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Modern Frugality: no mo’ shame in living simply

I have too much stuff.
Why did I buy that?
I need to pay off my debt.
I need to get my $#!t together and organise my life.
That croissant was terrible. Why did I pay R36 for it?
I would go on holiday if only I could afford it.
I don’t know if I can afford to retire.
I need to save.
My life has spun out of control.
I need advice on planning my budget.
I’m bombarded with sales and ‘shop now’ emails.
I feel anxious all the time.
The burden of clutter is killing’ me
That wide open space makes me want to fill it with new stuff.
My friends keep booking extravagant outings, and I don’t know how to opt out.
I’d like to lower my carbon footprint.

If you ever uttered any of the above words, then this is the perfect post for you. I heard the phrase ‘Modern Frugality’ for the first time last week. And my first instinct was “Guurl, being broke is finally trending!” Frugality sounded like this cool, new app, all the young kids were using. But it’s become more than just spending less. Jen Smith runs a site called “Modern Frugality’ and describes it perfectly, “Too long has frugal been the polite word to describe the stingy cheapskates, and tightwads. Modern frugality is professing a new way to embrace being frugal.”

It’s about minimising your stuff – stripping away all the clutter and anxiety that comes with it, organising your life, budget planning, meal planning, saving and doing a few things that help you get the control back in your life and really feel content. It’s realising that you “don’t need all this stuff”. And that is something Two Babes are SO on board with.

In the pilot episode of Community, the character ‘Jeff calls a pencil ‘Steve’, then proceeds to break it in half, much to the dismay of his fellow colleagues. I gasped too. And it illustrated how quickly and deeply the human brain can make a connection with material, inanimate objects. The average person owns about 300 000 items – anything from TVs to earbuds – now imagine having a connection with 300 000 items at any given time. The thought alone, raises my anxiety to uncontrollable levels. We live in this hyper-consumerist world where with a tap, scan or click, everything we’ve ever wanted can be ours. With 30 days to pay. Often leaving us with shopper’s fatigue and buyer’s remorse. It’s a constant distraction and cycle or wanting more and more – because as soon as we’ve bought one thing, it gets updated and before we know it it’s Add. To. Cart.

Modern Frugality is not about not spending at all. It’s making sure that everything you’re surrounded by is both necessary and brings you happiness. It starts with the right mindset and thankfully society has been nudging towards it for quite some time. We’ve all been enthralled with TV shows and movements such as The Tiny House Nation, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and every podcast, vlogger or blogger we’ve followed that pushes the minimalist lifestyle. From living with the bare minimum in our homes to redefining a simpler, harder working wardrobe, people the world over have had epiphany on how little is needed to live beautifully and be happy. Recycling has also been a top-of-mind solution for quite some time and has even made it into the fashion world. Ten years ago we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything but the latest fashion labels, but today it’s actually completely acceptable, and quite trendy to rock clothing you picked up at a thrift store.

I’ve always admired my husband Will’s upbringing. His parents taught him to live simply and smartly. It didn’t mean that he didn’t have the latest toys or kicks, that their home wasn’t filled with Kenwood appliances, that the family didn’t enjoy steak braais and family trips, it simply means that his folks figured out a way to give their children exactly what they needed, without excess, while still saving for their futures. Each sibling could easily go to college without starting their lives in debt, and both his parents retired comfortably at the age of 50. It’s a life that I want for my kids.
I had gone another way. With my first paycheque, I was suddenly overcome with this “Look at all this stuff I can buy” view and I found myself deep in debt by the age tender age of 23. That’s why Modern Frugality appeals so much to me. 

Like anything else worthwhile in life, it takes hard work to achieve. It’s about changing bad habits, doing things differently, and adopting healthier habits during your journey to better financial patterns. You will learn so much about yourself along the way.

Over the course of June, Nikki and I will share more tips of surviving a no-spend month. From hosting a style swop event where you walk away with new fashion for free, lipsmacking lunches you’d swear came from a fancy delicatessen to planning your budget, step by step. But before we share all our wisdom, LOL, as with any new plan, regime or movement, it’s important that you get into the right frame of mind first. 

So here are tips to get you started on this journey.

Start with a mantra

Shaking off a life of excess starts with changing how you view your life, your expenses, your home etc.. Your mantra can be anything as long as it’s personal and you repeat it daily. Say, “I am happy and complete in an empty space.” “I am working towards a life I want. Or ‘I want freedom from a life of debt and worries.” And my personal favourite, “I am happy to let go.”

Assess everything you own
Walk around your home. Look at all your possessions. Ask yourself. Does this enhance my life? Does it make me happy? Does it make my life easier? And if not, get rid of it. Breaking down those connections we have to unnecessary items with go a long way towards helping you decide whether you’ll purchase a certain item, or invite it into your home in the future.

Track your spending

When you’re starting a healthy eating journey, you’d begin by keeping track of what you’re currently eating, identifying the nasty habits and changing those. Your finances are no different. Identify the things that make you feel uncomfortable and gross, unsatisfied or unfulfilled.

Keep a detailed log of every rand you spend. Whether you’re ubering or buying a coffee or simply picking up a muffin, write it down. You don’t even need a fancy journal, an A5 College exercise book will do. Add the totals at the end of each day. The exercise of writing something down will help you think twice before spending, and reviewing it later will give you a sense of just how much you spend on a particular item! <Cough, a daily coffee alone can be up to R2900 every year!> It’ll also be easier to toss any entertainment activity you no longer enjoy doing. 

Track your wardrobe

Whether you take photographs or write down everything you’ve worn for a week or month, you’ll get a clear idea of the only items you wear, to make it easier to identify those that simply taking up space in your wardrobe. It’ll also help you find the minimalism that works for your personality – from only 10 items in your wardrobe to building a capsule wardrobe of about 20+ essentials. I tried the 10-item-only wardrobe before, by placing only 10 items in one section of my wardrobe, and keeping the fashion I felt I didn’t wear in another closet. But on day 3 I was already dipping into my secret stash, so it simply wasn’t right for me. 

Plan, plan and plan again

Over the next few weeks, Nikki and I will share free printables to help you plan your budget, plan your monthly grocery shop and a big budget-muncher – daily meals. I started planning meals a few months back and it has been lifechanging. I’ve moved from writing my grocery lists on a random side-effect slip of paper you find with your Dispirits, to knowing exactly what, and how much we eat on a monthly basis to avoid wastage and extra spend.

Making a habit of interrogating yourself

When your ‘mindless spender’ personality takes over, make a habit of asking yourself several questions so that every purchase you make becomes a conscious one. Like: Is the price right? What can I wear with this? How can I style it? When will I wear it? Which occasion am I buying it for? Will I wear it thereafter? Visualise it if you have to. Outsiode of fashion, ask yourself, Does this item suit my lifestyle? Would I pay cash – actual physical notes – for this without swiping? Am I only purchasing this cos it’s on sale? Would I pay full price for it? Will it make my life easier? Is there a cheaper solution? If you’re standing there saying “no, no, no, to yourself, trust me you’ll put it down immediately. In that way you’ll only buy things you really need or get the most out of. 

Most importantly, modern frugality it’s learning what brings you happiness.
It’s a state of mind that cannot be bought. If you cannot be happy eating a bowl of ice cream in your pjs watching a show, you will not be happy in Louboutins eating lobster on a peer. It all boils down to what matters to you. What brings you joy. Anything that can take your happiness when it disappears is not worth having. Ultimately, it’s not about being cheap and denying yourself every little thing – you can live frugally and still go to The Maldives. Modern frugality is spending money only on the things you
value most.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small. A little something every day leads to great habits! Good luck. 


  1. Cindy K says

    Wonderful post. Lots of food for thought. I’ve been telling myself that I need to make a change but more often than not, I feel overwhelmed and chicken out. Tomorrow is a new day and I’m willing to try again.

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