This is the fifth post in a series about living the virtuous life like Benjamin Franklin. We’re taking his life and applying it to marriage and relationships.

Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.

Even in today’s tough economic times, frugality is not viewed in a positive light. The excess and surplus of the 90’s and early 2000’s has led to people growing used to a certain lifestyle – and feeling entitled to remain living at that level.
As the economy has turned however, many families are in a struggle – if not a full blown crisis.
The trouble with an entitlement mindset is that people will often continue to do what they’ve always done, even if it means living on credit and borrowed money. This leads to a rising mound of debt and a feeling of helplessness.
The Founding Fathers feared that too much luxury made a nation weak. And if you look at history, this fear is justified – just look at the Roman and Greek empires.
Frugality and simplicity have lost some respect in our society. While the idea of living below your means sounds great, there’s still a lot of people struggling to live the simple, frugal life.
So why is frugality an important virtue? Glad you asked.
Frugality keeps you from living under the control of someone else. Personal debt is slavery. And living in debt often leads to more debt and stress.

Think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Frugality and simplicity also keep you from living under the control of things. Think about how much stuff you own. How much of the stuff you own requires your time and energy to keep going? The worship and collection of stuff has even led to a whole new phenomenon. You can now pay for someone else to hold your stuff for you and in return you get your own card or code so you can visit your stuff whenever you want.
The self storage industry has grown into a $5.5 billion industry. This makes me wonder if perhaps we have too much stuff?
I think most everyone who reads this will agree that they want to live a more simple and frugal life, but they will also likely say they are unsure how to accomplish this goal.
There are many paths to frugality and simplicity. We must each find our own path, obviously, but we can still learn from others. That’s the beauty of the blogosphere today, you can find someone else who’s on a similar path as you and learn from their journey as well as work together on yours.
The best suggestion I have for living a frugal life is to think about where you want to go, and then figure out a path to get there.
Don’t make it harder than is has to be.
Then take the first step. Once you’ve done that, you can worry about the next step. You will probably take a different path than the one you first envisioned, and in fact you may get to a different destination than you first imagined. Just take it one step at a time, and see where you get.
If you want a few blogosphere resources check out Man vs. Debt, Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, or Enemy of Debt, just to name a few.
To head down the path to a more frugal life, here’s a few suggestions that may help.

  • Take it slowly. There is no need to rush to a simpler life. Take deep breaths, and take things one step at a time. Baby steps. Enjoy the process.
  • Do a major rehaul. Sometimes it can be revitalizing to do a rehaul of your entire life. Wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Now, that might mean moving to a new house and only bringing the possessions that mean the most to you. Or it might mean getting a new job that you love and setting your own schedule around the things you love doing. Or it might mean doing a major cleansing of your house, getting rid of most of your junk. It could mean just dropping all commitments except the things you love most.
  • Remember what’s important. Why are you trying to accomplish? Is it to make room for the things you love? Then be sure to identify those things, and keep those things in mind during this process. Is it simply to reduce your stress and live a more peaceful life? Then remember that on your path to frugality.
  • Adopt changes gradually. If you adopt one small change at a time you can make major changes over the long-term without the changes seeming very big at all. Make one small change, and soon that becomes the norm for you. Then make another, and that becomes the norm. Each step seems small, but they can add up to really big progress over time.
  • Try different types of frugality. You don’t have to pick one way. You can try simplicity, then minimalism, then cabin-in-the-woods simplicity, then chuck all your responsibilities and hang out on a beach all day (my favorite by the way). See what works for you.
  • Join a community. There are online communities and maybe even groups within your neighborhood that are going for a common goal. Ask around and see who else may be heading down a similar path. Changes in life are easiest when done in community with others.
  • Take assessment. I’m a big fan of stepping back and taking a look at my life in general, reflecting on what I want my life to be like, on what kind of progress I’ve made, or what needs to be done. It’s good to do this at the beginning of your path, and every now and then along the way.

The simplest things are often the truest. ~ Richard Bach

What’s worked for you and your family?

Photo courtesy alicepopkorn

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