Flexing my thrift muscle: How to feel rich without having a lot

Flexing my thrift muscle

The ancient text the Tao Te Ching states:

“He who knows he has enough is rich.”

So I’ve been experimenting with this idea. I’ve been flexing my thrift muscle and making do with what I already have.

Discovering the abundance of less

When I was working on my PhD, I discovered how to feel rich without having a lot.

I came across a simple graph that changed the way I viewed the world: The Wundt Curve of Satisfaction.

Enough point

This graph illustrates the relationship between satisfaction and stimulation from consumption. Let me explain how it works . . .

When consumption levels are relatively low, the satisfaction experienced is quite high. But there’s this point at the top of the curve where you feel totally satisfied with what you have (the comfort zone). Let’s call this point the Enough Point.

But once you go beyond the Enough Point, the returns start to diminish. As you purchase your 27th pair of shoes, you feel satisfied for about 30 seconds and then you think ‘meh!’. You don’t feel as excited as you did when you purchased your first and second pair of shoes.

So up to a point more is more, but beyond the Enough Point, more is less.

Why do I share this with you?

Because we live in a culture that encourages us to spend up big.

Advertisers bombard us with messages that tell us if we want to be happy and successful we need to consume stuff. And lots of it.

The job of advertisers is to construct a world that makes us want stuff that we don’t need. They tap into our desire to have more.

Advertisers also create new needs that may not have existed in us until the ad came along. Have you ever picked up an IKEA catalogue and suddenly you felt the need to have a new piece of furniture or a brand new study space?

This is the power of advertising.

You felt good about your life just a minute ago. But now you’re feeling dissatisfied? What’s with that?

In short, advertising can seriously mess with our minds, our happiness and our Enough Point.

It turns out the secret to happiness is simple. And it’s free (or very cheap). If you want to know what it is, read on!

My new thrifty habits

According to Dr Timothy Miller if you want to be happy and content, then you need to start wanting what you already have. In other words, you need to find your Enough Point.

Over the last few months, I’ve created several new thrifty habits around saving money and appreciating what I have.

The following habits have helped me to reconnect to my Enough Point:

1. Cooking up a storm

cooking at home

I discovered a great new place to eat at. It’s called The Kitchen. My home kitchen!

With a lot of my work being cancelled due to COVID-19, I had the time and energy to cook. So cook I did!

My husband and I have only ordered takeaway two times in the past eight weeks (Thai and Indian). This is a big deal as we’d usually get takeaway at least once a week.

By eating at home, it gave our taste buds a chance to reset (research shows that it takes 10 days for your taste bud cells to repopulate). We now appreciate the flavours of fresh produce and our cravings for take away have significantly decreased.

Estimated savings: $350

2. Growing vitamins at our backdoor

My husband Peter has always enjoyed growing vegetables in his spare time. But he ramped things up when COVID-19 hit. Every spare moment he had, he would be out in the garden planting vegetables!

I have to say, our garden looks amazing. But the best thing has been all the wonderful chemical free, nutrient dense produce!

Peter does 99% of the hard work in the garden. It’s my job to provide emotional support (“Great job! Keep going Pete!”) and turn the produce into delicious meals.

Estimated savings: $500

3. Shopping from my pantry

Every time I throw away food, I imagine I’m throwing away my hard earned money. It’s a painful thought!

But when you throw away food, it’s not only food and money that you waste. You waste all the resources that went into producing the food in the first place.

So I created a fun game to not let any food in my fridge and pantry go to waste. I tried to see how creative I could be with my cooking by shopping from my pantry and using up what I had (thereby avoiding going to the shops for as long as possible).

The old apples on the counter became apple crumble. The dried kidney beans became a chilli bean dish. The ripe bananas were turned into muffins.

Estimated saving: $200

4. Free entertainment

Instead of signing up to Netflix, we use Kanopy. This is a collection of movies and documentaries that you can access for free if you have a library card. My local library also offers a Click and Collect service, so I order new books and pick them up once a week.

Estimated savings: $150

5. Loving my clothes

I had developed a bad habit of going op shopping for clothes every week. My desire for clothing was insatiable. I was addicted to finding a bargain.

Sure, you could argue it was just a bit of fun. I was only spending $5-$20 each time (hardly a fortune, right?). But I was doing it every week. Some serious coin was starting to add up.

I knew I had a problem.

So one afternoon, I went through my closet (piece by piece) and examined every item. Some items needed repairing. Others just needed a good iron. I soon realised I had more than enough clothing. It was time to start loving what I already had.

Whenever I now feel the urge to buy clothes, I repeat my mantra:

“Enough. I have enough.”

I also think about the new clothing item after it’s been worn a few times. I visualise it being tossed in the washing basket. I know from experience, it only takes a few days for the shine and novelty to wear off.

These strategies seem to have worked. It’s been two months and I haven’t purchased any clothing.

Estimated savings: $250

6. Free university courses

Instead of mindlessly shopping for clothes, I started learning new skills. I signed up to a couple of MOOCs (Massive open online courses).

MOOCs allow you to study at some of the best universities around the world (e.g. MIT, Stanford and Harvard) without leaving your home and spending a single cent. All you need is a computer, Internet connection, pen and paper and you’re good to go!

For an extensive collection of free MOOCs and reviews check out Class Central.

Estimated savings: $500

7. Creating my home gym

home gym

Physical movement is a big part of my life. It’s something I prioritise above everything else because it makes me feel, think and learn better. It also makes me a kinder, much more focused and disciplined person.

So before COVID-19 restrictions kicked in, I was happily spending $55 a week on a gym membership. I considered this a non negotiable expense. It was critical for my health and well-being.

But when the gym closed, I realised I could easily workout at home. I had collected a few bits of equipment over the years (e.g. dumbbells, stretch bands, and a yoga mat). With the help of a couple of fitness apps, I devised my own exercise program.

I also explored other (more fun) ways to exercise, including taking part in regular virtual dance parties with friends and going on bike rides.

Estimated savings: $450

Final thoughts

It turns out you don’t need to have a lot of money or a big fancy house to feel rich. Why? Because freedom from desire is what makes you feel rich. It allows you to focus on things other than things: developing quality relationships, your intellect and new skills.

None of these things require material wealth. Just a curious mind and a willingness to learn (and make mistakes). As Art Buchwald once said:

“The best things in life aren’t things.”

I feel incredibly grateful for the life I have. So here’s to flexing our thrift muscles!

How do you flex your thrift muscle? Is there anything you do to save money? Feel free to share your tips below.