Getting Rid of Frugality

28 February 2021

Today some beans I was boiling dropped to the floor. After quickly picking them up, brushing them off and eating them, I realized: I’m literally counting beans! My obsession with extreme frugality is going too far…

I’m literally counting beans!

I come from a family that values frugality and minimizing waste. Most of the time, that would be a great feature to have. After all, whenever resources are scarce you want to spend them wisely. However, I tend to overdo things, which has turned this childhood gift into a poison that’s clouding my judgement. At its core, the poison comes in two forms:

1. I meticulously track spending and take great pride in being frugal and minimizing waste

This has made me optimize more for shorter-term monetary goals, rather than longer-term learning-oriented goals. I've come to genuinely dislike spending and have an almost visceral reaction when people around me spend unwisely. This is turning into the wrong KPI to optimize for.

Minimizing spending is like the worst form of vanity metric there is. It's a source of feeling good, but is otherwise pretty useless to me.

2. I have become more focused on exploitation than exploration

Maybe this is only a symptom of the first point. If something doesn't already in the near-term have clear results, is it worth working on? This is very different from when I started learning programming; short-term rewards weren't even a consideration. I should do more of those long-term bets.

Fixing The Bugs

These bugs are difficult to fix. To draw an analogy to programming, your childhood experiences are like the source code that's running your life. Patching this bug, which has been deeply imprinted in my brain, is like trying to patch the master branch during peak load. Hopefully the patch doesn't break or degrade production, but you don't really know.

The Experiment

In an attempt to stop optimizing for spending, I will during the next 6 months rearrange my life in a way where I don't see money. What does that mean?

  1. I will remove all interactions with my financial life. All I will have is a debit card where I know there will be enough money. All bank apps will be uninstalled and all investments will be automated and out of sight.
  2. I will stop tracking my spending and investments. The saying goes that you can't improve what you don't measure, which is exactly why I want to stop measuring my finances. I don't want to improve this further; my current level of frugality is already more than enough.

This change of mindset might be the most powerful change I can make right now. Looking back at this, I hope this will be a turning point in focusing on what will actually move the needle.