Discipline equals freedom: The difference between deprivation and depriving yourself

Financial independence and early retirement continue to attract mainstream attention. This is a good thing. Check that, this is a great thing. Of course, with this attention there are more naysayers and critics than ever.

One of the main criticisms of the FIRE movement -- and of frugality, in general -- is that those who seek FIRE are depriving themselves. Or leading lives of deprivation. On the surface, these two arguments may sound like the same thing but they're not. There's a big difference between "deprive" and "deprivation".

Here are the definitions of these two words:

  • Deprive (verb) — Prevent (a person or place) from having or using something.
  • Deprivation (noun) — The lack or denial of something considered to be a necessity. The damaging lack of material benefits considered to be basic necessities in a society.

That's all very academic, isn't it? Let's take a deeper dive into the difference between deprivation and depriving yourself -- and explore why one is actually a good thing.

The Difference Between Deprivation and Depriving Yourself

Life is full of choices, from the important to the mundane. Whenever you make a choice, you are by definition depriving yourself of the thing you didn't choose. When you choose to purchase a townhouse, you deprive yourself of a single-family home. When you choose to buy vanilla ice cream, you've deprived yourself of chocolate. When you enter one door, you leave another unopened.

Opportunity Cost

Depriving yourself of something isn't necessarily bad. It's something we all do every day in the little choices we make. (As J.D. has noted, opportunity cost is what we give up in order to have the thing we choose.) Deprivation, on the other hand, is a different matter.

Look at the definition of deprivation again: The lack or denial of something considered to be a necessity.

To live in deprivation is to be lacking a need, not a want. Chocolate ice cream is not a need. You can deprive yourself of it, but that doesn't mean you're living in deprivation. (Although I'm sure someone out there who loves it may disagree.)

Clothing, food, and shelter are needs. To go without them is to be in a state of deprivation. But besides those, there aren't that many needs in life. By "needs" I mean needs in the strictest sense — those things we need to survive and continue breathing as human beings.

You might include access to medical care and access to transportation as needs. After that, though, it gets grey very quickly. Even transportation is a bit questionable as a need. You can live in a dense city all your life and walk to get food, clothing, and everything you need. I'm sure many do.

If you've traveled a bit outside of the first world, you quickly see how microwaves, dishwashers, TVs, and computers are just wants. Sure, some of these things might fall closer to needs on a spectrum of wants, but they're still luxury items.

Here's the curious thing (and the whole point of this article): By depriving yourself of things you want, you can protect yourself from a life of deprivation, a life where you lack the things you need. A little self-sacrifice in the short term can lead to prosperity in the long term.

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