Stop Feeling Guilty for Failing at Frugality

I've written other posts about how I kind of went into crazy mode when I got married. I wanted to be the perfect wife, and that included becoming "frugal," so I could save our new little family as much money as possible.

People have a lot of different motivations for being frugal. For me it was a slight mixture of necessity and wanting to save up for bigger purchases, but it went further than that. Mostly it was just guilt and a little bit of anxiety.  And I don't think either of those are very good foundations when planning out your finances. They weren't for me and I decided I needed to change the way I looked at money, saving, and frugality. 

I don't look down on people who penny-pinch out of necessity. I totally get that, and I also realize that by the very merit of even having this discussion, you and I are extremely blessed and fortunate.

I should make it clear that my husband and I aren't rich. We don't throw money away, and we're not in a position to throw money away. We do a lot of things that save us money, but there is a fine line between wise with money and crazy stressed-out nutcase, and I've crossed that line a few times.

So when the guilt fog lifted a little bit, I adopted a new mantra:

We are wise with money so we can be generous and charitable.(2 Corinthians 9:10-11)
We are wise with money so we don't end up in debt. (Proverbs 22:7)
We are wise with money so we can be prepared for the future. (Proverbs 6:6-8)

And in viewing my money like this, I learned a few truths about frugality. Maybe they'll be helpful to you too.

1. We are all in different situations.

We're all in different job situations, family situations, and we all have different hopes and plans for the future, so it's no fair comparing your bills or house note or grocery spending to anyone else's.

Not long ago I was reading a blog by a stay-at-home mom all about different ways to save money. As I read, I began to feel guilty about all the things she was doing to save money that I was not. Then it hit me. She is a stay-at-home mom. I'm well aware that stay-at-home moms have plenty to keep them busy, but the fact that I have an office job means I'm guaranteed at least 40 hours a week less at home than she has. She's a homemaker, so it's okay that I'm not quite as good at homemaking as she is. Neither of us is right or wrong, we are just in different sets of circumstances right now and it's okay for each of us to live that way.

2. We have other valuable resources  

When I was stuck in obsessive good wife mode, I tried to coupon and make all the decorations for our house and cook a bunch of stuff from scratch that I could have bought at the store. At one point I was making my own bread crumbs. Seriously? How much do those cost? How much money was I actually saving?

In trying to save a buck (and I'm betting it was literally one dollar), I was lavishly wasting another precious resource of mine: my time. I was spending my time and patience on pretty futile attempts to save money, and, in the situation I was in, I was being wasteful with almost every other resource I had. I was stressed out, I was not as kind, and I was down on myself all the time. I'm still not certain how to be a "good wife," but I am pretty certain that my husband (and myself) would prefer and happy and kind wife who spends time with him rather than a stressed out and snappy wife who saves one dollar making her own bread crumbs.

3. Spending is not the same as wasting. 

If I buy a dress at Target, never wear it, and eventually throw it away, that is waste. If I buy a dress at Target instead of making one myself (saving $20 and spending 2 hours), that is not waste. Being wasteful is bad. It should be avoided. But in our pinterest-obsessed, do-everything-yourself, never-throw-anything-away, repurpose-everything, Christian, young, female subculture, we've got to learn to distinguish between spending and wasting. It is a lie that spending money on something rather than spending time on it is wasteful. The truth is that when we weigh our options on whether to spend time or spend money, we are making complex decisions, factoring in all the different circumstances of our current situations. All that shows is that we're smart.

4. Frugality often makes money an idol.

When we read the Bible, oftentimes we assign certain verses or passages to a particular person or group of people. 1 Timothy 6:10, the verse about the love of money being the root of all kinds of evil, is always assigned to rich people. It's a rich people verse because all of those rich people need to know that they better not get too attached to their massive wealth. But the truth is, you don't have to have money to love money. 

In trying to be thrifty, I've got to be careful that my motivation isn't just to have money. Am I being wise with my money so I can be generous, debt-free, and prepared for the future, or just so that I can have more wealth and possessions? Being frugal is often seen as virtuous, and it often is, but I have to look past appearances and into my own heart and ask myself what my motivations are. 

So I'm all for frugality. I'm all for saving money. I'm all for doing whatever I've got to do to be debt-free, prepared for the future, and generous in the present.

But I'm kicking guilt out of the decision-making process, because being a "good wife" is not tied to my ability to DIY. And I'm kicking anxiety out, because God has graciously provided everything I've needed every day of my life, and I've got a feeling that He won't stop now, even if I do use store bought bread crumbs.