I suddenly realized a few days ago what, for me, is the simplest way to define frugality and the various spend-less-than-you-earn philosophies. It is: live in a high-quality way rather than a high-quantity way. Here are just a few examples:
High Quality: You spend a month looking for the best deal on a suit. You read Consumer Reports, you consider what would be a durable suit with timeless fashion, and you go and try on several before deciding which one to purchase.
High Quantity: You buy a super-fashionable, brand name suit because you saw a really, really cool picture of Brad Pitt wearing one.
High Quality: You buy somewhat expensive organic fruits and vegetables and enjoy flavorful salads.
High Quantity: You buy cheap iceberg lettuce and round red objects referred to as ‘imported tomatoes’. You throw it all when it goes bad and you haven’t eaten half of it.
High Quality: You go out to the best restaurant in town for a special occasion with your spouse/significant other/etc. and order a nice wine, good seafood, a pleasant dessert. The evening is worth talking about for weeks, and you don’t feel any more desire to go out for a while.
High Quantity: You eat at a chain restaurant. You skimp on drinks and entrees, decide dessert is too expensive. Then you decide you didn’t like it too much so you and your date eat out again the next weekend, trying to have a good time.
High Quality: You buy a new car, carefully maintain it and drive it for 10 years.
High Quantity: You buy a used car to save money, but don’t bother with maintenance and replace it four years later.
High Quality: You get unlimited videos from a rental service like Netflix or Blockbuster for a month. You watch any movie you want from the peace and quiet of your own home.
High Quantity: You go to one movie at the theater, and spend the whole movie wondering why a parent would bring their 2-year-old to see Alien Vs. Predator (I am not joking).
High Quality: You go on vacation and get an inexpensive hotel, then spend your money on going out and enjoying yourselves.
High Quantity: You go on vacation and get an expensive hotel, then have to watch your purchases while you are gone from the hotel 13 hours per day.
High Quality: You buy an ergonomic, solid wood desk for your computer and use it for the rest of your life.
High Quantity: You buy the cheapest desk you can from Wal-Mart, then replace it once every two years when the pressed sawdust construction finally unpresses itself.
Simply put, make sure that you get your money’s worth. I have always had the bad habit of buying something cheap instead of spending money to buy something that will last. I’m trying to think more like a high quality person and less like a high quantity person every day, though. It’s not easy, but that’s a good first test to apply to any purchase.