My frugality is a really important part of my identity at this point in my life. I’ve embraced a somewhat extreme downsizing on spending in my life, compared to most 20 somethings.
It’s a pretty even split between wanting to live a simple, renewable life and saving money. I want to have as small an impact on the world as possible in terms of my consumption. Buying used clothes, walking instead of driving, and eating catering leftovers is a partly an effort to that end. Those things also help boost my savings rate, which is dope.
Last week I ran into a situation that confronted my frugality in a mildly uncomfortable way, and I realized that it has some limits.
When my boyfriend accidentally took my leftovers for lunch instead of his recently, he texted me in a panic. He had all sorts of solutions: he’d meet me halfway between our jobs to bring me them. He’d pay me back if I bought lunch out. He felt terrible at the thought that my frugality was negatively affected by his mistake.
This panic (he literally texted me “shit shit shit’), made me in turn feel terrible! I don’t want my frugality to put myself, or my boyfriend in a box. I don’t want him stressing out at the thought that I might have to spend $7 for some tacos because he grabbed the wrong box.
I’ve talked a lot this year about how I’m searching for more balance in my life. I want to work less, but this encounter made me realize that I may need to re-evaluate what effect frugality has on my life.
My boyfriend is 100% on track with my frugal life choices. He supports me in wanting to live my life this way- but it’s not how he always wants to live his life.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. He shops at Goodwill, he doesn’t pay for entertainment, and he’s super happy to cook most meals at home. Just like me! We’re in sync for the most part.
But. (There’s always a but, isn’t there?)
He also enjoys buying a lunch out now and then. He pays for a monthly guitar pedal club at a local guitar store. He randomly purchases a few used books a year. It’s not crazy consumption, but it’s a bit out of step with my frugal autopilot mindset of ‘eliminate all unnecessary spending.’
My frugality is mine. It’s not his. For the most part, this works beautifully in our relationship. Again, we’re not that far apart on the spectrum here. But the absolute fear that rose in him when he realized I might have to spend money due to his mistake was a huge red flag for me.
Maybe my frugality needs a limit. I don’t want to save money at the expense of my relationship, or my boyfriend’s comfort level around me. Nor do I want to go buck wild on spending to make my boyfriend feel better. I mean, I love him, but come on. Let’s be reasonable!
So what’s a girl to do? The answer, my friends, is the answer to most things in a relationship. Communicate.
I brought this up with the boo. I told him that my frugality should not make him feel that he needs to be the one to spring for things like date nights out, and it also shouldn’t make him feel that he needs to mimic me. He’s in charge of his money. I’m in charge of mine. Mistakes sometimes happen, and in the grand scheme of things, if I have to spend money on something like this, it’s not a crisis. He shouldn’t feel bad about it.
This conversation was pretty timely, as we’re moving in together in nine days. (Ps- AH! Moving in together!) We’ve talked before about how we’re going to handle finances together, but this was a different take on that conversation.
It was a good topic to cover, I think. We have a pretty amazing relationship, and it means the world to me. I want to empower and uplift my partner, not confine him in a frugal box that doesn’t exactly fit him. This lunch mishap made me realize that my frugality needs to be a fluid thing for me. I can’t be rigid in my habits, because life happens, man!
Back to the lunch. There I was, stick without a lunch, and in pretty desperate need of food. I was facing a bit of a frugal dilemma. Did I buy lunch out? Did I drive 12 minutes to meet my boo, grab my leftovers and then drive back to work? What was the best frugal option!?
Luckily, I had a protein bar (hint: get them at costco or buy them bulk online), and nut filled trail mix to sustain me. I fed myself and managed to not spend any money. Hooray for office snacks!
I also enjoyed those wayward leftovers for an early dinner with my boyfriend. All was well, and all was delicious.
For more on being frugal in relationships and how to make frugality a habit check out these articles.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.