On long car drives, my kids and I often engage in a friendly game called “Would you rather?”


My 6-year old son uses this as an opportunity for silly fodder, including questions like: “Would you rather have toilet paper hanging out of your pants all day or step in dog poop?”

I, on the other hand, typically try to use the game as an opportunity for my kids to be thoughtful about how they’d like to live their lives.

My questions are more along the order of: “Would you rather have a big house in a neighborhood full of mean people or a small house in a neighborhood full of kind people?” This leads to important discussions about happiness, and how we define happiness for ourselves. A big house seems like a grand idea if you don’t have to clean it. A neighborhood full of mean people might not matter to you if you’re an introvert and will rarely venture out anyway. Each of our recipes for happiness is different. Which is why our founding fathers were so sage in their protection of our right to the “pursuit of happiness.” They didn’t protect our rights to a big house. They protected our right to define happiness for ourselves, and pursue those dreams.

And that’s why one of my favorite questions in our “would you rather?” game is: would you rather have 90 things that you kind of like today or 30 things that you really love in 2 years?
Inevitably, my kids start to list the things that fall into the “kind of like” category – mostly things they rarely use, play with, or even notice sitting around our house. Then they list the things that fall into the “love” category – trips to new places, WWE wrestling figures, Cranium, their electronic drugs (also known as iPhones) – and they realize that the “kind of like” stuff is mostly meaningless to them, so they’d rather hold out for stuff they love – even if it takes more time to get it. This, to me, is the definition of frugality in action.

Many people think of frugality as completely depriving yourself of anything that makes you happy. I think of frugality as making smart decisions with your money, not investing in meaningless and wasteful items, and instead spending your money on things that have purpose. On things that make a difference. On things that make your life richer and, ultimately, contribute a positive ROI to your happiness quotient. Much like Ben Franklin himself advised to “make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.”


Most people “get” the concept of frugality when it’s applied to calories instead of money. As an example, I routinely ask myself if having both butter and cream cheese on my already carbohydrate-laden bagel is “worth the calories.” For me, that means that given a budget of 1800 calories per day, I should decide if the bagel will make me happier, or if saving those calories for a dessert splurge later is a better idea. I typically choose to be frugal with my morning breakfast calories so I can enjoy something that I really love down the line – like a slice of carrot cake (with nuts, please, for anyone interested in shipping me a piece.)

Similarly, if our financial budget only allows us to buy so many things, shouldn’t we be frugal about items that don’t matter to us so that we can spend our financial calories on things that truly bring us joy? Or use that frugally-stashed-cash for something that makes a significant difference in someone else’s life since the item that we are foregoing makes very little difference in ours?

The concept of frugality is one that – if we collectively practiced it as a society – would have the power to dramatically and tangibly change our world in at least 6 powerful ways:


1. We would buy less stuff that inevitably ends up clogging a landfill somewhere.

2. We would raise children who eschew endless short-term goods and instead opt for investment in long-term goals, creating a generation that is financially healthy and fiscally responsible.

3. We would transform the social currency of our great nation away from consumerism and towards saving and philanthropy…both of which are far more admirable principles to embrace.

4. We would balance the reflex for instant gratification with a sense of patience, purpose and earned achievement, and, in the process, reduce the weight of personal credit card debt carried by so many of us.

5. We would pave the road for a more secure and stable future for younger generations.

6. We would raise happier children who don’t feel the need to compare themselves to their peers based on the value of material things like clothes or gadgets.

So if you’ve never tried living frugally, try it for 30 days, just to see what the impacts are on your life. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that your relationships, your parenting, your kids, and your self-concept benefit even more than your savings account.

Tanya Van Court is the founder of iSow.com, a platform that helps you to raise financially independent kids (who eventually leave your house) by enabling birthdays and holidays to become opportunities for kids to save for their futures, share with those who are less fortunate, and spend on things that are meaningful instead of receiving goods, goods and more goods.