Misery for misers but freedom for the frugal

Nima Abu Wardeh reveals the difference between being a miser and being frugal: Frugal equals freedom. Miser means being enslaved.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
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The frugal person saves to live, the miser lives to save.
I love the simplicity of that statement - how it goes about tackling emotive issues in a clear and concise manner. Getting our heads around its message, however, is a challenge. It demands that we take on board a massive change in mindset and realise that being frugal is far from being miserly with our money, which is a common misperception.
An even bigger challenge is if a wife or husband is frugal and is taken for a miser.
A friend says he drives his wife mad when they go shopping. She puts things in the cart, he picks them up, looks at them, checks out the brand, works out whether it's "worth" the money, and then looks at other, similar, products to see if there is more value to be had with another product.
"She thinks I'm stingy and mean," he says. He is the sole breadwinner in his household, and his wife probably feels that she's being undermined, not only with regard to what's actually bought but in other areas of life too. You can imagine that this could get ugly.
This friend wrote an article along the lines of "No, I'm not a miser" and set out his argument for "quality" versus "value" versus the right to make deliberate choices about where money (that he works hard for) is spent.
I mentioned this to another friend, and he told me about his quest with his wife to rein in their spending, be more mindful about choices, and take on board that he's working for the family, and doesn't want to be a prisoner to fashions and fads, where forking out for them holds him back from doing so much for his well-being and that of his family's.
This isn't a gender-specific issue. Many women have come to me, bereft at having discovered that their husband was frittering money away with very real, sometimes life-changing, consequences.
And I can't begin to tell you the number of times people from all walks of life have looked me squarely in the eye and said: "This means people will think I am tight with money and stingy" whenever they realise - mostly with a jolt - that they cannot afford to live the way they do, and must say "no" to frivolous spending.
They're being asked to be frugal, not stingy, to think through what's more important, and spend on that, not just spend.
The interesting thing is that I find people who are frugal from a "good place" are dynamic go-getters - they've realised our time on Earth is limited, our ability to function and be active will probably diminish with time, and that there are so many things they want to do in their lifetime, that they start to live and spend deliberately and mindfully. They are caring, sharing folks who are very much alive.
Contrast this with people who are stingy and miserly with money. To me, they seem to be joyless and not really living.
Unfortunately, frugality and miserliness are interchangeable for many.
Being careful with money is a wonderful thing. It means that we need to work fewer years and are able to use the money we save on things that add meaning and happiness to our lives. I'm not talking about a new car, but rather things such as a trip to Latin America, learning how to ski, or volunteering to teach children how to read in a village in Africa or Asia. Most importantly, it means that we get to use our time as we wish.
Frugality equals freedom. Miserliness means enslavement.
What it really boils down to is understanding the value of our time.
Frugality is about getting the most value and happiness out of your dirhams. Miserliness is about getting more dirhams.
So be brave. Start controlling the money in your life, instead of allowing money to control you.
Be frugal. Be free.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at nima@cashy.me
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