On Frugality and Flourishing

It’s February, and I have a yearning to finally finish this project. I’ve been putting it off for so long, but it’s time that I actually attempt to press some keys and create some prose. This is a topic I feel is especially relevant these days as I’ve been having interesting conversations and thoughts about money and the value of frugality. If my first several months into the world of true financial independence as a fully fledged ‘adult’ is any signal, I am obsessed with saving money. I’ve read books and countless articles on how to optimize my finances into retirement accounts, how to invest the spare income I have beyond an emergency fund, and how to think about money as wealth, which is a bit of a paradigm shift. Money represents the liquid asset that allows you to buy goods and pay for services. Wealth on the other hand feels a bit more immaterial and is something that grows over time.

Coming from an immigrant household, it’s been hammered into me that the only way to have financial success is to be as conservative as possible with money and to never inflate your lifestyle beyond what is absolutely necessary. For a long time, this made total sense to me. After all, the most logical way to grow the amount of money you have is to save as much of your monthly paycheck as you can, right? This thought process makes sense in many scenarios but breaks down when you consider inflation and other factors that render stagnant money in a bank account essentially a depreciating asset. One thing that has taken me some time to internalize is the idea that the only way to prevent money from losing its value is by turning into wealth. I use the term ‘wealth’ very broadly here and to me, it represents more than assets that have a direct $ designation to them. Here’s my definition:

Wealth: An abundance of assets (material or intangible) that contribute to the growth and prosperity of an individual or a group of individuals.

My caveat, which I have learned time and time again, is that money spent on a valuable experiences or in pursuit of a fulfilling skill is money invested more effectively than any index fund manager could. This doesn’t mean that you should spend all of your money on hobbies, but I think it’s healthy to understand that spending money on things that you love will inherently add more wealth to your life than it detracts. I think for me, the difficulty has been understanding that I have enough to get by and that’s totally okay. As I was beginning to flourish financially, I found it difficult to justify to my parents why buying 2-ply toilet paper or spending money on Spanish lessons made sense for me. One thing my parents have internalized, which has made them so efficient with money, is their disdain of lifestyle creep. However, I’m going to propose another caveat, which is that lifestyle creep (the phenomenon where spending increases as standard of living improves) does not apply to things that have a relatively narrow range of quality (as opposed to things like cars and homes, which are effectively unbounded on the upper end) or things that contribute to a longer-term vision. For me, this meant that since 2-ply was the upper bound for my lavatorial luxuriousness and that learning Spanish at a faster rate would allow me to get closer to my dream of being a polyglot, the notion of lifestyle creep did not apply.

Where does this leave us? I think that the vast amount of emotional baggage we have around money comes from our experiences as children, where we are financially at the whims of those who support us. The average person isn’t making their own money moves until they’re in their 20s, so that’s a LOT of precedence to break down. My family almost never ate out when I was a kid, save for the rare occasion where I would win a free Pizza Hut pan pizza for getting on the honor roll. We would sit in the car with the pizza and each share a slide, relishing in the quarterly treat. These are the memories I have when I think about eating at restaurants through the lens of my adolescence. It’s no wonder I still feel a twinge of guilt every time I order a $4 slice of pizza (gotta love San Francisco), I haven’t been on the honor roll in years!!!

My psychological neuroses related to money aside, I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t standing on the shoulders of giants. My parents worked hard to move to a country where they had more economic opportunity for future generations. They also instilled within me the importance of valuing and saving money, which is something I will always be grateful for. I am the fruits of their labor and my flourishing is what they worked so hard for, even if it’s sometimes difficult for them to articulate this sentiment.

Some of the more practical resources I’ve found helpful on my journey to wrangle my finances are Mint (tracking all of my accounts and expenses in a single spot), DoctorOfCredit (for the seductive hobby known as churning), NerdWallet (for understanding basic financial concepts and very useful comparisons of accounts), and Ramit Sethi’s annoyingly clickbaity titled book I Will Teach You To Be Rich (provides an awesome framework for understand your own finances, for people on all levels of financial understanding). None of theses are referral links, unfortunately I’m not that cool yet 😇

learning and growing as fast as I can • engineer @facebook • https://nikhilthota.com

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