“Are you not having a drink?” John asked me as we huddled into the crowded upstairs room of a fancy pub.
We were there for the November installment of the ‘side-hustle’ meet up, hosted by the venerable Financial Independence London group. The room was filled with over 100 bustling FIRE advocates, sipping on expensive £12 white wines and £6 pints of beer.
“I’ll stick with tap water and ice, thank you,” I said with a pang of envy.
John, my co-attendee of this side-hustle extravaganza was already on his second £6 pint. John, by the way, is a frugality expert, he prides himself on being frugal and is the founder of the very popular Frugal and Freegan London group, he’s the only person that I know that probably has the resourcefulness to live for free if needed. And yet, he had no qualms about buying the ludicrously expensive beer, whilst I, on the other hand, felt resistance at simply the mention of it.
What is wrong with me? I thought. I’m saving over 80% of my salary and I can’t even stomach the notion of buying a single expensive drink?
I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t realise that this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened.
I’ve lost count of the times that we’ve decided to get take-out, but upon me trying to locate the best deals from the limited available options, decide that I’ll cook something up as I don’t want to spend £20 on some ‘crappy Chinese food.’
I can’t count the times that I’ve finally said ‘YES, we can get a chippy, I fancy one too!’ Only to walk the 10 minutes to the local chip shop and return home empty-handed after seeing that the price of 1 piece of cod was £6.50! (When did fish and chips get so bloody expensive?)
There are other scenarios like this too: Deciding to eat out at a restaurant when we’re out for the day, ending up instead with a large bag of crisps. Not getting food halfway through a long drive due to the increased cost at motorway service food courts (even when we’re really hungry!) The list goes on and on.
I’m that awkward person, to my wife’s sadness, who will look at every single menu or food shop seeking the best value, only to end up with nothing. I’d rather have a rumbling stomach than be ripped-off.
Is there something wrong with me?
When experiencing this allergy to spending, it’s not just a preference that I prefer to choose. It’s actually a feeling deep down in my gut, I feel physically sick. It’s like (I imagine) how an addict would feel when trying to resist the urge which is telling them to take that next hit:- I REALLY don’t want to spend.
Someone telling me ‘Come on, treat yourself’ or ‘You’ve earned it’ won’t help. The psychological feeling is almost physical, the magnetic-like resistance is too strong.
With careful analysis of this feeling, it seems to be more closely related to value and specifically the fear of not getting ‘good value.’ I feel tremendous anxiety around the notion of being ripped-off.
I landed on this hypothesis as I don’t feel the same wretchedness when buying pints of beer for £2.30 at a local Weatherspoons, or when buying a crate of beer for less than £1 per can in the supermarket.
Recently, I’ve had to book flights to a family gathering, I leapt into the task thinking that £50 was good value for a flight to Europe. Then when seeing via Google Flights that the flights were only £17 in the previous month, I immediately felt a tremendous hatred and anxiety.
‘That’s horrible value, why should I pay more than double the price just because I have to fly one month later!’
It’s negatively affecting my life
This is actually a problem. Yeah, sure, it’s doing wonders for my savings rate, but I shouldn’t have to feel physically sick and wrought with anxiety when having to purchase a bad-value product or service, especially since doing so would figuratively be a drop in the pond to my savings plan.
If I bought 3 expensive £6 pints at each London FIRE meet-up, which I attend roughly once per month, that would equal £18 per month. –I’m trying furiously to not immediately associate that price to double what it would cost me for Spotify premium, which I don’t pay due to the bad value, I instead suffer through the adverts.
That would only cost me £216 per year, that’s 0.36% out of my projected investment amount which I contributed out of my salary this tax year, should I really be feeling these levels of anxiety?
Breaking frugal habits
I ended up drinking tap water through-out the night. After discussing the subject of frugality with John, he hit me with this resolute quote: ‘It’s difficult to break a lifetime of frugal habits.’
I know that these habits (and intrinsic fears) are going to have to be broken at some point, especially as my nest egg becomes fully established. I can’t live with the paralysing fear of needing value in everything that I buy, some spending just can’t be avoided; I no longer want to suffer when I make one of these purchases.
I also want to be able to spend on the little things that will hardly make a dent in my savings but will bring me a little joy.
I need to start forcefully increasing my spending to inject more small, joyful things. I should do this now before my frugality becomes too ingrained to ever break out of, there will definitely be more work that needs to be done!
Have you ever felt a repulsion towards spending money? How did you break out of these habits?