Can you be both generous and frugal?
Frugal and generous, two words that are opposite and in contrast with one another. Let’s start with their respective definitions. Frugal as defined by dictionary.com, economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing, not wasteful. Generous is defined as liberal in giving or sharing. Frugal would imply being tight fisted with whatever resources you have while generous would be the liberal sharing or giving resources.
Those two attributes certainly do not seem to mingle in fact pretty much like oil and water, they don’t mix. However, could it co-exist? Do we have to choose either one or can we have both frugal and generous together? I would like to argue that we can and let me show you how.
Let me start with a little story. My grandmother can be described as someone who is frugal. She is extremely careful with how she spends her money and would promote the virtues of saving money for a rainy day. I can understand where she is coming from as she had to live through the hard times of the World War II. Scarcity and survival were paramount and ingrained in order to be able to survive. My grandfather on the other hand can be described as generous. He would generously take his grandchildren out for a fast-food meal and would give us pocket money on the side. A little secret that we his grandchildren would know about. He was not only generous with money but with his time and attention. Note, he too had to live through the horrors of World war II. And yet, the difference in their mindset.
Having grown up with these two seemingly opposite approaches to resources, what would become of us grandchildren? Not surprisingly, we have a good mix of generous and frugal running through the family.
In today’s new trend, being frugal is promoted. In fact, it is part of the minimalist lifestyle. I mean to be a minimalist you do need to have a dash of frugality as you don’t want to be wasteful at the very least.
Today if you were to search on the word frugal you would find over 64m searches on Google, ranging from tips of living frugal lives to financial independence. It is clearly something is people are thinking about and some are proudly living it out for the world to know. Frugalism is one of the path to the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement. Frugal is not longer a taboo word or a trait that is seen in the negative light.
I would suggest that there are 3 ways that you can live a live of generously frugal and they are:
- Be generous with others but frugal with yourself.
- Be generous with yourself but frugal with others.
- Be generous with yourself and others but frugal with your unnecessary wants.
As a starting point, I would like to share a story in the bible where Jesus observed 2 people giving, one was rich and the other a poor widow. The rich man gave his gifts while the poor widow put in 2 very small copper coins. Jesus said that the rich man gave out of his wealth, but the widow gave out of her poverty everything she had. Generosity stems from giving and giving out of your heart. Most people give out of excess or extra and that may seem generous but is it truly so? I would like to redefine what is most valuable to us not just in terms of money but what is in fact more precious and that is time, words and attention.
I would advocate that we can be generous with ourselves and others but be frugal with our unnecessary wants.
Let’s break it down.
Have you notice a child calling out to a parent because he is so excited to show mom or dad something that he has discovered? He is calling out their names over and over again, while the parent is saying later or is busy on the phone or pretending to be listening but distracted on the computer? What that child wants is not money or more things, but just a simple 5 minute and dedicated attention and an encouraging word from the parent.
In fact even when we are adults, we still desire those 3 precious resources of time, attention and words, just manifested differently. Take a quick snapshot and ask yourself: when was the last time you gave someone dedicated time while paying full attention and words of encouragement?
Let’s explore how we can be generously frugal.
Be generous with yourself and others but frugal with your unnecessary wants. The starting point is recognizing what is truly valuable to you. There would be no argument that each of us would like to be contribute positively to the lives of others. We all appreciate people who are generous. The most valuable and precious resources that all has are time, which is finite, attention which is variable and encouraging words which are limitless. We can make some feel great with those 3 precious elements, in fact, more so than any amount of money.
I would suggest that to live a generous life is to be generous with your time, attention and words.
All the things that money cannot buy. I think that to be generous with money is sometimes the easiest thing to do especially if we are privileged to have enough.
All the things that money cannot buy like time with your children, encouraging word or two to someone who needs it, giving your 100% attention to your child when he or she wants your attention. That’s precious and it leaves a lasting impression.
Think about the following:
- What areas of your life can you be generous with others on?
- What areas of your life are you being wasteful where you could exercise a little frugality?
Being Frugal with your wants.
We all know that there is difference between needs and wants. We do confuse them at times but when challenges strike, we are able to prioritse what our needs are vs. wants very quickly. A great example is during this pandemic. Our needs are very clearly food, clothing, shelter and for some toilet paper. Our wants are everything else that we have extras whether its food, clothing or more toilet paper. A wardrobe full of clothes with 80% of the clothes being worn only once would be categorise as extras or excess.
Therefore, being frugal with our wants so that we are not wasteful is a mindful practice to have. At the heart of living a generously frugal life is knowing what to be generous with and what to be frugal with. The start is usually to recognise what is the most valuable resource you have and want to further enrich. Everything else you can be intentionally frugal with as its probably not a priority or important to you anyway.
I would like to suggest that there are 3 things that we should be generous with: time, attention and kind and encouraging words. 3 things that you don’t want to be frugal with: time, attention and words.
True generosity is about giving or sharing what is most precious and that is your time, attention, and words. How you make someone feel is worth a lot more than what item you give them. People remember how you make them feel.
What could you be frugal with? Broadly I would suggest anything that you don’t need or anything that you have more than one item of. There is no need to accumulate as the sad truth is that whatever we physically accumulate here, we can’t take it with us when we die. Yes, death is inevitable but we can choose how we live this life now. So let’s live a generously frugal life which shows that we know what is truly precious.
For most of us and especially if you are listening to this podcast, it would be a safe to assume that you would be financially wealthy as you would have a device to be able to download and play this podcast. Let’s not forget those who are in need. Need here is beyond the financial but also those who are in need of your time, attention and words.
I would like to challenge you to think about:
- Who can I be generous to today with my time, or attention or an encouraging word?
- What areas should I rein in wasteful living?
This article is dedicated to my grandparents who taught me the precious value of being generous and frugal.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope that you have learned at least one thing that you are able to apply into your everyday life. Let’s step into the everyday with purpose.
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