The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser-Rowland & Adam Grubb

Image result for the art of frugal hedonismAfter reading a review on ANZ LitLovers’ blog I put this book on a wishlist as it looked to be the kind of book I would definitely want to read, and that’s where I left it because as a budding Frugal Hedonist I haven’t been buying books recently (note that’s the frugal part, the hedonist in me would buy and buy and buy all the books in all the world). Then, oh happy day, a lovely lovely generous and wonderful friend popped it in my Christmas stocking for me and, in honour of the sheer considerateness of it, I felt I ought to read it immediately.  And the post-Christmas consumer bloat/depression might have influenced me a little bit too. Could frugal hedonism offer an alternative, better option than the false promise of mass consumerism that blights Christmas every year?

The idea of frugal hedonism is really simple, and it aligns with a lot of the things that have been influencing me over the past year or so: minimalism, paring back, trying to live a more purposeful life. Frugal hedonism is about spending less money, whilst enjoying life more. Sounds impossible, right? Well it does, but largely because we’re so heavily conditioned, through years of exposure to smart advertising and a cultural push towards materialising everything, into believing that owning things will make our lives better, easier, more productive, more fulfilled. But if that was true, we wouldn’t need to keep buying things. Eventually we’d reach that point of satiation. But that’s not how it works at all. Instead we buy more, want more. Frugal hedonism turns that on its head, or at least a little. Maybe, they suggest, that what we need is less of most things (frugality) and more of the things that bring us joy (hedonism) and, perhaps, the things that bring us joy don’t always need to be bought:

“Many of us tell admiring, nostalgia-drenched tales about the resourcefulness and spirit of our grandparents in the face of harder times. We marvel at how war-time rationing improved people’s health and forged strong communities as neighbours came to rely more on each other than on purchasing power for both necessities and recreation. We speak with a twinkle of envy about the simplicity of life in ‘the olden days’, or the unencumbered freedom of cattle-drovers and swagmen. We digest the stories of long sea voyages to strange shores, or of forging a life in a new land, and we quietly ache to put our own tenacity to the test in such a way, if only a little.

Partly these undercurrents of emotion come from a basic human appreciation for strength. Partly they speak of a yen to feel that we are living ‘real lives’, challenged to capacity. Perhaps even that part of us which has noticed how food is tastier, rest is sweeter and love is more vivid when we aren’t so swaddled in cottonwool, craves a little more deprivation for the sake of the stronger joys that come with it.”

The book is split into short little chapters, maybe a page or two or three, all of which suggest ways in which you can quite easily incorporate frugal hedonism into your daily life. They advise things like recalibrating your senses, learning to hate waste, being more creative about how we meet up with friends – perhaps a little pop-up pub of your own by taking some chairs and some wine and pitching up on a street corner, or a picnic in the park, a visit to a museum, rather than the all-you-can-eat lunch. They suggest setting your new normal: instead of measuring yourself and your needs and desires against others, spend some time thinking for yourself about what things will make your life joyous and fulfilling and then to pursue those things ruthlessly, become a ‘character’ by being entirely and completely yourself instead of trying to ‘measure up’ and ‘fit in’. They remind us to think about the ultimate cost, the hidden costs, of conspicuous consumption – the children working in poor conditions in sweatshops in other countries, the cost in damage to the environment through using our cars for short journeys. Is it worth the cost? Maybe it is, but we should make that choice consciously. They ask whether all this choice, this abundance that’s available to so many of us, is a good thing? I have often wondered, when staring confusedly at the cooked meat aisle in the local supermarket, why it is that they think we need 20 different types of ham to choose from and what it is that offering all these different types of ham says about our lives and the way that we shop and eat. But the Frugal Hedonists express all this much more succinctly and better than me:

“The Frugal Hedonist does not expect perfection. The Frugal Hedonist expects that life will be a multi-coloured journey of pleasures and struggles and joy and death and adventure and boredom and epiphany and love and loss and getting drenched in storms and dry by fires and sometimes eating slightly stale bread but not minding and sometimes eating freshly plucked raspberries and being jubilant. He regards most shops and restaurants as giant lumps in the landscape, to save himself from adding more candidates to his ballot paper of potential consumables. She recognises that although endless choice promises endless freedom, it also entraps us in an endless series of fine-tuned decisions that that we feel must be well-made to encourage success and accurately reflect our identity. So, she makes some broad decisions to spare her brain this gruelling banality.”

Reading The Art of Frugal Hedonism was exactly what I needed at a time when I was suffering a surfeit of boredom and dissatisfaction post-Christmas. Whilst it could be a heavily, moralising subject the authors have approached it with a super-light touch and consequently it is creative and humorous and very easy to read. Inspiring, I would say. It has certainly inspired me to think a lot more carefully about what I spend my money on, and to give some very serious thought to how I can introduce more creativity into my life not by buying more things but by living more, connecting more, letting myself experience both pleasure and boredom, using and treasuring the things I already own. Or letting them go, if they’re a burden to me. It reminded me that my dissatisfaction is mostly with myself, because I know I can do things differently but I fall into old habits because it is easy…or I think it is, but in the long run it just makes things harder. The Art of Frugal Hedonism is a joyous read about how we can fulfil our needs without having to work a joyless job 60 hours a week, dreaming of retirement. Maybe not all of their ideas will resonate with every reader, but I expect enough of them will to make this a worthwhile read for most. Maybe we can aspire to something different? I certainly believe that, and thanks to The Art of Frugal Hedonism I might just be able to make that belief a reality.


About bookbii

I'm an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in an ordinary place, and it is quietly wonderful
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11 Responses to The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser-Rowland & Adam Grubb

  1. I read that post, too and loved the sound of this book. You’ve reminded me that I must get my hands on a copy, Belinda. I’m the child of parents who went through the war and feel I’ve benefitted tremendously from that. I’ve never had a great need for ‘stuff’ – I’m not even hugely atttached to many of my books – and I was taught well about debt. I also escped the subtle, all-pervasive marketing that children have been subjected to for quite some time. It’s pernicious. I count myself very lucky, but I still want to read the book!

    • bookbii says:

      It’s definitely worthwhile getting your hands on a copy if you can, though it sounds like you’re already frugal (if hedonistically profligate in your reading!). I grew up in a home where we didn’t have a great deal of money but one of the regular activities was shopping, even cheaply – visiting markets and stuff – and I think I’ve internalised some of that, though I’m not attached to a great deal of things. I made my own hair conditioner last week, which was super-cheap and marvellously easy. I think before I read the book I would just have bought a commercial conditioner, so it’s definitely had an effect on me!

      • Books and travelling! Good to hear the book is so effective. We were brought up to think that people who bought things on credit were mugs which has served me very well. Also not to waste things. I loved shopping when I was in my 20s but working as a bookseller killed that for me.

  2. Lisa Hill says:

    Hello, I am so pleased that my review has reached a like-minded soul (and what a nice way to receive the book too!)
    I have been gradually applying some of the ideas in the book. Just today I sorted out some more clothes for recycling. I still like them but they’re part of my old ‘work wardrobe’ and I don’t need them any more now that I’m retired. But I think the main thing to achieve is a sense of contentment with what you have and also the confidence to reject the consumer pressure that comes at us all the time. It just feels better!

    • bookbii says:

      Thank you for introducing me to the book, it made for an excellent first read of the year. I’m trying to reinvigorate my senses and hate waste, as well as being more creative with the ingredients I have in the house when cooking. It’s definitely inspired me to be more creative generally. And I agree, it just feels better 🙂

      • Lisa Hill says:

        I think that being skilled in the kitchen is one of the most important weapons in the armoury. Not in a Masterchef way though I love the program and have learned a lot from it but in being able to plan, shop, and cook with what we have in a systematic and delicious way. If you ever come across the 2-volume American Encyclopaedia of Cooking in an OpShop, grab it, because it was written in the days when good housewifery was a virtue, and it has lots of brilliant adaptable recipes that are inexpensive and use what’s in the pantry, fruit bowl and crisper.

      • bookbii says:

        I completely agree. I think the growing appetite for celebrity chefs and tv shows like Masterchef encourage people to buy ingredients and use techniques which they’re not going to use most of the time, with the result that everyone has a kitchen stuffed with unused equipment and decaying ingredients. Having the ability to make something tasty from what’s available to you is a valuable skill. I really love how this book made me think more deeply about these kinds of things.

  3. SimplyMe says:

    “{The Frugal Hedonist} recognizes that although endless choice promises endless freedom, it also entraps us in an endless series of fine-tuned decisions that that we feel must be well-made to encourage success and accurately reflect our identity. So, she makes some broad decisions to spare her brain this gruelling banality.”
    I think I likely am a frugal hedonist. In January of each year, I do not set goals. Instead, I review my one page file entitled “What makes me happy”. The statements on that page are akin to what the authors in your review are referring to when they say the frugal hedonist “makes some broad decisions to spare her brain this gruelling banality”. A key moment for me in this process occurred when I recognized that what makes me happy and what is important were not necessarily synonymous in my mind and heart. This caused me to revise my daily schedule with a theme for each day (there are six broad categories in my happiness statement and to pursue those while adding only a maximum of two tasks per day that must be done, but that do not (yet) bring me happiness. Put simply, I am not pursuing happiness; rather, I am implementing it in a manner unique to who I am (although I expect most of us have many broad arenas in common in this regard).
    Thank you so much for reviewing this book, Bii. Your blog brings me happiness! and it falls within one of my six categories that do so!

    • bookbii says:

      I’m glad my blog brings a little happiness 🙂 I love your idea of having a very short, focused list of things that you incorporate into your daily life and routines. I often think I overwhelm myself with too much aspiration, driven by this overwhelming urge for novelty which I think has been bred into my generation. I think what the frugal hedonists highlight is that variety comes from creativity, not from blindly consuming different things. Recognising what makes you happy is a key point, I’m not sure I’ve quite got that figured out yet but you’ve inspired me to make more of an effort to work that out and build outwards from there, rather than the other way around. Thanks for your insightful comment, as always.

  4. Pingback: Financial fitness: the beginning – The Life Experiment

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