April’s post this morning about renting designer purses and other luxury items raised a few eyebrows. Because the focus here at Get Rich Slowly is on frugality, it’s not often that we delve into the world of high fashion.

In the comments, for example, Ami wrote:

I thought this was the Get Rich Slowly site, not the fritter your money on fripperies site. For me, Getting Rich Slowly is about changing your mindset about what’s necessary and important, which reduces your list of financial needs.

I think Ami’s comment is spot-on. Smart personal finance is about changing your mindset about what’s necessary and important, about reducing your list of financial needs. But I’ve learned that part of this is finding a balance so that you aren’t ignoring your Wants entirely. As Ramit at I Will Teach You to Be Rich says, there’s a place in every budget for conscious spending.

The basic law of frugality
Last summer, Kris and I had dinner with some of her old teacher friends. (My wife taught high-school chemistry and physics for eight years. She’s been out of the field now as long as she was in it, but we still get together with her former colleagues several times a year.)

During the conversation, one of the women — Linda, who teaches history — revealed that she doesn’t own a computer. She didn’t even have a functional TV until her siblings bought one for her. She’s never felt the need for these things, and she’d rather spend her money on something more important to her, like world travel.

Which is the “better” way to spend your money: world travel, an expensive handbag, or an HDTV? Or should you simply tuck your money into a high-yield savings account? This will come as no surprise, but I don’t think there’s any one right answer.

We each have things we spend on that others think are crazy. Linda is willing to live without a TV or a computer so she can fly to China and Belize and Nepal. Other folks are willing to cut corners on housing so they can afford four surfboards. I buy comic books, but I don’t spend much for clothes.

Are these things frugal? If your goal is to pinch every penny, then no they’re not. But if your goal is financial balance, spending on the things that make you happy is perfectly fine. To me, the basic law of frugality is: Decide what’s important to you. Give yourself permission to spend on these things. Pinch pennies on everything else.

Sometimes you CAN get what you want
I have no concept of fashion. I don’t care about name-brand watches, purses, shoes, jackets, or jewelry. For better or worse (and some would say it’s worse), my style is thrift-store chic. All I want to do is pay as little as possible for basic clothes. But I’m not about to condemn those folks who do like fashion.

If you can afford it — by which I mean you’re not sacrificing your financial goals — and if you’re spending consciously and if you’re comparison shopping and if you’re buying quality…If you’re doing all of these things, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying an expensive purse, if that’s what’ll make you happy.

Frugality doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality. And it doesn’t have to mean you never buy anything you want ever again. You can’t always get what you want — but you can sometimes!

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