From Cheapskating to Thriving: A Personal Story on the Dangers of Frugality
Learn From My Mistakes So That You Don't Have to Make Them
How much is money worth?
And with “worth”, I mean in terms of time and peace of mind.
The purpose of this post is not to denigrate the value of money. I love money! Though like a romantic partner, money needs to be loved in the right way – in a healthy way.
Truth is, for many years I’ve been a cheapskate. Here’s how bad it got …
A Bright Future But a Small Mindset
When I started out becoming independent and making my way in the world, I already had quite a bit of money saved up.
Why? I was frugal even as a small child. I had this idea in my head that someday, I will buy a big house and live there with my sweetheart (which at the time I thought would obviously be Anne-Mary, that nice girl I met in kindergarten).
My parents gave me pocket money starting with the first day of school. It was a reasonable amount, my parents always tried to make sure to find a balance so my brother and I could afford things but were not spoiled.
I could have bought myself many sweets and toys, but I opted for just the subscription to a magazine (first Mickey Mouse magazine, of course, then GEOlino, an educational children’s magazine). That was a very disciplined choice for someone with such a sweet tooth as mine.
As a teenager, I got a fixed amount of money to buy myself lunch. The choice was completely up to me, so I bought soup for a fraction of the money and saved the rest. In hindsight, that was a very small mindset. Proper food is important.
As a young adult, I cleaned office buildings to save up even more money. The only reason that that time was well spent is that I could listen to a ton of more or less educational podcasts. Investment in one’s education is of paramount importance. (The trouble back then was that I didn’t even know how to invest in my education, so later I was glad to have at least the money.)
I saved up so much money that as a young man, I was already buying gold, silver, and a certificate of deposit. In hindsight, the latter was one of my worst decisions. It ties up so much money and gives you a pittance, from which the government takes at least half and the bank a substantial fee. The gold and silver, which I bought as actual physical objects (not just some promissory paper), were a good and stable investment.
Finally, I worked as an intern at Bosch which not only gave me an immense amount of pride, a great work environment, and lots of experience – but also even more money.
That’s how I ended up being worth five figures in my early twenties. However, in a couple of years, it was all gone.
My First Smart Investment
Before I was done with university, I made a big investment in myself: I moved out of my parent’s apartment and stopped taking their money. I also had to quit my job as a cleaner.
All that was necessary for several reasons that we need not get into here. What’s important for this post is only that I desperately needed independence to thrive.
So you see, after being so frugal and not investing in or treating myself, I finally made a big decision that helped me thrive.
I lived alone and was finally able to detach myself from some bad ways of thinking and emotional abuse I had received at home.
I still had all that money but I was absolutely terrified of losing it all and becoming homeless. That was, of course, just the tip of the iceberg of the problems I was dealing with at that time.
Luckily, I invested in psychotherapy. I highly recommend it! I knew that the emotional connection between therapist and patient is a big predictor of success, so I shopped around. Unfortunately, the therapist that I connected with most did not yet qualify to be paid for by my insurance. (She is now – way to go Mrs. A!)
At 70 € a session plus rent and food in Berlin, my money started to evaporate.
Ready To Thrive
Going to therapy and doing self-therapy full time started to pay off after a while. After one year, I didn’t just have friends – I had very empathic friends that I trusted completely. Moving in with them was a no brainer.
We called our flatshare the “philosopher’s flatshare” because we were all deeply into philosophy, especially the kind of practical philosophy that Stefan Molyneux talks about and that we will also discuss on this blog going forward.
The point is that we were all interested in exploring – not just the world but most importantly, ourselves, our ethics and our emotions. Spending time doing that is a very worthwhile investment. Also, had I have not spent the time and money to go to the philosophy meetup where we met, I would have never met them. It’s lucky I did because, with the frugal mindset I had, I was often hesitant to spend money on anything.
So time went by. I ended therapy once I could stand on my own two feet, finished my bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and spend a year trying to find my passion.
At the end of that period, once I decided on how to earn money with my passion, I was left with less than a fifth of my money and had to sell my certificate of deposit and my gold.
Investing Money In My Business
Ever since I listened to Internet Business Mastery (a pay-off from my office cleaning days), I knew I wanted to start an online business. But about what?
Then, utterly fascinated by one man’s ability to teach Italian in a very authentic and passionate way, I decided I wanted to do the same with my own language.
In October 2015, Authentic German Learning was born. I invested in a 500$ course on how to launch an online business, hosting for my website, a decent camera, editing software and much more. I spent hundreds, later thousands of hours getting the website up and running, interacting with people on social media and answering every single comment and every single email. In every business, you need to invest a lot to be successful.
It took me over half a year until I felt ready to launch my first product. My hard work paid off because the very first sale of my “pay what you want” product was 80 €. To the person who bought it for that price: Sir, I’m forever grateful to you for proving to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is possible to earn money online.
So my confidence in my business was there, but my mindset not quite. I was still looking for ways to save money wherever I could and not investing as much as I should have.
Thinking Small And Losing Friends
All my savings were nearly eroded from living two years without a job and then starting a business that at the time only gave a small income.
My thinking got very small again. Not only did I waste valuable time taking on another cleaning job, but I also stopped giving in my personal relationships. Instead of thinking with abundance, I grew smaller in my thinking.
I grew resentful to the same friends who helped me get out of some very dark times and stopped treating them kindly. That is the great lesson of not following the abundance mentality! If you don’t invest in and treat yourself, if you don’t give kindness and empathy to those who deserve it, if you don’t get your mindset right, you will grow resentful and lash out eventually.
And that’s what I did, I lashed out. I had some very mean thoughts and shared them. In hindsight, I don’t think the sharing was bad since it came with a cautionary disclaimer, but why was I having such thoughts in the first place? It’s fine to have dark thoughts, we all have them. It’s good to share them because it takes energy from them. The problem was that mine grew and grew and grew because of my small mindset.
You might be thinking, “are we still talking about money?”
We’re talking about the mindset that affects money and many other areas of your life. Being a cheapskate is not just about money. It’s about being stingy with your time and kindness also.
One affects the other because the mind thinks, “if you’re not kind and loving enough to invest in proper food, valuable education, and time doing fun activities for yourself, why should we treat other people with kindness and love?”
Hello, Southeast Asia!
Needless to say, I needed a change. Plus, of course, I wasn’t very welcome anymore in our shared flat.
Luckily, not long ago a good acquaintance moved to Vietnam and settled down there. He shot me a message on Facebook: “How’s it going in Germany? Vietnam is awesome!”
It didn’t take much to convince myself that now is the perfect time to go to Vietnam as well.
Living costs are much lower there – low enough that my slowly growing business could, for the first time, sustain me. (I will make a blog post later comparing the living costs; it will truly blow your mind.)
Plus, I had an acquaintance who could soothe all my worries surrounding making such a leap.
My time in Asia was great. It’s so warm there – and so cheap.
One might become complacent …
Yes, I did. Since I have already written so much, I will postpone the stories of my adventures in Asia for another time. Suffice it to say that I got lazy, depressed, and isolated for a time.
Luckily, I was saved from that, partly by a kind audience member who had a very honest chat with me and a new community of kind souls. Okay, enough teasers for now.
The point is that seeking the cheapest option was, again, not the choice that helped me thrive.
Don’t get me wrong – my time in Asia, as a whole, was great and I’m happy for the good times I had there and the friends I made. However, I wished I had thought more about what would help me grow as a person.
How I Now Invest In Myself
I’ve not yet fully gained the abundance mindset, but I’m getting there. Here are some things I am doing now:
- I got my mindset right, mostly. My experiences and many personal development resources helped me. One such resource was the excellent book Think and Grow Rich.
- I invest in my education. For example, I have an Audible subscription and use it to listen to at least one educational audiobook a month.
- I invest in proper nutrition like meat and Huel, a drink containing everything the body needs.
- I use the 6 jars system (blog post about that later) with bunq, a banking app with which I can easily separate my money into multiple accounts and can make sure I spend enough money on education, wellness, charity, etc.
- I save money by having business-related things be bought by my company (for that, see Rich Dad Poor Dad, a book I highly recommend).
Note: In this blog post, I’ve used some affiliate links. Please use them if you decide to sign up for any of the services. Some not just give me an added benefit, but you as well.