Ways Frugality Increases Productivity

I oc­ca­sion­ally hear ar­gu­ments like:

There are lots of ways that one can spend money to gain more time (and there­fore pre­sum­ably be more effec­tive): buy­ing taxis in­stead of walk­ing, get­ting take­out in­stead of cook­ing, rent­ing an apart­ment closer to your work­place, etc. There­fore, even if you are perfectly al­tru­is­tic and ig­nore the im­pact that spend­ing more on your­self might have on your per­sonal hap­piness, you should spend a large amount on your­self.[1]

This seems rea­son­able – there are ways to spend money to gain time – but I rarely hear the op­po­site ar­gu­ment, even though the op­po­site ar­gu­ment also seems rea­son­able.

Some ways in which be­ing fru­gal makes you more pro­duc­tive:

  1. Low cost of liv­ing en­ables you to be more flex­ible: when I started my com­pany, I went with­out an in­come for about two years, and it only took a few months of sav­ings to build up that two-year run­way. If I had a higher stan­dard of liv­ing (e.g. be­cause my apart­ment was close to work) I would have needed to plan much fur­ther in ad­vance or take out a loan or some­thing similar.

  2. It’s much eas­ier to keep your nights and week­ends free if your en­ter­tain­ment bud­get is zero. Many of the great­est op­por­tu­ni­ties I’ve had in my life came through some­thing like my boss com­ing to me and say­ing “our se­nior en­g­ineer just quit right be­fore the dead­line, so even though you are too ju­nior for this to nor­mally be your re­spon­si­bil­ity, can you work through the week­end to get this done?” If I had had reg­u­lar, sig­nifi­cant week­end plans, I would’ve turned those down and ac­com­plished much less.

  3. A lot of what dis­tracts me from work is the op­por­tu­nity cost of what I could do in my free time. Many peo­ple use dis­trac­tion block­ers dur­ing their work hours to keep them fo­cused by pre­vent­ing them from us­ing “fun” things dur­ing work hours, and it’s fairly com­mon for peo­ple to e.g. travel to an iso­lated cabin in the woods when they re­ally want to fo­cus. Liv­ing fru­gally is kind of like (metaphor­i­cally) liv­ing in an iso­lated cabin in the woods.

    1. Of course, cost and dis­tract­ing-ness aren’t always cor­re­lated: so­cial me­dia is very dis­tract­ing, de­spite be­ing free.

I’m a lit­tle hes­i­tant to pub­lish this be­cause I don’t think most peo­ple should pri­ori­tize fru­gal­ity. I also agree that there are many le­gi­t­i­mate ways in which spend­ing money can make you more pro­duc­tive, and that we should take ad­van­tage of those. And I don’t think we should shame peo­ple for spend­ing money on them­selves, nor should we ex­pect peo­ple to ig­nore their own hap­piness.

But it does seem like the “spend­ing money to save time is effec­tive” meme some­times morphs into “spend­ing money on your­self is effec­tive”, which seems rather du­bi­ous to me.


1. I mostly hear this ar­gu­ment ver­bally. I’m not sure if there is a canon­i­cal writ­ten ver­sion of it; Critch’s post might be the clos­est: http://​​acritch.com/​​pledg­ing/​​