Overcoming the Frugality Syndrome

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I have exhibited tendencies toward pyromania most of my life. As a Boy Scout, my favorite activity was starting and stoking a campfire. As an adult, my best birthday gift ever was a flame thrower designed by my son which made quick work of a pile of pinecones and balloons safely arranged in our driveway.

One thing I have discovered as a pyromaniac: it is usually easier to start a fire than put one out.

This is one reason I'm not a big fan of the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement, which advocates extreme frugality in order to retire as early as age 30. Recently, my associate Nathan Gehring wisely noted that the biggest challenge with the skills and discipline needed for a FIRE plan is not starting to be frugal (which isn’t necessarily easy) but stopping (which can be very difficult).


Like starting a fire, building frugality into one’s lifestyle starts slowly. The benefits of spending less and saving more aren't immediately obvious. It can take decades to accumulate enough to support your desired lifestyle.

For some savers, especially FIRE advocates, frugality can become a way of life, a game, and a habit that's hard to break. It can become, not the means to reach the goal of financial independence, but the goal itself.

This is what I call the "frugality syndrome."