Not so long ago, before I started my path to Financial Independence through frugality, I was wasting a bunch of money and resources on things I thought were “normal”. I’ve evolved and look back at some of these with a bit of shame now. Not because I was wasting money, but because connecting those to a huge waste of resources now makes me feel terribly guilty.
I’ve always thought of myself as an “eco” kind of person, but in hindsight I’m just wasting as much resources as everybody else and I’m turning a blind eye to my own actions every time this helps my own comfort.
Below are things I used to do that I don’t do anymore:
1. Keep the lights on when I left a room
I used to keep the lights on in pretty much every single room I would go to.
“I’ll probably come back to that room in a few minutes” is the excuse I’ve been giving myself for my laziness. Or “I’m making a salary good enough that I can afford to keep the lights on in my entire apartment if I feel like it” (you’ll see me use that excuse a lot in the sections of this article – nope, not proud of it).
It didn’t stop with the lights though. I would typically leave my computer on (including the screen), the music on, any kind of electronic device, sometimes for hours without even being in the same room. The music part in particular probably drove my wife crazy. “I left the music on for you” was my excuse back then.
I don’t do this anymore. I turn the lights off when I leave the room, and when it comes to music, I’m asking my wife if she’s actually listening or if she wants me to turn it off. Given how different our taste for music is,, the answer is, 99% of the time, “turn it off!”.
2. Throwing food away
I used to have food rot in my fridge. Or sometimes, when I didn’t eat everything on my plate, I would just throw it away. This is not happening anymore. We proudly find creative ways to reuse food from the previous meal.
I think becoming a parent has helped me with that. Parents get used to eating half-eaten stuff that baby didn’t want. Is it OK to admit I’ve eaten a bunch of things after they’ve hit the ground?
3. Buying stuff I didn’t use
I still have at home a bunch of movie DVDs I never watched, or videogames I never played. I don’t know if I had that “collector’s” thing going on, or if I really thought I would find the time for this kind of entertainment. I’ve taken it as far as buying electronic gadgets I never used. At some point in time I had easily 5 set-top boxes for streaming video content!
Today I’m much more careful and typically sleep on it, or even wait a month or so, before I finalize an “entertainment” purchase. in 99% of the cases, I ultimately realize I don’t need the object, or I won’t have time to use it.
4. Driving my car like fuel cost nothing
I didn’t own a car for very long, but when I did, I drove it in a very wasteful way. Crazy accelerations then a huge hit on the brakes at the next red light, not paying attention to the pressure in my tires, you probably know the story.
What can I say, I was young and full of anger and adrenaline, I guess. Today, I don’t own a car, but if I did I would definitely make sure to optimize my expenses on that one.
5. Spending hundreds of dollars in bars and night clubs
Going out with friends in Tokyo typically meant going to expensive bars catering to expatriates. Expensive Belgian beers come to mind, with a popular bar in Shibuya serving half a pint for about $15. Not to mention their ridiculously small, ridiculously expensive (but ridiculously delicious) plate of cheese. I would easily spend $100 in that place before the evening even began.
6. Not caring at all about the price of groceries
This has to be a very common mistake: everything else was so expensive (from the rent, to the utility bill, to medical expenses or our entertainment budget) that I didn’t see the point of checking the price of groceries. I remember having an argument with my wife who was trying to find the cheapest eggs in the city: “I’m paid well enough that we’re literally losing money going to so many stores just to spare 10 cents a week” I said. “Plus we pay so much for the rent anyway, why are you focusing on the price of eggs?”.
This was my naive approach to wealth at the time. My heart was probably at the right place (“let’s focus on big expenses first”), but the way I actually implemented it (“let’s not care about grocery prices because we don’t care about the rest”) was obviously a terrible attitude, and long term would have led us to a life of financial despair.
My wife was trying to make an impact where she had expertise in our household (groceries), and I was literally yelling at her for doing that. Worse, I was failing to see that groceries, as a recurring expense, can lead to a compounding effect if reduced appropriately. Mister Money Mustache talked a few times about using our “frugality muscle” to make them more and more effective. Spending 10 cents less each week on eggs does not matter in itself. What mattered is that this kind of attitude is how our household is spending much less on food as a whole than we used to a few years ago.
7. Not caring at all about the price of our condo, or the loan rate
Yup, that one’s pretty bad, but I swear it’s how I used to feel.
When we bought a condo in Japan, I didn’t care at all about the price. We visited places that ranked from $400’000 to $900’000, they all looked the same to me, and the whole “condo shopping” process was so boring to me that I wanted the whole thing to be done as soon as possible. As such, every time my wife asked me “did you like this one?”, my answer was along the lines of “sure, why not”. The amount of money was so mind blowing anyway that I was unable to really understand the difference for us to spend $400’000 or $800’000 on the apartment. In both cases, it meant decades of loan anyway, so why even bother negotiating?
She’s the one who ended taking the prices down and we ended up with a condo closer to $400’000 than $800’000. $400’000 is not cheap, but I can’t imagine what my loan would have looked like with a $800’000 apartment.
With that attitude, it’s no surprise that I didn’t care for the interest rate of the loan. In my defense it was a lot of documentation in Japanese, which contributed to the overall boredom-let’s-get-it-done-I-don’t-care effect. Here again, my wife drove the whole thing to reasonable prices and probably saved us a lot of money. (The end of that story is that we sold the condo when we moved to the US, and pretty much ended up roughly in the same financial state as if we had rented the condo for the same period of time. So, not too bad, not great either).
I was in general a pretty frugal person (I didn’t care for expensive vacation or luxuries) which probably saved me from a complete disaster, but I remember that my approach to finance, not so long ago, was that I wanted to “make enough money that I don’t have to care about personal finance”. And, honestly, I think we were kind of there. This was, in hindsight, a very dangerous attitude. It ensured we would never reach financial independence.
There was also a huge sense of entitlement on my end. “I make enough money that I shouldn’t have to care about this” was something I would often say. Money set aside, that was really not a good attitude: it contributed to me wasting lots of resources (including electricity) for no good reason, while at the same time pretending I cared for the environment.
don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect and I still have a huge amount of entitlement that needs fixed. But I’m taking it one step at a time, trying to fix some of these. A good side effect is that I’m now much more in line with my wife’s own natural frugality, than I used to be. “You were right” is probably one of the things I’ve told her the most in the past few years.