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