Conscious spending or frugality

What’s the difference between conscious spending and frugality? Is one choice a part of the other? Is thoughtful spending a primer for frugality? Are they one and the same?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about spending, lifestyle, and choices lately. I don’t think I really consider myself frugal but I am a conscious spender.

This certainly wasn’t always the case. I’ve never lived far beyond my means for any significant length of time, but my husband and I did finance some of our lifestyle choices with credit cards for a few years. I have no regrets about some of these expenses (moving across the country, getting married, traveling to see friends) while other purchases (going out to eat every night of the week and insisting on elaborate and expensive holiday gifts) make me wince.

Even though my habits are different now, I try not to dwell on the past and the choices I made. I was doing the best I could at the time, with the information I had. Now, over the past year, we’ve purchased our first home and I’ve immersed myself in personal finance reading. Whereas before I got a real kick out of buying things, now I get a kick out of saving money and paying off the last of those credit cards.

Before, my spending was on auto-pilot. Today, my spending is more intentional. More proactive. More conscious.

Still, I can’t really say that I am frugal. If I were, I don’t think I would have purchased the “kinda needs’ and “wants’ during my recent Target trip that I documented here. Does that mean I have buyer’s remorse about any of those purchases? No. I just recognize that those types of purchases are choices and not necessities. If I were frugal, either because I needed to be or wanted to be (or both), I would have likely just purchased the items in the “needs” category. And, even then, I would have probably spent less because I may have had coupons or sacrificed my love of expensive toothpaste for a better deal.

On the other hand, I certainly see conscious spending as a part of frugality. In fact, practicing conscious spending is preparing me for frugality if I should ever need or want to drastically reduce our household expenses.

Reasons I might want, or need, to move from conscious spending to true frugality:

  • Job loss. In the event that I or my husband lost our jobs, we’d need to live on less.
  • Children. When kids come along, either expenses go way up (childcare) or household income goes way down (one parent stays home). If you have family to watch your kids, or you work full-time from home and can maintain your career with kiddos around, your situation is different.
  • Part time job. Eventually, one of us may want to work part-time instead of forty hours a week. This would most likely reduce our income.
  • Unexpected major expense. If we were hit with a large unplanned-for cost, and had to deplete savings to cover it, we’d want to live frugally for a while to re-pay the savings account.
  • Large goal, such as travel, remodeling, or a new car. We could live frugally for a bit to put the bulk of our money towards our special goal.

I’m already practicing for those scenarios, in part by putting money into savings and re-paying debt at a fast clip. I’m spending less than we earn.

But, I’m also practicing for those scenarios by paying very close attention to our spending and, essentially, studying the core tenets of frugality in case I ever need or want to utilize them.

I feel very fortunate that I discovered the principles of frugality so that I can begin to spend consciously, and prepare for even more frugal living if my life changes in such a way that I need or want to. In the meantime, while we’re still a couple of DINKYs (Dual Income No Kids Yet), as long as our money is first going to savings and debt reduction, my husband and I are comfortable with a reasonable amount of un-frugal spending.

Are you frugal? A conscious spender? Do they mean the same thing to you?

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4 Responses to Conscious spending or frugality

  1. Elizabeth says:

    No, they don’t mean the same to me. I am definitely a conscious spender. I do a lot of the same things you did at Target the other day. I don’t mind buying “want” things, but I have to make sure I really really want it before I buy it. I was very frugal over the summer in order to pay my sky-high electric bill, but now that I don’t have to live so frugally, I find it very hard to justify spending money on “wants”! I think I could easily go back to being frugal, but right now I think paying close attention to what I am buying and where exactly my money is going is enough for me.

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  3. I love this post. We’ve recently moved to this category in our house, too, and we are DINKYs too. We used to go out to eat several times a week and now we limit it to once on the weekends. Our date nights are so much more fun now since it is a rare treat, and we are having a blast cooking together. We no longer go shopping when we’re bored, and we’ve been saving a lot more and spending more time focused on each other instead of wandering aisles. We pay everything out of the checking account now and it’s just such a happier way to live. Great post.

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks Mallory. I love our new routines. It took some time to break habits (going out to eat, buying lattes, shopping for fun) but over time we’ve set new habits. And we still indulge in those little luxuries from time to time, but (as you say) it now feels more special when we do.

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