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As a sentient being on this frugal journey, I’ve been through various levels of frugality.
Similar to many other journeys, it starts small and uncertain. A few boards on Pinterest read, a few blog posts pursued, and a few finances squinted at.
Then, momentum and confidence build. All of sudden, people are peppering me with questions and, occasionally, concerns.
Eventually, you end up at the far end of the spectrum looking for a few more ways to squeeze an ounce of savings for a pounding of compounding.
Life is real and funny. Sometimes it’s really funny.
The savvy saver is saving 25% of take-home pay.
Being the beginning, this level is all about easy.
Instead of eating out, it’s shifting to eating in.
Instead of debt or cash, it’s using credit cards while paying the bill in full every month, and cashing in guilt-free rewards is a new thrill.
As fun as it is to spend without looking at a bank account balance, it can punch the guts right outta personal finances. Having a budget that tracks what’s coming in and out is the best way to figure out if finances are on track or off the rails.
Though this is the easiest phase because of its slight habit adjustments, it’s the hardest too.
Shifting the mindset from careless consumer to savvy saver is hard.
For too long, I thought simple adjustments would suck the fun outta life faster than a Roomba named Dobby.
Similar to the mullet comeback, I was wrong.
For some errant reason, I thought that if I made a change and I didn’t like it, I was stuck in some forced frugal behavior.
I put up barriers where there were opportunities and let frustrations build before I tried.
Thank all the billion balls of flaming gas that I’m stubborn.
My stubbornness to save kept me trying even when I felt like crying.
The thrifty ninja phase is saving 50% of take-home pay.
The moderate phase is when creativity comes into play.
The thrifty ninja is when ways to save turn into a show and tell.
This level looks like:
- Churning credit cards
- Sinking funds in savings account to pay for annual bills in bulk
- Borrowing instead of buying
- From clothes to cars, buying second-hand instead of new
During this phase, personal finance content is consumed regularly. There comes a point when it seems like it’s the same information repeated by different authors. After reading and rereading similar content multiple times, it stops feeling usual and feels normal. Even if no one is talking about it.
I’ve spent the bulk of my frugal journey at the thrifty ninja level. It’s a level that’s considered normal while not raising any eyebrows.
The frugal master stage is saving 75% of take-home pay.
This level is when people go from casual questions to questioning concerns. This level is about taking things to the extreme to maximize personal finances.
The frugal master can go on a no-spending spree for a month or longer and it’s not considered strange.
Maxing out a 401(k) and Roth IRA isn’t an accident but with intent.
Large purchases like an overseas vacation or vehicle are paid in cash.
Being at the far end of the spectrum isn’t easy. By a factor of statistics, the average is where most people find their comfort zone. When frugal limits are stretched beyond what can be done in a few weeks or months that is when the frugal journey has hit the 80-mph interstate on cruise control.
Levels of Frugality
For this frugal nerd, I’m firmly in thrifty ninja but shifting gears towards the frugal master on the levels of frugality spectrum.
I paid for an overseas vacation and will max out my Roth IRA but I’m not quite maxing out all other areas.
I have the will but not the way. My wages are still less than 40k, so trying to max out a 401(k) and not live in my parent’s basement is a problem I have yet to solve.
Luckily, because of copious amounts of hard work, I’ll be transiting into a promotion with a pay raise. Until then, I’ll keep honing my craft, borrowing books, improving skills, and flexing my hustle muscle.
I’ve explored the unknown and covered the unexplored. Through it all, the hardest part was the start.