Regardless of your financial position, there are many good reasons for reducing your expenses. Here's my top three:
1. You never know what's around the corner. Illness and injury can strike anyone at anytime, and job security is a myth. Having at least 3 months of living expenses tucked away gives you some breathing space to deal with the unexpected, and the ability to walk away from toxic jobs or relationships (dubbed the 'F*#@ You Fund' by one budget expert).
2. We are drowning in stuff. Over-consumption is bad for the planet, and clutter is bad for our mental health.
3. It encourages more considered, meaningful expenditure. There is a big difference between cultivating valued possessions and just buying stuff.
The internet is full of websites on frugal living, dispensing all manner of strategies to reduce, recycle and repurpose. Personally, I've never liked the word ‘frugal’. For me, frugal evokes images of meanness, deprivation and 'please, sir, may I have some more’ misery. Frugal is watery soup, threadbare clothes and rickety furniture. It's stingy gifts, reused dental floss and shivering in a cold room.
Thrift, on the other hand, is a word I love. Thrift is cheerful, cheeky and clever. If frugal is miserably darning the hole in your jumper, thrift is jauntily covering it with a ribbon bow. Thrift does a happy dance on discovering a fabulous cheap wine, a great second-hand dress or free jazz concert. Thrift crafts gorgeous homemade gifts, hosts fabulous parties on a shoestring, and stretches a meal to welcome unexpected guests.
I know this is quibbling over semantics, but when you decide (or are forced) to tighten the purse-strings, your attitude to the process is enormously significant. In her delightful book Orchids on Your Budget (written in 1937, during the Great Depression and re-published during the GFC), Marjorie Hillis suggests:
Anybody can economise drably and untidily, and a disheartening number do. Most people run down instead of cutting down. But not the interesting people. They grasp the somewhat obvious fact that any problem so pressing is worth conquering, and with as much zest as possible.
Most importantly, she cautions against slipping into stinginess:
A hair-line separates sensible economy from the first suspicion of closeness, one of the most unlovely qualities known to humankind.
Ms Hillis' book features a quiz titled Are you Thrifty or Stingy? You can take my modern version here.