There was an interesting debate going around at a friends' gathering recently. Why is it that some people can resist impulsive buys but others just can't help themselves? Why are some people easily "contented" but others feel they need to be "rewarded" regularly with things they like? Are you born frugal or was it your environment that made you so?
The debate got a little more specific and an interesting exchange followed. Two guys in the group were recounting why they were hooked on buying the latest games…
One went on to explain, half in jest: he came from a poor family and was always envious of his well-off neighbours who could afford the latest appliances and material things. Unfortunately, his parents couldn't and wouldn't buy for him. Now that he could earn his own keep, it was time to make good what he didn't have. The other friend countered, saying he was the opposite. He wished his parents were stricter with him. Instead, they showered him with toys as a kid and now, it was too late for him to quit. He was hooked!
Two completely different reasons, yet the same result. Was it nature's fault then that some people were born to be spendthrift? To answer that question, maybe we should examine the question itself: "Frugality: Nature or Nurture?"
I admit, I deliberately phrased the question as such because many would think it's probably a combination of both. Either way, it would make it rather easy for one to "justify" one's own decisions without really taking responsibility for it, wouldn’t it? E.g. "I had no choice: I'm born like this" ("Nature") or "My friends are all buying it!" ("Nurture").
Maybe thinking about it another way would help. It is down to one's belief system - the sum total of my past experiences and influences and ultimately, what I myself choose to absorb or ignore. The choice, then, is really up to us.
I changed my beliefs after reading many financial books. I was never a true-blue spendthrift but over time, became a lot more aware of how my "happiness" doesn't necessarily increase with every dollar increase in my spending. I realized too that when we buy things (except the bare necessities), it is really with the belief that it will buy us more happiness, more time, a better image, increased self-esteem, or will position us with the "in-crowd". The list goes on.
Being just more mindful of why we spend money, I then began to think of ways on how not to spend money and yet increase my level of happiness or whatever it is I was seeking. There are indeed many other ways and they don't cost as much as before or some even come free. I began to read books from the library, spend more time doing simple things with the people I love, make our own meals, take walks in the park, exercise, care about my friends more instead of showering them material gifts and well, just making the most of what I already have. I also stayed away from so-called "friends" who only care about what you have, not what you truly are.
I suppose, that's how "contentment" sets in. Frugality was just a by-product of this belief system.
Perhaps the words of celebrity actress, Keira Knightly, neatly sums it up. She reportedly gives herself a US$50,000 budget every year for personal expenses even though she has an estimated net worth of US$50 million, and insists on separating her personal life from her high-flying acting career:
"I think living an expensive lifestyle means you can't hang out with people who don't live that lifestyle," she says. "It alienates you. Some of my best, most hilarious times, have been in the least luxurious places."
Think of the last time you were really happy. Did it come about because you spent a lot of money?