What the Europeans Taught Me About Being Frugal

I lived in France for 9 months and the United Kingdom for 1 year during college. I also was in a relationship with a man from England for 10 years. Spending all of that time around Europeans taught me a life lesson that I still carry with me to this day and that’s to a live a life of moderation.

Europeans live in smaller homes, drive smaller cars, and overall own a lot fewer possessions. Families will live in two bedroom apartments and take public transportation. They hang their clothes on a line to dry after washing. They have modest wardrobes and often wear the same outfits for years. They even consume less food (hence their smaller waistlines).

The typical American, on the other hand, is quite wasteful. Americans always think more and bigger is better. We buy big houses to “show off,” not really thinking about if we really need a 4,000 square foot home. Then we buy a bunch of stuff to fill it up, including two (or more) new cars in the garage. We cycle through electronics as if they were as cheap as buying a pair of socks. Parents buy their kids a seemingly unlimited supply of toys, clothes and more. Then, after all of this buying, we stress about paying for it. Seems to me that more is actually less because it’s stressing us out and putting us into debt.

House Sizes Around the World
America is second only to Australia when it comes to average home size. (Source: elledecor.com)

While I haven’t exactly adopted the smaller wardrobe mantra (at last count I had 21 pairs of shoes), I still hang up a least a handful of wet clothes to dry after every wash. Why waste energy drying something that the surrounding air can do for free? True that energy in Europe is more expensive but it’s still worth the effort to me. It shaves off some dollars every month from my energy bill and who cares if my jeans are a little crunchy? I have also made the choice to live in a smaller place and drive a car with great gas mileage. These small changes add up to substantial savings in the long run.

Not only that, I just feel better about my choices. Being wasteful is just that—wasteful. Wasting is never a good thing, whether it’s your time, energy, money or life. It’s better to be conservative. Use that cell phone until it breaks; drive your car until the repairs become too costly and time consuming; even consider downsizing your living space. Be honest with yourself: How much space do you really need? It’s probably less than what you have now.

Less Is More

We work really hard to buy a lot of things we don’t need. Sure, it feels good to buy some of our wants now and then and that’s part of enjoying life. But the key is to limit these wants to well below our budget. Buying everything you want anytime you want it is called being a child—or a billionaire. Since you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re neither.

Free yourself from the “bigger is always better” mentality. You’ll save yourself money and stress (more stuff means more to manage and worry about). Consuming less is freeing. Now excuse me while I go clean out my closet…:)