Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Sam Lustgarten of Frugaling.
“All ads do the same: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” ―David Foster Wallace
Over the last year-and-a-half, I’ve worked to reduce expenses, increase income, and refrain from consumeristic rewards (i.e., shopping sprees and dinners). I’ve opted for more empowered life directions of self-reflection and growth.
My methods have been rather boring: focusing on the important and refraining from buying “wants.” These aren’t ingenious ideas, and you’ve probably read them countless times before.
Despite my methodical approach, I’m imperfect. And one aspect of my life continuously challenges these efforts: dating.
As a single graduate student in a small, Midwestern town, it’s been difficult to find relationships. Both my schedule and avenues for meeting people are severely restricted; at least, during academic semesters. Additionally, my budget is tight every month—deviations quickly lead to debt. It’s a wicked combination.
With these apprehensions, I’ve cautiously taken to trying out the online dating world; in particular, Tinder. In case you haven’t heard about or used it, Tinder is a Millennial-friendly dating app for smartphones. Users are tasked with one job: swipe one direction or another (left for “nope” and right for “like”) to find a match. It can be superficial and vapid, but also, reflective of in-person judgments.
If both users swipe right — hallelujah! — there’s a match and they can now message each other. If there ever was a minimalist dating app, this is it. There’s no profile to read or questions to fill out—only the faces of potential dates.
Remarkably, my nerdy self matched up with a few people over the last couple months. But before any of those “matches” could turn into dates, I pondered my life and presentation. What would I wear? My closest of clothing feels stale. How much would I share about being a frugal minimalist? I feel cheaper than cheap. Where would we go to eat, drink, and/or talk that was also in the budget? My budget is difficult to maintain even without dates. How many of these dates could I even afford? Not many!
These questions course through me like never before, and I oscillate between pride and embarrassment for this new way of life. Part of me feels the blush against my cheeks, as I admit to a potential date that I’m frugal and cannot afford much on my budget. The other piece notices the powerful changes I’ve made that have revolutionized my budget and financial future.
Dating has a way of making me fear what others think of my new mores. Two weeks ago I went on a first date that made me question my motivation for frugality and minimalism. And it all started with my hair.
The dinner date was going well, and there was a gentle, sarcastic banter back and forth. I looked into her eyes, and wondered what she would think about my habits. Would we be compatible? Then, these mental explorations were cut short by my date’s question.
“Where do you get your hair cut?” she asked.
I stroked my hand over a newly-buzzed head of hair and confidently replied, “I did it!”
Little did she know, but I’d been cutting my hair for years. While I don’t have the full range of styles, I get the job done and can’t beat the price: a $20 hair clipper purchased in 2009.
Suddenly, showing all the surprise and disgust of someone eating an old, brown, past-due pistachio, she exclaimed, “Well, that’s the last hair cut you ever give yourself. It’s time for you to grow up and go to a real barber!”
I felt hurt and insulted. How could she say that to me? Did it really look bad? I immediately felt defensive.
Afterwards, I went home and sat down for a while—reviewing my reactions. Her comment felt similar to an advertisement. What this person in front of me was saying was that I didn’t fit her model of a man. Even more, she was suggesting that I should spend money in the process to purchase what I was lacking. It seemed oddly familiar.
Don’t corporations try to do the same thing?
Marketing teams work tirelessly to propagate popular culture norms and set the standard for beauty, wants, and various products that will make you the “best a man can get.”
Websites, movies, and magazines bombard us with messages that compel us to consume. Advertisements punctuate “breaks,” but hook us into staying at full volume for a taste of the “good life.”
Instead of being hurt, degraded, and insulted by commercials, I’m often passive. But why do I (and we) let ourselves idly accept messages from multinational corporations that we wouldn’t desire in casual conversation? Why can I (and we) know this will be the first and last date, but not do the same with commercials? When is enough, enough?
Fortunately, there is power in our response. Next time, notice your feelings when viewing an advertisement say something about who you are. Realize your emotions (“I’m sad”) are only thoughts (“I’m having thoughts of sadness”). Pause to reflect on this difference between the two.
Thoughts provide distance to read the ongoing, bombarding ticker tape that is our daily experience. With this emotional review, we can more mindfully turn off the response to spend and find that we were always enough—buzzed haircut and all.
Sam Lustgarten blogs at Frugaling.org where he helps others save for tomorrow while enjoying today. You can also follow him on Twitter.
I have cut my husbands hair for the last 27 years – no one can tell at all and we save a fortune on barber’s fees. He cuts mine (it’s long and curly so rarely needs anything more than a trim) as well. We’ve probably saved thousands over the years. (though he doesn’t tell anyone and is a tad embarrassed that he cuts mine – why though I cannot suss)
Somewhere out there, there will be a girl with the same values as you -Tinder might not be the place to find her though.
How about meeting in a park for a walk and then a coffee in an ethical coffee house? Or a trip around an arts museum? Or as a previous commentator says, a shared picnic lunch where you both bring stuff. Start as you mean to go on, sharing your experiences together.
As your post has been re-posted I’ve only just come across it. This may be a semantics thing: a difference between the way we use English in the UK and American-English, but for me there’s a difference between being frugal because you have to and minimalist when you don’t need to. One day you will graduate and hopefully student frugality will become minimalist choice. You can then choose how to spend, and if a haircut or a pricey meal out is an ‘experience’ you can afford, there’s no harm in choosing to do that. Minimalism is more about replacing unnecessary ‘stuff’ with experiences. And in the meantime, there’s a girl out there who shares your values. You’ll find her when you look in the right places.
Since I’m a girl I could never cut my own hair. I tried once and failed spectacularly, since then usually either my mom or my sister do it for me. I think the most stupid thing about haircuts is that you have to get them so often and what does the hairdresser really do most of the time? Just cut off the ends, like that’s worth that amount of money.
I read a comment about tshirts here, too, and just had to think about my boyfriend who never buys a new shirt and keeps on wearing his old ones even though they break apart under the armpits :D I just sew them back together for him.
I’m really sure that you will someday meet a girl who doesn’t care where or by whom your hair is cut or whether you’re going to buy her a fancy dinner, she’ll only want to see you smile at her and tell her how much she means to you and it will mean more to her than anything that could possibly be bought. The best things are for free after all
My best wishes
Hey Sam. Don’t give up, you’re on the right path. On a side note, you aren’t alone! I haven’t bought a hair cut in over 6 years (I am now 29) I buzz it regularly. I like how it looks, it’s free, and I enjoy doing it. Who cares what people think!
As a graphic designer, advertising made up a minor component of my course. With no interest in specialising in this sector, I initially participated with only a vague curiosity, but by trimester end I was enthralled. The subject was mindblowingly insightful, full of the tricks advertisers (and, in turn, what I am supposed to) pull and I began to actively challenge every message that came at me. I no longer buy mindlessly, and I bring this into my work.
Around the same time, I began dating someone considerably older who had the wealth to treat us to some very fancy, expensive dates —way outside my budget and comfort zone. How were he to understand I wasn’t interested in the ballet, when the few dresses I owned were casual and summer weight?* I spent a small fortune on lacy knickers, evening dresses and make-up in an effort to impress him, only to eventually discover our values were completely misaligned and all I have left is some pretty, although largely useless, threads.
Point: even with the most deliberate minimalist mindset and stringent filters, the pressure to consume hits us constantly, and it takes a hawk-eye not to inadvertently succumb to the peer pressure. I’m glad you stood up for yourself and didn’t take it beyond the first date.
*I’d also like to point out I take pride in my appearance and personal hygiene, and spend time looking good, for me. I’m just not a cookie-cut direct from the latest Vogue. I also cut my own hair.
Appreciate this post and thread of comments very much. I don’t believe that there is necessarily virtue in doing your own hair or vice in having it done. The virtue is in knowing yourself and doing what is right for you. One thing I noted was your description of having a “sarcastic” banter with this woman — so her comment may have been influenced by the tone of that banter. If you liked her otherwise, it might be worth a second date getting to know each other better. That’s what dating is for. People are multidimensional and complex and can’t be reduced to a single comment. We all say stupid things all the time. I appreciated Alison’s comments about how her partner has expanded her views. On a side note, I am a recovering alcoholic and have had many of the same fears going in to blind or first dates – how much to explain, what will they think, and so on – only to find that most people don’t notice I’m not drinking and really don’t care. There’s plenty of time later to go full-bore into it in depth, a little at a time, if there’s any type of connection between us. And, finally, inexpensive first dates are perfect … taking a walk, having a cup of coffee, going to a public art show or museum, picnic lunch where each of you brings something … something easy, not too intense. Good luck with dating and good for you for being true to yourself.
Well it sounds like she isn’t the girl for you! This is a crazy world we live in, I would think most people would respect and admire you for living within your means and being so financially responsible. I personally applaude your strength, stay true to who you are!