For a long time, I had prided myself on my thriftiness. If you’re familiar with the blog, you probably have come across a post or passage somewhere that is specifically about or at least mentions frugality, finding value or supporting independent business.
Up until recently, I thought my tendency towards penny-pinching was to the benefit of more than just myself, to society; by only shelling out for essential items, or finding the best value when “splurging,” I could use the savings to give freely or tip those deserving or in need. And by boycotting corporate establishments I viewed myself to be doing my part to at least postpone the impending/inevitable takeover of corporatocracy.
However, recently I’ve begun to see how my beliefs, thoughts, and actions may actually not be promoting wellbeing, and may, in fact, be detrimental on a personal level, and even to that of society at large.
I recall hearing some of the best advice I’ve ever received from one of my former college professors, though I’ve since heard different iterations often throughout the years. Basically, it’s that the key to life is finding balance. A different, common way to express the philosophy is “everything in moderation.”
When you become overly preoccupied with anything – in this context, cutting expenditures – it can easily turn into an obsession and throw your whole world out of balance.
I’m talking, like, constant mental capacity expenditure on things like onion, dish soap, or cooking oil consumption-status.
Or even, to take it to an extreme, fixation with water or paper (napkins, TP) usage.
For example, I allocated a good additional one hour-plus the other day to search out a box of black tea (to use for kombucha-making) in order to find one which was cheaper than the first one, which after much effort, I had finally tracked down. The grand total in savings came out to be $1. Which begs the question, how much is your energy (time and mental expenditure) worth?
Like, is it worth spending an hour for the sake of saving $1? When I received the insight that this was what I was doing, it didn’t take me much thought to come to the conclusion that no, it is not. Even from just the standpoint of my time being worth more than $1/hour, never mind mental capacity or peace of mind.
And once you begin conditioning your mind towards the tendency to factor cost and conservation into everything you do, it’s a damn slippery slope. Always thinking primarily about money in all your undertakings will result in an overactive sympathetic nervous system, and eventually cause you chronic stress.
With each precaution I took to cut costs, I told myself that I would be more justified in splurging later on something I really needed, but that very seldom turned out to be the case. I would often feel guilty after purchasing those luxury goods, or the anxiety that came over me when looking at my (virtual) cart or standing in the aisle would be enough to persuade me not to buy in the first place. In both instances, I would often feel buyer’s remorse, and the scenario would keep playing out over and over in my head.
As a matter of fact, attachment to a stimulus – be it a thought, conviction, or an object – will cause you to miss many of the intricacies of the rich tapestry of life experiences, as you tend to only fixate your awareness on the stimulus your mind is attracted to. You can think of it like tunnel vision, in which you are missing all the bountiful, pleasant surroundings passing around you.
You can effectively view your thoughts as something that is projected onto a blank space—the projector screen of your mind. When a thought arises it is projected onto that space just like a movie playing out in front of you.
Your ‘awareness’ is the part of your mind that is watching that movie/projection, observing the objects that are arising on that blank space, which are your thoughts.
It’s crucial that you become cognizant of or develop the ability to distinguish the difference between the part which is watching, and the component which is being watched.
Damo Mitchell, an expert Qigong practitioner and director of the Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts, explained this concept – of the mechanisms of the mind and your ability to recognize the distinct components – lucidly in a recent podcast of his that I heard.
Delusion occurs when you only understand yourself in relation to the objects you are looking at. Delusion is based upon thinking a feeling exists independent of your awareness. For example, if you have a feeling of anger, and you believe that anger to be something that has a validation or reality to it, you will believe it is a thing, rather than simply your awareness starting to become sucked into something it should be observing. And as soon as that delusion takes place, you get a consolidated thought, something that can be clung to, something that can create a kind of attachment.Damo Mitchell, The Scholar Sage Podcast, S4 E2
Thoughts come and they go. They’re not independently existing, they only exist as a reaction to the sense faculties.
I hate to keep deferring to this as the answer, but meditation is probably the best method I’ve found to come to this realization of thoughts and feelings being distinct from your awareness, and to combat the condition of chronic attachment to a stimulus. It doesn’t need to be any form of meditation in particular, so long as you are allocating your awareness to the breath.
The rising and falling of the breath is a literal, physical manifestation of impermanence, while fixation on or grasping to a stimulus is the desire for permanence in the figurative, intangible sense.
It (meditation) allows you the ability to identify your thoughts and feelings, attractions and impulses, and recognize how they are separate from the self.
Meditation helps with this because it removes attachment. Attachment in the sense of state of mind, not necessarily attachments to the material world. Meditation provides a vehicle by which this attachment can start to be eradicated. It allows you to see the mechanism of how your mind works, and, in the words of Damo Mitchell, your “over-identification with a thought process you have been deluded into thinking exists independently and is not based upon causation, which you start to attach to once you have given it these kinds of qualities.”
Ramifications of Fixation on Budgeting In Particular
Preoccupation with frugality specifically will also likely turn you into a greedy MFer, as occurred in my case. I have noticed it led to me prioritizing my own self-preservation over helping to improve the financial standing of others, most importantly, those in need, which ironically, was a large part of the rationale for why I was trying to cut costs in the first place.
I’ve already gone into depth on the decision between giving money, food or time, so I won’t rehash my sentiments much here, but I’m more a believer of lending a hand than lending financial means. I just think that generally, donating my time, energy or possessions is more beneficial to both parties than offering money. But I find generosity and giving to be paramount to wellbeing and a crucial component of leading a balanced life, so there are certainly instances where I will give in the form of cash, usually in instances of tipping service workers.
Not that I would necessarily back down on my morals after this obsession with cost-cutting had become more pronounced, but I became less inclined to tip service workers, offering a meager 15-20% gratuity only in instances when I felt the service was truly impeccable (in contrast to tipping out of principle in the past). Often I would even go out of my way to limit the responsibilities of the employee in order to justify my stinginess. For example, I would consolidate and stack dirty dishes and food scraps, and napkins orderly on the table once I had finished my meal.
I also began to catch myself – in the figurative sense – stepping over others in pursuit of my own self-preservation.
Looking to my time working on a cannabis farm in California as an example, I can see how self-interest manifested in work life. Because I wasn’t making much money trimming, I wanted to get the best buds from the bin as possible, fuck ’em if that just left small scraps for everyone else. Even though I was actively trying to get faster, I prioritized myself over everyone else, instead of simply taking personal responsibility and making it a top priority to be more mindful, focusing on what I was doing rather than everyone else. The increased presence would allow me to be more efficient and faster with my cuts, thus bolstering my earnings.
Once again, meditation practice can help with this by improving concentration and focus, and bring your attention to the fact that your thoughts and feelings have gotten the better of your awareness.