“You don’t need to be frugal anymore,” is a common piece of advice I often get from friends and family. Though I tell them that I’m happy living this way and truly content with what I already have, they just can’t believe it. The concept is so foreign to them. “You have the money. And it’s not going to benefit you when you’re dead,” they say. “So why not enjoy it?” That’s when I have to start listing the global reasons as to why I still practice frugality (and why they should too).
The Biggest Problems in the World Today
I just attended an economic forum that discussed some of the biggest problems the world is facing. These include:
- Climate change and its associated problems (rising sea level, new diseases, loss of species, wildfires, drought, etc.)
- Destruction of nature
- Poverty and income inequality
- Unstable / Unsustainable financial system
- Lack of economic opportunities and employment
- Food and water security
- Large scale conflicts between / among / within nations
The Bitter Reality
We are entering into very uncertain times. There are too many people in this world (we add a net 1 million people roughly every 4 days!). And while the population is exploding, the jobs are decreasing. What will happen when most people cannot make a living? Or when you take a bunch of really education and driven youths and tell them there’s nothing left for them? What might happen to such a society?
Nature is also losing some vital resources — fresh water, topsoil, forests, oil, natural gas, coal — all at unsustainable rates.
We are living in a time of more severe natural disasters. Just last November, my hometown went up in smoke (from a wildfire). The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor (its meltdown was caused by a tsunami) is still so highly radioactive that even after 8 years, the radiation levels can kill you in 2 minutes. Oh, and the reactor still needs a constant and indefinite injection of water to keep the melted cores cool. How much water? Roughly 1,000 tons of liquid every week.
Speaking of water, many people say the Yemeni Civil War is really a result of water and food shortages. According to a 2013 BBC News article, Sanaa (Yemen’s capital), could run dry by 2023. Any nation, when threatened with a food or water shortage, can definitely become unstable and its citizens can turn to violence.
Additional Reasons to be Frugal
While frugality won’t have much effect on the US-China trade wars or on food & water security, for me, it helps to reduce my carbon footprint, thereby helping to abate (in a small way) climate change. If more people lived with less, there would be less resource extraction and less plastic junk in the world.
There might also be less insatiable desires. Just as eating too many sugary foods will over time actually change your taste buds, thereby making non-sugary foods unappetising, indulging all the time in pleasure will make the very normal but mundane parts of life seem boring and gruelling.
Since I gave up sugar several years ago, I am satisfied by the sweetness and complex flavours in broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Similarly, I get a huge dose of enjoyment from just being at home or having a simple cup of coffee.
Frugality also helps to reset my expectations. It reminds me that we (those living in a developed nation) are all lucky and that those in less developed nations can only dream of having our life.
Of course, the money-saving component of frugality is nice too. It can cushion a person against economic disasters and other emergencies. Because our financial system is unsustainable, there definitely will be another financial catastrophe; the only question is when. Having a sizable emergency fund or nest egg might help to buffer the impact.
Will frugality or your nest egg save you from a natural disaster? Not likely. But learning to live with less means you’ll likely recover faster and be less devastated. Immediately after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, there were dozens of high-level bankers committing suicide by jumping out of buildings on Wall Street.
Remember these are bankers in a wealthy developed nation spared from the daily suffering of war and famine that is the reality of many impoverished nations. It makes me wonder whether a life of frugality would have made them more mentally resilient.
So, in a way, my friends are correct. You don’t “need” to be frugal when you’re wealthy. But by it being a choice rather than a necessity means you’re doing it for other, and more important, reasons.