FRUGALITY: I DON’T KNOW WHETHER it’s inherited or learned. I do know that I am frugal—and have been since I was a boy. My grandmothers were both frugal. One had to be out of necessity, while the other just was. My siblings all have the frugality trait. When asked who is the most frugal, fingers tend to point toward me. I could argue with that. But then again, being frugal is good, right?
I am not materialistic. I owned a BMW once. It was a joy to drive, but I saw it more as a status symbol, which made me uncomfortable. I sold it. We held on to our other car for a long time. It was 14 years old when we finally parted ways. My home is modest. I could afford a larger house, but I would get lost in it.
I don’t mind a little discomfort—to the dismay of my husband. It builds character and saves money. The thermostat is dialed back in the winter and I avoid using air conditioning. In the winter, I wear an extra layer of clothes and, in the summer, well, we won’t go there. I can’t say that I have always been sensible in my frugality. I’ve had a tendency to be short-sighted. But I have learned. I know now that I am better off buying one well-made bicycle than three or four cheaper versions.
Frugality helped me to become financially successful and has allowed me to retire early, a goal I set 25 years ago. All my frugality, along with a lot of hard work, helped me to stash away money. I was investing in low-cost mutual funds well before it was fashionable. I do have some actively managed funds, including a few I have held onto for 25-plus years. Their performance justified the higher expenses, though today I favor index funds.
I don’t need to be frugal at this point in my life, but it’s a part of me, something that is hard to give up. Some might ask if I regret my frugal behavior, but I’m not one to look back with regret. You don’t miss what you don’t have. Possessions don’t reflect me. Relationships with friends and family are so much more important, and you can’t put a price on that.
These days, I find myself somewhat more comfortable with spending, on myself and on others. I enjoy taking friends out to dinner. Spending time with them is priceless. Each year, I travel through Mexico with friends, who were employees at the landscaping company I used to own. We stay at primitive hotels and eat at roadside taco stands. We don’t need luxurious hotels and high-end restaurants. It’s the experience and the friendship that are most important. I give to charity, but I get the most enjoyment from helping out those I know, providing gifts of money when it’s most needed.
Nicholas Clements—one of Jonathan’s older brothers—retired at age 55. He’s passionate about bicycling and, in 2016, rode 11,311 miles.