by Jeff Yeager
Sure, we could afford to spend more, but why would we? It wouldn’t make us any happier.
Those are the words I’ve spent the last two and a half years traveling the country to hear. It’s a simple but rare statement, given that nearly half of all Americans say that they literally live paycheck-to-paycheck and have little if any savings. How can some people live not only within their means, but substantially below their means, even when their incomes are often less than the national average? And here’s the biggest question of all: How can some of those same people insist that they are happier, joyous really, because of their thrift and frugality?
I traveled thousands of miles (nearly 3,000 of them) by bicycle and surveyed more than 300 of my beloved “Miser Advisers” to find the answers. In my new book, The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily below Their Means, I share what I discovered about people and families (many of them just like you) who not only know how to stretch their money, but who are more content and happier because of it. The book also includes hundreds of their practical, money saving tips, unique ideas that anyone can use every day.
Some of what I found may not surprise you. They despise debt and have found creative ways to eliminate it from their lives. They differentiate between “needs” and “wants” and between “affordability” and “borrow-ability." And, yes, most of them own and still wear at least one article of clothing dating back to the Carter administration (or earlier).
But other findings surprised even me, The Ultimate Cheapskate. Only about 10% have a written household budget. “We live our budget. It’s second nature. We don’t waste time writing about it,” one cheapskate said. While they have savings in the bank, less than 15% have a formal “emergency fund.” "An emergency fund is for people who don’t have their financial house in order otherwise,” another cheapskate said. And more than nine out of ten say that they think, worry, and stress-out about money less, not more, than their non-cheapskate peers. They are 100+ times more likely to have a dog or cat adopted from a shelter than one purchased from a pet store. They are also far more likely to own a slow cooker (or several) than an iPod or flat-screen TV, and they divorce at less than half the national average.
These aren’t your miserable, Scrooge-like cheapskates. These are folks who know what’s important in life, and they skip the rest. Here’s a glimpse inside the mind of the Cheapskates Next Door:
- Cheapskates Say “The Joneses Can Kiss Our Assets.” Cheapskates are highly self-confident and proud of their frugal lifestyles, caring very little about what others think of them and even less about things like buying designer brand names and keeping up appearances with the Joneses.
- Cheapskates Are Immune from Buyer’s Remorse. Most shoppers eventually regret nearly 80% of the discretionary items they buy; but cheapskates are “premeditated shoppers” and, because of it, are largely immune from buyer’s remorse. Nearly 90% of the cheapskates surveyed say they “never” or “rarely” regret a purchase. And they don’t shop for “recreation” or “therapy,” which is one reason they prefer shopping at thrift stores (with a more certain selection of merchandise) than wasting time shopping at yard sales.
- Cheapskates Appreciate Appreciation (and depreciation, too) Other than when buying a house, most people usually don’t think about whether something will increase or decrease in value after they buy it. Cheapskates are tuned into appreciation/depreciation, often preferring to buy antique furniture (like the Amish do) that will retain/increase in value, and buying everything from cars to computers to clothing used, rather than new, so that the first owner pays for most of the depreciation.
- Cheapskates Know That The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things. Social science has shown that “stuff” tends to disappoint us over time, but “experiences” (how we spend our time) is what adds true value and meaning to life. Cheapskates value their time, and the things they can do with it, more than money, and the things they can buy with it.
- Cheapskates Answer to a Higher Authority. For most of the cheapskates polled, it’s truly not about the money. Nine out of ten cheapskates say that their decision to live a more frugal life isn’t about trying to amass a big savings account; rather it’s primarily grounded in some higher ideals, such as religious beliefs or environmentalism. That’s why, of the cheapskates polled, they donate nearly twice as much to charity as the average American.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is UltimateCheapskate.com