Last night while cleaning the house, I found some old papers. Among the many memories, I found a document entitled “J.D.’s Ten Commandments”. I can’t tell exactly when I wrote this, but I’d guess it was back in 1992 or 1993, just after I’d graduated from college.

My ten commandments were:

  1. Be physically fit.
  2. Be attractive.
  3. Don’t waste free time.
  4. Be frugal.
  5. Maintain the automobile.
  6. Be curious.
  7. Be loving.
  8. Be productive.
  9. Have fun.
  10. Be rational.

The meat of this document are the supporting details beneath each commandment. They’re a fascinating glimpse at my mind from fifteen years ago. For example, under “be physically fit”, I wrote “eat food that will prolong life, not shorten it”. As part of my productivity goal, I aimed to “write for at least three hours a week”. (Ha! Now I write at least three hours a day.)

It’s fun to see which of these goals I’ve achieved and which I’ve missed. It’s also interesting to note which goals have made me happy and which have not. I met my writing goal, for example, and this has been a source of fulfillment. But I also “learn to program in C”. This wasn’t such a dream come true. I spent a year programming computers, and found that the work wasn’t meaningful or enjoyable.

I did a poor job at following some of my commandments. My fourth commandment was “be frugal”, under which I set the following subgoals:

  • Budget for a limit of $10 a week of personal entertainment.
  • For something more than $10, save.
  • Buy only Star Trek comics.
  • Don’t eat in restaurants.
  • Utilize a savings account.
  • Don’t use credit.
  • Pretend that life is a business venture.

I failed miserably at every one of these. In the decade after I made this list, I spent lavishly on personal entertainment. I never opened a savings account — if I wanted something, I usually just bought it on credit. I bought whatever comics I wanted, and ate in restaurants all the time. If I had followed my own admonitions, I might have been able to get a head start on retirement. Instead I found myself with more than $20,000 in credit card debt.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that eventually I figured this stuff out. Eventually I learned to be frugal. If only I had learned these things back in 1992!

I still make lists of financial goals (though I don’t call them “commandments”). Every few months, I draw up a list of my current income and fixed spending. I project big upcoming expenses (“plumbing repairs”, “vacation to Europe”), and then plot how much I need to save. This is as close as I come to creating a budget. The difference between 1992 and 2007 is that now I actually achieve most of the goals I set for myself.

If I can learn to handle money correctly, then anyone can.

19 Replies to “Commandment #4: Be Frugal”

  1. Dave says:

    Oh, I just love this entry, JD. I gave myself one commandment years ago:

    1) Be dedicated to reality, AT ALL COSTS.

    It’s amazing, but this one commandment sorta takes care of everything else that comes up in life, at least for me.

  2. Brett McKay says:

    I remember writing those letters to your future self when I was in high school. It makes me cringe every time I read it. I was such a dork.

  3. Rich Minx says:

    Isn’t it interesting when you come across messages from your younger self. When I moved out of home at 18 I found a letter I’d written to myself five years earlier, in an envelope and everything. I remembered writing it but nothing about the contents. It was a list of goals I’d had at 13.

    These days there are websites where you can email yourself such messages but set it to send on a chosen date in the future. Time capsule emails?

  4. J.D. says:

    It makes me cringe every time I read it. I was such a dork.

    You should see my high school poetry. No wonder the girls avoided me!

  5. boomie says:

    just make sure you pass your lessons learned on to your children so they can get a heads up on their future.

    live and learn. that’s what it is all about.

  6. tehnyit says:

    It is interesting to read that one of your subgoals is to “pretend that life is a business venture”. Doesn’t this impact the enjoyment value of life?

  7. KMC says:

    I have the exact same feeling about being a dork when I discover something I wrote years ago. The funny thing is, I’m no less of a dork each time I discover something written just a few years ago. I guess what I should take away from that is…I’m a dork.

    But more to the point of JD’s post – this is a great object lesson in lifelong learning. We’re not supposed to get it right the first time. You live life and learn.

    Sorry for getting semi-philosophical there.

  8. Live Long And Prosper says:

    Only buy Star Trek comics… LOL

    Your nerd is showing!

    (Don’t let the fact that I still watch DS9 re-runs fool you… I am totally cool.)


  9. RJ says:

    You may have strayed from your goals of frugality, but the good part is that you planted the seeds. You had something to come full-circle to. Some people never get the message at all, or get it only when it’s too late. Even if you didn’t stick with the advice when it was first written, you can thank your younger self for at least knowing what was right, and you can thank your older self for having the wisdom to arrive at that advice.

    And just curious–How do you command yourself to be attractive?

  10. shaz says:

    i set goals and follow commandments most of the time. much easier

  11. J.D. says:

    How do you command yourself to be attractive?

    I can’t find that paper again (I’ll probaby find it in 2022), but from what I recall the subgoals for that commandment included:

    * be well groomed
    * brush and floss teeth regularly
    * wear clean, well-fitting clothes
    * etc.

    Left to my own devices, I’ll go days without shaving and weeks without a haircut. (Months!) Admonitions to be presentable are good for me! 🙂

  12. Brenna says:

    I have a list of goals in all areas of my life: finance, career, family and fun. Every time I accomplish something, I make sure to add a few more.

  13. Liz says:

    I’ve only ever kept a few things that I’ve written, as I tend to mirror other’s responses when looking back (the I’m a big dork thing)… but that being said, the lists like this that I’ve kept have been slightly scary… it seems a lot of the things I had as goals back 10 years ago are still goals I hold today, even though I feel like I’ve progressed all over the place.

    What I do now are mind maps for my goals, with a few different areas: school, work, family, friends, creative, volunteer, vacation/travel, mental health, physical health, spiritual and financial health. There is a heap of overlap, but I find that once I start writing down where I’d like to be in each area, then prioritizing each of those goals, I can get a really good idea of what is next, and how much work the “next step” will be… I find that mapping things out like this as well help me to figure out which goals are blocked somehow.

    So, yup, back then I had no idea how to goal-set. But now, WHOOO BOY!

  14. KMull says:

    What a fantastic find. I wonder what we would all think if 10 or 15 years down the road we could see what we were thinking — our fears, ambitions, hopes, and dreams.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  15. MoneyChangesThings says:

    Okay, since you are on your way to becoming rich, J.D., and bringing others along with you, why don’t you now write yourself ten commandments of what you will do with the money when you have a surplus? People have mission statements for getting rich/happy, but of course rich does not = happy. It will be fun for you to look back on your goals in the future, and the source of much learning and focus. Being a steward of your money is a whole different challenge, and preparation is wise!

  16. Jennifer says:

    I love lists, which I’m very good at writing. That’s about it though-writing lists.

  17. 60 in 3 says:

    I’ve been reading up on business plan and one of the best pieces of advice in there is that the best business plan is ragged and dirty from people looking at it, reading it and filling it with note and changes. A personal goal plan is like a business plan for your life. It should be constantly used, not written and ignored.

    Write a list and then make sure it’s somewhere visible. I have various todo lists on my Google home page, which is something that’s open on my computer screen at all times. That makes them easy to see and remember. That’s also where I keep the link to my personal goal plan.

    Lists of tasks and goals are no good unless you see them everyday, remember them, review them and improve them. They are a living thing, not some piece of paper to be written and then never seen again.


  18. Maria Palma says:

    It is interesting to see your thought processes from back then. I never wrote any goals down 15 years ago, except a list for what I wanted in a man 😉

    In all serious though, writing down your financial goals is very important to achieving them. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. JohnAsimov says:

    “Every few months, I draw up a list of my current income and fixed spending.”

    I can barely make a “To Do” list without becoming anxious over how much there will be to do. And, I’m actually scared of a budget. I’ve saved and survived by the “deny almost everything” method, then splurge for a short time, the deny again. Like a bad diet. This works but most certainly lessens the quality of life. I do need a good budget plan, I do. I have to write that down. Maybe put it on a list or something.

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