What the hell is a frugal hedonist? (And do you want to be one?)

Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb are frugal hedonists. They choose to live a third below Australia’s national poverty line but consider themselves rich in happiness and experiences. Sounds a little goodie two shoes? Don’t panic, just keep reading.

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We’ve forgotten how to have fun without spending tons of money, happily paying for once in a lifetime experiences while overlooking the magic of our own local landscapes. To Annie and Adam, ditching instant gratification and online shopping doesn’t mean you can’t indulge yourself. And hedonism isn’t just about getting loaded on cocktails on a Friday night and puking in a hedge (that’s definitely not from our personal experience, oh no). In their eyes a simple life can be decadent and pleasure soaked, while spending little and impacting the environment even less.

The pair have written a book to help others follow their nature-loving, irreverent, grab fun when and where you can find it example. It isn’t about learning to clean bathrooms with lemon juice or other eco hacks but about how to let go, how to rely on yourself to have fun and relish time over money. It sounded so good to us we asked Annie to elaborate.

What makes a frugal hedonist?

A frugal hedonist knows that pleasure has very little to do with getting exactly what you want, or what is promoted as socially desirable. A frugal hedonist wields his or her wits and lust for life to extract pleasure from contrast (taking your shoes off to walk barefoot in mud after a long day on your feet), the incidental (giving yourself time to observe a particularly strange cloud pattern), or even mishap! (Telling stories in the dark during a blackout). This can be a challenging way of thinking if you’re out of practice …which is why my co-author Adam Grubb and I wrote a book crammed with practical and mental life-hacks to make it easier.

How do frugality and hedonism go together?

Not spending much money is an excellent way to free up more time to enjoy all the cheap and free lusciousness life has to offer. Not only can you work less if you spend less, but many thrifty behaviours – like shopping second hand, or riding a bike instead of driving – keep your body and your environment in better shape so that they can continue giving you pleasure way into the future.

How have we confused purchasing power with happiness?

We haven’t done it so much as had it done to us by all those sneaky advertising agencies. More than $1000 a year is spent by advertising companies in Australia on every man, woman, and child, to convince us that satisfying our natural desires for comfort, novelty, and pleasure is done by buying stuff.

There’s actually a lot of very solid research showing that though our happiness levels spike briefly after a purchase (even that new kitchen that you thought was going to change your life), they then return to baseline faster than you can say ‘Maybe once we’ve had the bathroom done too everything will be perfect…’

What’s your favourite way to spend a Saturday?

Saturdays for the last year have been spent doing strictly non-utilitarian things. We ritualistically pack a thermos of tea, some crackers, and a tin of sardines in olive oil. Maybe we catch a train to the ocean and lie there all day reading books to each other and making up limericks. Or we climb a mountain and camp overnight. Or we might just take a country-bound bus until we see an excellent patch of blackberries and a road that makes us want to wander up it. We then get off at the next stop, gorge ourselves on blackberries, wander round, have a nap and a cloud-gaze in some long grass. We mix it up, but the theme is lots of sky, a little sweat, a dream-like state …and sardines.

We are lovely, messy, striving, staggering, sensual, laughing creatures, and we should just take joy wherever we can find it, rather than waiting to get it from sources suggested by people who mainly want our money

Are we too focused on quick wins? Have we lost the art of delayed gratification?

I think modern culture encourages us to forget how strong we are. We don’t need to always have what we want right now. We’re so much less limp and fluffy that that. And most things taste a little sweeter after you’ve worked for them, or if your metaphorical palate hasn’t been drenched in metaphorical sugar all day long. We thrive when we decide to suck it up and throw ourselves into that brisk walk home through the cold instead of driving – it makes the hot shower and the bowl of soup we have when we arrive twice as enjoyable, plus we save on gas money and got a little bit of leg-tone thrown in! 

What’s been the most amazing experience as a frugal hedonist?

There’s so many species of amazing that I’ll just pick a random one instead, so as not to offend the others. We recently had the last sweltering summer’s evening here in Melbourne, and I was filthy and hot from making compost all afternoon. I stripped to my underwear and drenched myself under the garden hose until I was gasping with cold, then put on a light dress and went and climbed the fire escape of an nearby abandoned building to watch the sun finish setting. I felt deliciously fresh, insanely relaxed and profoundly self-satisfied.

How does the media make us feel as though we never have enough?

It surrounds us with so many snapshots of impossible lives that we get confused about what we should be aiming for. Those images start to define what we think of as ‘normal’, making our own lives look a bit ramshackle by comparison. We look down at our last-season shoes, or our cheese sandwich wrapped in a reused plastic bag and feel like we’re not getting what everyone else is getting or that we need some fixing-up. The truth is that even those lives that look the shiniest from the outside are usually pretty ramshackle when you peer under their white tablecloths. We are lovely, messy, striving, staggering, sensual, laughing creatures, and we should just take joy wherever we can find it, rather than waiting to get it from sources suggested by people who mainly want our money.

Are more people are becoming more conscious in what they are consuming?

Yes. Unfortunately, It’s not happening dramatically enough to counteract how much we generally expect to consume in modern first world cultures.

Describe your life in three words.

Questioning, euphoric, diverse.

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More is out now, published by Melliodora Publishing.