The sideways answer to almost any problem

After I rushed into my Frugal is Offensive post last week I realised that actually there are aspects of frugality that please me. A clean and simple writing desk. A sparse and ordered wardrobe. A salvaged piece of vintage furniture. The Peace and Quiet of Economy.

I had it in my head that to be frugal I need to pinch the pennies, tighten the fist and adopt a miserly scowl. Whereas when I stopped to think about it — with thanks to the people who commented on last week’s post — it started to occur to me that being frugal can be a balm for troubled spirits.

For example, I’ve long wished for a streamlined wardrobe. One where I have only a small selection of perfectly tailored, beautifully crafted clothes rather than jumbles and heaps of ill-kept garments that don’t quite work for me anymore. As a form of spending control it wasn’t at all hard to decide several months back that there would be a ban* on all clothes purchase for the rest of the year. It makes walking down the street so much more relaxing when there’s no temptation to press my nose against a shop window and wonder whether I might improve myself should I attempt to buy a new outfit. Instead the year is about weaning and trimming the clothes that I have. This form of frugality calms me and makes me think there’s a chance I shall create this happy, helpful closet. Someday. (Recent discovery/top tip — pick up a sachet of Dylon and just throw the dye in with the wash to spruce up old favourites fading in colour.)

Another area where fewer options stills the mind is over by the bathroom mirror. For many years I have agitated over the right skin care products and as my salary has steadily grown, my spend on creams has entered new realms. To make matters worse I barely establish a relationship with one product before I fall for another, so I can never really say for sure whether all the money I’ve spent on my new face wash made any difference. It could easily have been the toner made of dragon blood I started using the week after and therefore we cannot say whether any positive effect is down to one or the other.

These may seem small and trivial matters. And in the greater scheme, they are. But trust me, it is entirely possible to drive yourself slightly mad over matters of skim regime and what to wear. These issues are a quiet source of vex clouding the start of the day.

And both can be quietened by adopting a frugal approach to spend. This is why not only am I banned from new clothes this year, but I am not allowed to buy new potions and lotions until I use up what I already have.

If the current recession has launched all sorts of campaigns for more of us to Make Do and Mend and to let things Run Out (in a throw back to the way we used to live before credit cards, back in the 1950’s), the fight to save the planet is an even bigger force championing frugality (recycling to reducing waste and consumption). Which reminds me, as I look around my room, how much I prefer salvaged furniture. The green wooden chair I picked up off on the street last year which holds the stack of books I want to read. The battered old kitchen table I bought at the Saturday market on Goldborne Road which serves as my desk.

I didn’t want these things because they were dirt cheap or free, I love the way they look and feel. They make my house a home.

Which leads me to my realisation about frugality this week. I actually prefer to be frugal some of the time — when being frugal solves an entirely different problem. Like feeling at peace when I get dressed in the morning. Like shutting down angsty temptation as I walk past Space NK. Like sitting at my desk this morning enjoying my bargain desk which happens to be huge and spacious.

This whole line of thinking reminded me of a book I read a few years ago — John Kay’s Obliquity, where he explains how the happiest people do not pursue happiness, the most profitable companies are not the most profit-obsessed and how the wealthiest people are rarely the most materialistic and that therefore the most effective way to achieve one thing is to come at it sideways but focusing on a different goal altogether.

So after’s a week thought, I’ve decided I’m not going to worry about trying to embrace frugality. I’m going to focus on making everyday life more sane and pleasurable and as a result I expect this will lead to more and more economies of approach and pocket.

* No Dad, this policy does not extend to refusing to buy a dress with the money you gave me to do that. I will. That’s a gift. It doesn’t count.

2 thoughts on “The sideways answer to almost any problem

  1. For me, frugality is more about shopping smart, not less. If there is something I want, or need, I will try and find a way to get it for the best price instead of depriving myself entirely. Sometimes that means comparison shopping on a few websites. Five minutes of internet searching saved me £15 on a suitcase recently. Sometimes it means waiting. Last winter, I fell in love with a Reiss wool coat that cost more than I wanted to spend. So I stalked it until spring, checking the Reiss website every couple of weeks until it finally came down £150 in price. Thanks to England’s rather cool weather well into June, I was even able to wear it quite a bit this season. And sometimes it means taking advantage of retail competition- John Lewis’ ‘We will not be undersold’ policy helped us save £100 on custom-made curtains among other things. And it doesn’t hurt to ask for discounts- just asking if they could bring the price down any lower saved £50 on an upgrade on a Virgin flight, and an extra 10% off sale shoes. Each time, it took less than ten seconds to ask.
    Thanks for posting the guardian rip off Britain article. That was great.

    1. See! this is the exact sort of mentality I wish I had but do not. Like the Reiss coat story … how did you know that it could be stalked? I’d be thinking that the coat would disappear/sell out. I have never stalked an item to watch it go on sale, but would love to be this person. As for asking for discounts, never. It actually makes my stomach turn. I can’t say why. I sense a future assignment coming my way …

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