Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

Living Frugally

03 Mar 2009

Inspired by Paul Graham's essay, I wrote this post entirely within EtherPad.

In times of economic recession like this one, I think it's important we learn to live as frugally as possible. The people who have hitherto lived lavishly are now struggling when times are tough, the economy is in turmoil, and jobs are being laid off.

I think the idea can be stretched a little further. If you accustom yourself to living frugally all the time, you may not even realize that the economy is doing bad. The shock will be much less pronounced. Learning to live frugally is like giving yourself an airbag while driving a sports car.

Living frugally is really an art. It is also quite hard. It involves reducing your life to your absolute minimum without foregoing basic necessities. If you have doubts about an expense, just say no. Don't ask questions. Chances are if you're wondering about buying something, you probably don't need it in the first place.

I have decided to go frugal not because I'm running out of money, or I'm at a risk of losing my job, but because it gives me immense satisfaction to do things that I believe are truly hard. And it'll give me a great edge if and when I do start my own startup since most successful startups are notoriously parsimonious with their expenses.

There seems to be a correlation between living frugally and reducing your total environmental, or ecological, or carbon footprint. I feel that if I strive to reduce my total environmental footprint on this planet, I will automatically live a frugal life. I hope there will come a time when people won't know I exist on this planet until they physically see me.

One of my resolutions for this year is to reduce my total environmental (or carbon) footprint. Let's see what this entails:

  1. Continue to be strictly vegetarian. Feeding on plants, among other things, reduces the amount of methane (a green-house gas) in the atmosphere.
  2. Eat just enough to make me hungry exactly before my next meal, not "after". I had gotten so used to forcing down my next meal even if I'm not hungry that I found this one particular hard to achieve. I now eat about a third of how much I used to eat and about a sixth of how much everyone tells me I should eat and about a tenth of how much the average Indian usually eats. Great savings :)

    The fact that I am able to cut down my food intake so dramatically implies that all the excess food I had been eating until this year was being ejected wastefully.

    It turns out I don't really need that much food to live a normal life and be productive. This is assuming of course I adopt the necessary practices to ensure I'm absorbing every single nutrient out of every single morsel I consume. So tricks like eating slowly, chewing until your food turns liquid, consuming lots of liquid, good exercise, etc. become really important when you cut down your food intake.

    What I'm observing here is Parkinson's Law for food: Your body's requirements expand to fill the amount of food it is fed. The more you feed your body, the more your body will try to convince you of your correctness in doing so.

  3. Exercise regularly. This has direct relevance to #2. Turns out regular exercise, contrary to my previously-held opinion, allows me to eat less and still be productive. Don't know the exact reason but perhaps it's because exercise improves digestion and the overall nutrient-extraction-quotient.
  4. Turn off the shower when I'm soaping, shampooing and applying conditioner. The amount of water savings over a year can be quite dramatic with just this one change.
  5. I have a tendency to want to urinate even when I get the slightest sensation. I have discovered this is largely a psychological disorder in my case at least. I have now been able to reduce my flush frequency from 8-10 a day to about 3 a day. That's a lot of water saved over a year, isn't it?
  6. Quit buying. We buy way too much stuff we don't need. I've only been buying what I absolutely need these days. I wanted to get an extra pair of shoes, but I've said a firm no. And I'm not going to buy any more clothing since I have more than enough. I have bought two t-shirts in the last 2 months and I already feel I'm going to be satisfied for a very long time.
  7. Turn off all lights in the room at night before sleeping and when I leave for work. I have been applying this rule quite diligently the last 2 months.
  8. Don't drive if I can avoid it. I don't have a car so this has been easy. Rely on public transport more. Walk more. I am training myself to walk incredibly long distances (~10-15 km) with no breaks. This means I can walk to a lot of places within San Francisco without taking the bus.
  9. Turn off heating. Substitute with wearing warm clothing.
  10. Turn off electrical appliances. The only appliances that are on for a large part of the day are lamps for lighting, my laptop, and my fridge. I haven't had the TV on in weeks. And I barely use the microwave, kettle, toaster, iron or radio. I also wake up early to try and make hay when the sun shines.
  11. Do laundry in batches so I'm always running a full load each time. This is great power/water savings over a year.
  12. Be frugal on recreational expenses. I've been very successful at this the last 2 months. Turns out there's a ton of recreational stuff that can be done at very low cost. This doesn't really directly help me reduce my environmental footprint though. But it does reduce how much I buy.
  13. Go completely paperless. I currently use about one sheet of paper a week.
  14. Take the stairs as much as I can. Use the elevator only when I absolutely need to.

It gives me great pride to be able to live frugally—or at least semi-frugally for now—even though I spent the better part of my childhood in a city as extravagant as Dubai. Dubai, as you might know, is the antithesis of frugal living.

Things I'd like to achieve, but don't currently implement:

  1. Go completely paperless.
  2. Start using stainless steel plates, cups, bowls and other cutlery instead of plastic ones at work.
  3. Turn off my laptop at night and when I'm out at work.
  4. Invest in a dryer-stand. In maybe a month or two, I should be able to dry my clothes outside in my balcony instead of using a dryer.
  5. Go back to using a bucket and a mug to shower instead of using the shower head.
  6. While shaving, use a mug full of water to rinse my razor, rather than let the water flow for the duration of the shave.
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