Industry 'n Frugality and Checking in on all this Virtue by Will Ringland

Industry and Frugality

Grids for Frugality and Industry. Fitting that both I remember to post the previous forgotten one in my week of "be always employ'd" but also that these two should go together.

The heart of Franklin's beliefs on the goodness of a person lies at the crossing of Frugality and Industry. An industrious and frugal person can and shall have a free life.

"...For Industry pays Debts, while Despair encreaseth them, says Poor Richard. -- What though you have found no Treasure, nor has any rich Relation left you a Legacy, Diligence is the Mother of Good-luck, as Poor Richard says, and God gives all Things to Industry."

  • Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth(1)

Debt corrals freedom. You can't be your best person when you are beholden to others for all that you do.


My week with Frugality was fine. I became much more aware of the frequency with which I spend money when I needn't - I am a fan of tacos on nights I get home late. I use take out food as a mean's to easier relaxation in an evening. A late night at work, a long gym session, bunch of errands or Bunny Rope tasks and the last thing I want to do is cook for an hour and immediately go to bed.

I'm stuck on the utility of that use case. Ultimately, it doesn't really affect my budgeting. Alyska and I got our spending pretty well in order last year as we reviewed our budgets to better accommodate her health insurance needs. We don't spend especially frivolously - between us we have the mortgage, my car loan (2), and maybe a few hundred dollars on credit cards that we pay off monthly (3).

Ultimately, I do not stress my spending habits too badly. We are careful with important purchases and save most of our money up front. That's probably a different discussion but automating savings makes everything much easier to manage

"If you would be wealthy, says he, in another Almanack, think of Saving as well as of Getting: The Indies have not made Spain rich, because her Outgoes are greater than her Incomes. Away then with your expensive Follies, and you will not have so much Cause to complain of hard Times, heavy Taxes, and chargeable Families; for, as Poor Dick says,

Women and Wine, Game and Deceit,

Make the Wealth small, and the Wants great.

- Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth


I've never been one to work constantly - I have a very well understood threshold to overwork - and am generally good at relaxing when stressed. This week helped me recognize how much being engaged in a task can make that task refreshing.

I spend much time at work distracted lately. I am in a meeting not being in the meeting but either working on other things or at least thinking about them. And that's not good for my productivity, utility, or sanity.

I think my mantra for the near future needs to be:

"Never half ass two things. Whole ass one thing."

- Ron Swanson, Parks & Rec

Take the task before you and do it well, not while thinking about everything else. My week on Industry helped me realize the virtue of doing things besides working too.

And this is going to sound silly...

Bunny Rope doesn't feel like work when I'm doing it. Though it is a business and has responsibilities, I find many of the components of it refreshing. In the previous week while doing the last set of things for MTKF, I realized how satisfying it can be. I like the handwork and the solitude it provides. Scheduling a small set of tasks for it in the evening - like breaking a bunch of lengths, or tasseling hundreds of feet - is becoming fun. Like I'd almost rather do that on a Friday night.

Further, exercise keeps me engaged. Getting my body moving and my mind away from work makes managing all the things that much easier.

Writing that it feels like a No Brainer. Research abounds about the mental benefits of exercise (4) but I feel like I finally noticed how that contributes to focus on tasks.


The question I am asking myself now that I'm half way through this phase of the project: Am I a better person for it?

When I am sticking to the virtues, yes. I feel happier, less stressed, more in control, and better engaged in all the things I do.

When I am not sticking to the virtues, no. And the delta between the two is growing larger.

That is, when everything is off the rails, I feel crappy but it isn't much different than it used to be. But, when I am sticking to the virtues, I feel happier than before.

And that's certainly interesting (5).

  1. Written as Richard Saunders in the introduction to the 1758 edition of Poor Richard's Almanack.
  2. I'm actually paying that off a year early later this week because we have good control of our outgoes.
  3. I will admit I did incur some credit card debt in January because of some unexpected expenses but that will be gone by the end of this month.
    This was what I found in a very brief search of Google Scholar.
  4. It also seems like it shouldn't be this complicated. Being mindful of 13 virtues is hard and I am still not convinced I'm tracking transgressions against them as well as I could or should be.

Frugality by Will Ringland

Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.

How do you define good when you’re talking about spending money? Is it good to buy dinner when you’ve spent most of the evening out of the house, running errands? How bad is buying a cup of coffee at a coffee shop when you write that thing you’ve been stuck on? Do you need another book?

I firmly believe that the core of frugality is not “be cheap” but “by useful things that will last.” Buying the cheapest toaster does you little good if it breaks a month after you get it. But buying the best toaster makes little sense if you make toast once in a blue moon.

You have to balance cost with longevity and use. The best example I have is my satchel (1). I bought it in 2009 for about $350. I carry that thing with me every day. It gets bumped against things, falls off desks, gets rolled over by chairs. All I need to do to keep it in good shape is rub it down with leather conditioner every six months or so. I love that bag and will probably have it for many, many years longer. Even over the life of the bag to this date, it’s cost me about 21¢ a day (2).

Obviously the amount I use my satchel suggests the amount of money that makes sense to put into it. You can think similarly about cars, snow shovels, cell phones.

In short, frugality is not about being cheap. It’s about reducing unnecessary expenditure. Franklin was pretty keen on frugality as a way to wealth (5) and much of what he wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanack was advice on saving money. Two of his proverbs in particular resonate with me:

Beware of little expenses; A small Leak will sink a great Ship;

For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost; and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the Enemy; all for the want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail

Small expenses add up but not making the right expenditures can be devestating. This is what I’ll keep in mind this week. Balancing expenses with need is important. Honestly, I have no problem spending the day at a coffee shop when the atmosphere helps me write or research. But getting coffee because I’m too lazy to make it myself is problematic.

Edicts for Frugality:

  1. Define the need for each little expense - is the benefit greater than the expense?
  2. Before you buy something, consider existing tools to accomplish the task. If this one offers no benefit, in time or ease of use, is it worth it?
  3. Save first.

So - take care with little expense, especially consumables like coffee or dinners. They aren't necessarily bad but understand why you're making them. Which is as applicable when buying durable goods; ask if you have something now that would work and, if the benefit in time saved or ease of use doesn't match up, don't buy it.

And save first - figure out how to save more as early in the saving process (more on this later).

  1. This was actually the second leather bag (3) I bought, the first being the briefcase from the same people at Saddleback Leather.

  2. I’ve spend about $50 on leather care products. So 50+350 / 1911 days since I bought it on 11/1/2009 is 20.9¢ a day.

  3. The big leather briefcase, which I still use as a gym bag nearly every day, rigger bag every month, and travel suitcase every few months, was about $650. I bought it a year before (4) comes to 28¢ a day.

  4. I used to take pictures of everything and it’s becoming a great reference for my life. Searching for “leather” on my flickr stream is really nice.

  5. Primarily “by the practice of industry and frugality, free from debt, which exposes a man to confinement, and a species of slavery to his creditors.”