2008-03-27

Frugality and Chocolate Sundaes

I’m a terrible dieter. I have a sweet tooth that makes up 75% of my body weight, and I’ve spent most of my life responding to questions like, “Room for dessert?” with, “Of course—dessert goes in a separate compartment.” I’ve also been known to order chocolate sundaes after having dessert.

I’m not a terrible exerciser. Back in my youth (admittedly so long ago that it’s hard to know if my memories are real or fantasy), I played on sports teams; and according to other ancient texts unearthed near the Red Sea, I also had periods during which I hit the gym for a good 1½-2 hours as often as 5-7 days a week.

I’m also not a terrible vegetable eater. Which means I don’t love vegetables but I don’t complain when vegetables are added to my plate. I will sometimes even seek them out. And I will actually eat them.

This about sums up my personality with respect to physical health—and financial health. I’m a lot more willing and a lot better able to add things that are good for me than to subtract things that are bad for me. So in our personal finance, I’d much rather work on increasing our revenue than work on cutting our expenses.

That’s probably why my concentration on the topic of frugality will probably always be less here than many other personal-finance blogs. I’m interested in it; I’ll try; but I just won’t pull it off at the same level.

This is too bad for me, because frugal is clearly hot.

Even a casual stroll through a few blog directory or community sites shows how popular it is:

  • there are at least 26 blogs with the word “frugal” in their names (one technically being the variant “frugalize”);
  • there are at least 6 blogs using the word “thrifty” in their names;
  • there are at least 7 blogs using “cheap” (in reference to the person or the blogger or to being cheap generally—so this count did not include the use of “cheap” in other contexts, e.g., “Cheap Stocks”); and
  • there are at least 12 blogs using their names to emphasize the importance of pennies (e.g., at least four referencing pinching them in some way, two referencing saving them, and one that was simply, “Not One Cent”).

Since I only glanced in a few places to get those counts, they are probably low—and this list doesn’t even capture some of the leading frugality blogs that just don’t use one of these words. And then there all the blogs using the word “budget” or referring to coins other than pennies!

There is little doubt in my mind that all these folks are better at frugality than I am. I could blame genetics, upbringing, or the current Presidential administration—but the truth about it is that I am just “Joe Average” when it comes to frugality. Maybe worse. And since I agree that frugality plays an important role in personal finance—and for us, in striving toward our financial goals—how should I address this weakness of mine?

This brings me back to chocolate sundaes. Personal-finance plans have to be tailored to the person—just like diets.

If a diet doesn’t fit you, your personality, and your body, you’ll never be able to stick to it—and it won’t work. If it’s your first diet, you may not be able to start with a particularly rigid or demanding one. If totally cutting out chocolate sundaes means you’re likely to lose it at some point and binge, a diet prohibiting all chocolate sundaes doesn’t have a great chance of success. If your spouse has a diet that is totally incompatible with yours or provides access to too many undesirable temptations, you’re probably doomed. Depending on all these, you may end up wanting or needing to emphasize exercise (or something else) as the bigger part of your fitness plan.

On the other hand, if you have really good willpower when it comes to food and your body will go along for the ride, you may really be able to emphasize diet very effectively in pursuing your fitness goals. Or you may be able to work up to doing this. And if your health is in a particularly bad spot that demands more rapid change in your diet, you may just have to suck it up and make it happen.

A silly and now overly drawn-out analogy. Don’t ignore working on your weaknesses, but play to your strengths. The overall results may be better.

Please pass the chocolate sauce.

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