A test of my frugality armour

I have had a few days off work and made sure I was off grid as well.  No phone and no internet in the the depths of Devon.  It was blissful.

Then I descended from from serenity into consumer chaos with a trip into the town centre, the citadel of consumerism.  A trip to test for any cracks in my frugality armour.

Whilst blending in with the Hordes of consumer zombies so they didn’t recognise me as a saver and tear me limb from limb, I got a text from my sister.  Something about the hardships of saving and it included the following (paraphrased) sentence;

Saving and having fun don’t go together

The Hordes of mindless cretins that surrounded me at the time would almost certainly have agreed.  I put the Xbox One back on the shelf, passing the first test of my powers of frugality and continued onwards deeper into the town centre.

Spend, spend, spend?
Whilst shuffling about mindlessly with the Hordes I started thinking about the text.  It is pretty clear that my sister has created a direct link between spending and enjoyment, or the inverse that saving for something must be miserable.

From this you could suppose that spending and fun are an exponential FUNction, like F(Fun) = e^(Amount Spent);

A spending FUNction

I see two implications here,

1 – Zero spending = zero fun.

2 – The more you spend, the more fun you are having.  That certainly seemed to align nicely with the rate at which people were spending cash in town.

I found myself walking up some stairs, amazed at the amount of people using the escalator to ascend one floor.  I guess every single one of them had similar hip injuries that prevented them from climbing stairs and that’s why they all looked so grim.  Either that, or the supposed link between spending and enjoyment doesn’t explain the full picture.  Perhaps there is more lurking beneath the murky surface of instant gratification.

What about the passing of time and it’s impact on the enjoyment that these Zombies are seeking, I wondered to myself whilst taking a very wide berth around Hollister.  If we consider a purchase as occurring at time 0 and then look at the enjoyment generated by a single purchase, fun plotted against time may look something like this;

Perceived instantaneous enjoyment at the moment of the transaction, we have something new and shiny that we didn’t even realise we needed!  

This peak is short lived and the fun soon starts on a downward slide as the moment of spending moves further into the past.  The new shiny thing that serves no real purpose becomes older and less desirable.  Eventually the consumer is back at zero and sad, maybe even shedding a single solitary tear.

As most of the shit for sale in a town centre serves no real purpose, it doesn’t provide any lasting enjoyment.  The town centre preys on our desire to be part of a group, to want to fit in.  How this manifests itself in £5,000 hand bags I will never understand,

The Finance Zombie experienced this short lived consumer rush long ago at a young and cynical age when over marketed toys or video games failed to live up to expectations.  “But why do they lie!” he would cry “It’s almost as if the advertisers have a vested interest in the product.”  So he learned to laugh at all advertising and went back to guaranteed fun, playing with fireworks.

Having said this I found found myself in Waterstones, drawn by some unknown force, standing in the queue with three books, pulled in by the ever powerful 3 for the price of 2 spell.  I didn’t even know I wanted two books, let alone three. Remembering that I could get three books for the price of none from the library, I made a quick escape.

The person who associates spending with fun will look for their next purchase once the initial enjoyment has worn off.  They bounce from instant gratification to instant gratification, from the peak of the purchase to the tear jerking sadness at the bottom of the trough.  Perhaps by upping the frequency of their purchases they may stave off the consumer comedown.  Or maybe for the hard core consumer they hope to breach some threshold with a bigger purchase and never have to come back down.  Perhaps that would explain the willingness to spend £200 on a pair of jeans that seem to do the same job as my £30 ones.

As I wandered deeper into the consumer citadel, looking at the frequency of inane purchases or the stupendous amounts being spent I could only assume that both of these hypotheses were being tested, with a large sample size being deemed necessary.

There will be a delay
My trip into town did have a purpose.  A selfish trip, with a frugal twist.  To pick up a shaver to cut my hair with,  £50 for a quality shaver will pay for itself in six months. It was on sale of course, as part of the current fathers day sales.  That lovely day where we are made to feel like a cheap bastard if we don’t spend money on our dear old dads.

I left town with a discounted shaver and nothing for my dad.

I felt pretty good about my purchase, not from the rush of spending money but from the delayed gratification of not having to make small talk with a barber again and from saving some cash in the long run.

As I walked out of the centre the Hordes of Consumer Zombie’s stared at me, struggling to understand how someone had escaped with only one small bag.  As I wandered off into the sunset like the frugal cowboy I imagine myself to be I text my sister back with a cryptic message;

Spending and having fun don’t have to go together
She never did reply to that.

Skip to the end
Perhaps us PF types searching an escape from the Horde are wired differently, sort of like a more sensible 1%-er.  We have managed to rewire our brains, smashed apart the links between neurons that were attempting to tie up spending and instant gratification with happiness.

There are certainly things out there that can be fun without the need to spend money.  *Swoons with shock*.  Crazy I know, but hear me out.

A walk through some of the great British country side is free and more uplifting than spending on something fashionable.  A book from a library is free and you might even learn something.  Sawing apart some old furniture to fashion a very hipster TV unit is free, has a bonus added danger element if you do this in flipflops and you can start learning some extremely basic skills to be honed in the future (I imagine about 1% of the distance between level 0 and 1 of the carpentry RPG skillset).

I don’t want to become a miser that regrets every penny spent, scowling at my nephew for the 99p spent on a 99-Flake and vowing never to see the money grabbing little shit again.  Spending is fine, even fun sometimes, but it is bad when it is the main source of enjoyment in a zombies life.

My trip into the hell hole of consumerism proved that my armour of frugality has improved leaps and bounds over the last year or so, but it still has some weak spots.  Advertisers do hire some exceptionally bright people after all and they are all after the same thing.  Our money.  Reminding myself of the freedom of Financial Independence should provide some financial poly filler to sort out those cracks.

We all bounce around different states of enjoyment as time plods forwards, whether spending like a maniac or not.  It’s not like by simply reducing our outgoings we have found the secret of eternal happiness, this zombie can still be a miserable sod.  But it seems like a step in the right direction.

By delaying some of the spending (on holidays, shiny new gadgets etc) I hope to reach Financial Independence, be free from the shackles of regular employment and live a simpler life at the same time.

This is not to be confused with “I am lazy and don’t like working“. It is more like “I want to work on my on terms on things that are interesting to me without my wage being the primary motivator.  I also want the ability to change careers to learn new things without worrying about the loss of earnings. Specialising in one occupation seems like a sure fire way to go insane“.

The delayed enjoyment from financial independence can be plotted against time, along side the consumer driven zombie as our base case;

A scientific graph

Both the saver and the spender have peaks and troughs.  But this is it for the spender, locked into some eternal oscillation driven by spending and instant gratification.

For the long term dreamer and saver, the expectation is that at some point, when our nugget of saving has grown sufficiently, that we reach financial independence.  The enjoyment we get from the freedom this offers outweighs any previous spending, £5,000 handbags and BMWs included.

That’s the plan anyway.  Strange how a trip into the very heart of spending has provided me with some motivation.

Spend Less, Save More & Escape the Horde

Mr Z

17 thoughts on “A test of my frugality armour

  1. weenie

    Love the graphs! 🙂

    These days, I only go to shopping centres if there is something I must buy and it's quite rare for me to deviate and end up in a shop which I hadn't planned on going to beforehand. This is very different from how I used to be.

    My armour of frugality will be put to test again soon in the consumer metropolis that is Hong Kong. It does not help that my family are BIG shoppers but I shall do my best to resist!

    Sawing and flip flops…nooooo!

  2. Retirement Investing Today

    A post after my own heart Mr Z. Great stuff!

    As a person who is 7 and bit years into a FIRE journey I can confirm I've reached the point now where there is simply no correlation between fun and spending at all. Many of the best times I've had over those years have also cost exactly £0. Some of those have even been "A walk through some of the great British country side…"


  3. Dividend Drive

    Haha, absolutely fantastic, Mr Z. Perhaps one of my favourite posts of yours yet. Excellently perceptive, accurate and amusing. What more could you want.

    You have hit the nail on the head. First, indiscriminate spending does not immediately result in fun. Discriminate spending on things that add value and/or a new chapter or paragraph to your life to you life rather than just a new line on your bank statement does make things more fun. This can only be done when you think about spending and have the money to spend when that opportunity comes.

    Similarly, being frugal for FI is exactly as your super scientific graph states: it is delayed hyper-fun. Sometimes you might miss out on that few days of modest spending fun, but you can get a lifetime of untramelled (and unbounded) fun in the future. It is a no-brainer really.

    Excellent, as I say, thanks for writing it for us.

  4. Cerridwen

    Like weenie I love your "scientific graphs" (does that mean that the others you give us aren't at all scientific ?:-)).

    A good point made very well.

  5. Andy

    Where in Devon are you? I thought that I was the only FIer in the village. I'm in Exeter and can't find anybody who 'gets it'.

    Regarding the graphs: my wife caught me with the crayons out explaining to our toddler that the exponential function is its own derivative the other day. I was drawing shapes and cats and things too of course but I still got some eye rolling!

    If you're nearby we should definitely get a pint as frugal nerds seem to be in the minority around these parts.

  6. M from There's Value

    Fantastic post Mr Z! You have always cracked me up with your witty humour – you do have a sharp way of cutting through to the core of the issue, but making is laugh all the way along.


  7. nibbler

    Very funny post Mr Z.

    If you're lucky enough to have some garden space, growing your own fruit and veg is another fun I would add to the list. Messing about in the dirt with tools, outdoors is the perfect antidote to an office. There is also the satisfaction of eating the fruits (and veg) of your effort.

  8. Mr Zombie

    Thanks Weenie.

    Good luck in Hong Kong, a big city and the on holiday feeling, a powerful mix! I'm sure your armour will hold up 🙂

    Haha, yep. It was pretty silly, still no injuries.

  9. Mr Zombie

    Thanks RIT.

    Buying books was one of my weaknesses, but the library has put a stop to that. I will still buy books that I really enjoy, as there is something about a bookshelf that is quite nice.

    Walking is great. There never bad weather, only the wrong clothes, right?

    Mr Z

  10. Mr Zombie

    Thanks for the kind comments DD 🙂

    It's amazing how quickly we are into the spending is fun routine. I'm fairly sure my nephew who is 2 and a half is already starting to make that connection.

    The graphs are very scientific and accurate, a life time of study….

    Mr Z

  11. Mr Zombie

    Hi Andy,

    I'm in the South West, but further north than Devon, towards Bristol. One of my main reason for spending money before was surfing, spent a lot on petrol driving about the cost every weekend. I loved it, but it was so expensive.

    Haha, good work. Onto stochastic differentiation next I hope. 🙂

    You probably are the only FIer in the village, and me in mine! Did you see that Huw at Financially Free By Forty is organising a meetup for frugal nerds?

  12. Mr Zombie

    Thanks Nibbler,

    I have taking a larger portion of the garden this year. Trying growing corn, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, carrots, beans and some herbs. Solid beginner plants 🙂 So far I am having constant battles with the neighbourhood cats and an army of slugs.

    Our garden is 100% paved, so everything is in grow bags, but it works. The plan is to build some kind of raised bed for more aggressive growing 🙂

    Mr Z

  13. theFIREstarter.co.uk

    A hilarious post as usual Mr Z!

    I find it very amusing that your sister would text you something like that out of the blue, have you been on at her extolling the virtues of the saver I presume…?! 🙂

    I think that we may be wired differently, once you've explained the basic concepts of FI via frugality to people some will get it straight away and dive straight in – the 1%ers. I think there is a larger group still who get it but need a little nudging in the right direction (hello Mrs TFS 🙂 ) – It is that group that we are all hoping to connect with by writing our blogs isn't it?

    The majority will still get the concepts, but say *it's too hard/I like my job/I like my shiny things/insert other excuse here*. I don't think there are many people who wouldn't even understand or refute the basic concept, there are many that argue against it but it is usually just with excuses why they or everybody else can't do it.

  14. theFIREstarter.co.uk

    Ah one other thought on the happiness curve on purchases – I would posit that in many cases this actually goes NEGATIVE over time because that item actually becomes a drag on you, either needing maintenance, taking up storage space in your home, and perhaps you may even experience negative feelings such as buyers remorse etc…
    Free To Pursue had a great post on that sort of thing, check it out (think I linked to it on her guest post at my place – the hidden costs of buying on credit post)


  15. Mr Zombie

    Thanks 🙂

    We were talking about my brother who is off travelling and said it the cost is adding up and getting expensive and I think she was trying to justify it in some way.

    Perhaps – I clung to the idea as soon as I heard it, whereas most do the opposite and dismiss it. Mrs Z is in the same boat, but she is tied to my freighter and coming with me! 🙂

    I agree, and did actually have a bit about it, but removed it. I think there is a period of negative happiness or sadness. I will have a read of Free To Pursues post.


    Mr Z


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