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.

Depriving Yourself to Avoid Deprivation

I love pumpkin pie. I really love it. My idea of eternal bliss is eating a good pumpkin pie 24/7, forever.

I only have pumpkin pie twice a year: on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (And to be honest, maybe a day or two after each of those holidays depending on how much is left over.) That's it. For the rest of the year, I don't have any pumpkin pie. None.

As much as I enjoy pumpkin pie, I make a deliberate choice to deprive myself of it most of the time. But remember the definition of “deprive”. I'm making a decision to not have it. It's not deprivation, though, because pumpkin pie isn't a necessity in life. It's not a need. (Although if I were allowed to redesign the human species from the ground up, I would make it so!)

But what if I had pumpkin pie more often? What if I started cheating? That's when deprivation would start.

Deprivation is a state of being. It's a noun. I choose to deprive myself of pumpkin pie the majority of the time because I don't want to live in deprivation.

Confused? Let me explain.

If I ate pumpkin pie all of the time, the short-term result would be increased happiness because I'm indulging a want. But the long-term result would be that I'd start lacking things I consider to be actual necessities in life, such as my health. (As much as I love it, man cannot live by pumpkin pie alone!) And I'd lack discipline, the very thing that got me to financial independence. These things, to me, are necessities; to be without them would be living in deprivation.

So, I deprive myself of pumpkin pie to assure that I'm not in a state of deprivation with my health. I deprive myself of many shiny “wants” in order to assure I'm not in a state of deprivation with my discipline. I'm okay with that because I gain much more than I give.

Discipline Equals Freedom

By depriving myself of pumpkin pie (and other fleeting wants), I've gained a healthy body and financial independence. I now have the ability to leave my job at any time — forever — and have plenty of money to live on.

I've gained copious free time to pursue my passions in life, reduced stress, more sleep, more happiness, and more fitness. I can race the twenty-somethings every Sunday on my bike and beat most of them. I've gained the awesome semi-retired lifestyle I now enjoy because I've deprived myself of many things. But the main thing I've gained is discipline.

My discipline is far from perfect. But what I do have has served me well in many areas of life, especially with money. The popular podcaster Jocko Willink has a tagline: “Discipline Equals Freedom”. If you're not familiar with Jocko, he's very very passionate about this philosophy (which is actually similar to J.D.'s “money boss” philosophy).

Discipline has indeed helped me reach financial freedom.

I suspect that many of the critics of the modern financial independence movement are probably deprived of the free time they really want, and deprived of the ability to be able to retire.

By not depriving themselves of certain things in life — expensive cars and other shiny wants — they've also deprived themselves of a key necessity in life, a necessity that could give them financial freedom: discipline.

They lead lives of discipline deprivation. As a result, they deprive themselves of freedom.

Consider your choices carefully. Depriving is just choosing one thing over another — it's an opportunity cost — so deprive wisely and deliberately. Deprive yourself of pumpkin pie for good health. Deprive yourself of shiny wants for financial stability. But don't deprive yourself of happiness.

Deprive yourself to create the life you want.

J.D.'s note: I just noticed that yesterday Seth Godin published a great, short piece on opportunity costs and their implications. It makes for good supplementary reading to Dave's article here.

More about...Psychology

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
23 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
J.D. Roth
Admin
1 year ago

Always fun when I publish a guest post because it gives me a chance to be the first commenter haha. I spent much of my weekend hanging out with some of my favorite bloggers. Because we’re money nerds, we talked a lot about personal finance. At one point, Paula Pant and I had a conversation about the difference between choosing certain actions and being forced to take them. Frugality, for instance, is a very different thing when you choose the lifestyle in order to pursue a goal than it is when you’re forced into frugality be circumstances. Here’s a personal… Read more »

PFI
PFI
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Love this point. Having experienced both, it’s completely empowering to deprive yourself by choice after previously having it done to you because you lacked the means. It strange to think about struggling out of poverty simply to be able to make the choice to live close to the same way.

Greenbacks Magnet
Greenbacks Magnet
8 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I’d like to tag myself and jump in here…I’ve got next. Speaking on this topic, I drive a 2003 Ford. It has a dent in the side and over 200k miles, but it’s paid for. I get calls, emails, and letters from the dealer to ask if I want a new car, the occasional sideways looks or backwards comments from friends and family and not so subtle other hints on why I should get a new car. I’ll give you three magic little words why I don’t want a new car: I own it. I turned that once $450 car… Read more »

Perpetual Novice
Perpetual Novice
1 year ago

This is an excellent read! It helped me frame something I’ve been struggling with. All through pumpkin pie metaphor! Brilliant.

Susan @ FI Ideas
Susan @ FI Ideas
1 year ago

I love the Jocko Willink clip, so I had to look him up and I ran across his quote “The only easy day was yesterday”. I think that might have T-shirt potential, but he would probably beat you up if you stole his line, ha ha. Recently I’ve given up wine drinking and now I’m on a roll that has spanned 5 months. I didn’t set out on this path at the beginning, which started due to a health scare that wasn’t. Yet, like the pumpkin pie, I ask myself why it is that we in the FI community are… Read more »

Joe
Joe
1 year ago

Discipline is the key. To succeed at FIRE, you really need gobs of it.
Giving up drinking, for example, isn’t that difficult if you’re a casual drinker. However, lots of people can’t do it. I still drink occasionally, but very moderately.

S.G.
S.G.
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe

Do you really? Most of my savings have come less from discipline and more from simply controlling lifestyle inflation.

Gobs of discipline would probably have me FI already, though I’d probably be divorced and childless. But it’s easier to just sign up for the 401(k), buy less house than you can afford, and increase your investments each time you get a raise. Those take SOME discipline, but not gobs.

S.G.
S.G.
1 year ago

This reminds me of the post a number of months ago about…well all I remember is the dude who wanted to fish all day like that was some kind of ideal. At the time it bothered me because of the pumpkin pie analogy: we’re really good at weighing our immediate pleasure higher than long term accomplishment. And focusing on immediate pleasure on a continuing basis starves our soul just like eating a ton of pie will starve the body by not feeding what it actually needs. That is also why I wonder about the RE part of FIRE. I get… Read more »

Katie Camel
Katie Camel
1 year ago

I don’t know. I’ve traveled to a lot of 3rd world countries and still consider chocolate ice cream and pumpkin pie needs. And baklava. Okay, in all seriousness, yes, there’s a real difference between needs and wants, even though my body literally begs me for chocolate sometimes. Or maybe several times a day every day. But I agree that our first world society has a difficult time deciphering between needs and wants, and it’s not only destroying our environment, but our lives and health too. It may shock us, but we can actually survive without cell phones.

Nice guest post!

Xrayvsn
Xrayvsn
1 year ago

I follow Dave’s blog and absolutely love his writing style. Congratulations on making it big time and having a guest post on one of the biggest sites in our niche 🙂 I agree that people seem to look down on those “FIRE walkers” as people who deny themselves all pleasure just to stockpile their nest egg as quickly as possible. While no doubt there are some extremists that do this, I would say the vast majority of people do not have extreme frugality in mind. Rather they have focused intent. They make a conscious decision to choose something now or… Read more »

Tricia
Tricia
1 year ago

Great read. Amy Dacyczyn, of Tightwad Gazette fame, called this concept “creative deprivation.” It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford to give her children (and herself) store bought treats and trinkets, she chose not to do so because she looked at the big picture. I grew up in rural Maine in the 70/80s. I was the last child of parents who were raised during the depression; my dad took home $150 a week at the height of his career in the 80s. He was happy to draw SS because it was more than he had ever made in his life. Needless… Read more »

Margot @ MorgageBurningParty
Margot @ MorgageBurningParty
1 year ago
Reply to  Tricia

I loved Tightwad Gazette when I borrowed it from the library years ago. I need to revisit it for sure! I know most of the suggestions are a little extreme, but I found a ton of little tips that have stayed with me.

The idea of creative deprivation is so interesting. I agree that life is about choices! I think meaning comes from making the choice, not the result of the choice.

Also, your parents sound like bad*sses.

Tricia
Tricia
1 year ago

I was a long time subscriber of the TG, and I have all the books. I, too, need to revisit. It’s been too long.

“I think meaning come from making the choice, not the result of the choice.” Great thought, although I do think it isn’t an either/or.

My parents were fantastic. I miss them.

GenX FIRE
GenX FIRE
1 year ago

In engineering school you learn that everything is a trade off. I can make a car that will be perfectly safe, but it will cost as much as a house and get 1 mile per gallon. I am exaggerating a bit, but the point is valid. There was that great line in the original Jurassic Park where the character played by Jeff Goldbloom said, ” God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.” At the time, I was an planning on becoming an engineer, and it made me mad. After going to engineering school, I realized he was correct.… Read more »

freddy smidlap
freddy smidlap
1 year ago

well done, sir dave. i have two things to say. 1. i calculated the cost of the needs in our household for the blog last year. those included ONLY housing cost, food, clothing (minimal), and utilities (gas and electric only, it gets too cold in buffalo to go all spartan without heat). there are lots of non-essentials that people consider needs and i think are misplaced like phone, car, internet. i called those common life enhancers. the rest fell into the wants category like tv, pets, wine, vacation travel. you gotta be careful with the world telling you what you… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
1 year ago

You and me brother? We are twinsies when it comes to pumpkin pie. I can do some SERIOUS damage on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I also eat it like twice a year (give a day or two before/after as well-lol) like you. I think it all comes down to spending on what YOU value most. Not one anyone else deems valuable. For me, a fresh haircut always makes me feel confident. But to others, they may have their spouse cut their hair or maybe get it done once a year. It’s when you spend OUTSIDE of YOUR values that it’s… Read more »

Fay
Fay
1 year ago

It’s really how people look at things/believe. If we all brought second hand cars and believed they would not break down, then they would not. I believe its mind over matter. Isn’t that what the whole FIRE community is about? By starting to believe in this concept we will hopefully start to live a simpler life and eradicate things like homelessness etc. I don’t think deprivation and depriving oneself should come into it.

Colleen
Colleen
1 year ago

So true! Choosing to ditch certain things is much different than being forced to give them up. It’s like being the dumper instead of the dumpee 🙂

We’re still paying off debt, but are getting to the exciting part where everything will be paid off in a few months. As we think about what’s next, it definitely ISN’T going back to the lifestyle we had. We keep cutting more and more random expenses from our budget to make room for what’s really important.

Hadley Hodgson
Hadley Hodgson
1 year ago

Yeah, I think people just generally don’t make the distinction. When people say ‘deprive’ it automatically conjures up images of deprivation. It all just sounds negative and as you’ve pointed out, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Depriving yourself of some things can definitely be a good thing, an addict may deprive themselves of the source of their addiction. Is that a bad thing? Not really, especially when he/she is doing it to try and better themselves.

Extreme example I guess, but hopefully it makes sense 🙂

Deanna
Deanna
1 year ago

Such an excellent post, Dave, and congrats on getting it published on GRS! “They lead lives of discipline deprivation. As a result, they deprive themselves of freedom.” If that isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

When I was in my intense debt pay off journey, I started depriving myself of all kinds of things. Initially, I thought I’d add them back in when I got out of debt; however, I learned that I was no less happy. Then I learned about this little concept of financial independence and the rest is history…

Chris @ Mindful Explorer
Chris @ Mindful Explorer
1 year ago

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.

That quote from your article sums it all up, great piece of work Dave.

shares