What Ramen Taught Me About Financial Freedom

Today’s post comes from Elsie Brown where she takes a humorous approach to some of the lessons she’s learned from making compromises to live more frugally on ramen. Elsie is a blogger, student, and all around cheapskate who writes about how we can all live better on less. Read more on Gundomoney.com or follow her on Twitter @Gundo_Money.

Let me know what you think of her hilarious guest post below! Without further ado:

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried the delicacy that is Top Ramen but it’s delicious. It costs about $.05 per 5 million calories and has the nutritional value of a moist towelette. Many a poor college student has subsisted on Top Ramen over the years, to the point where it’s become an icon of cheap food.

I don’t actually eat Top Ramen that often anymore but I got to thinking about what it taught me about saving money.

Lesson #1: I Can Get Used to Anything

I think we can be honest that eating Ramen get’s bland and boring after a while. I mean, it’s tasty and I even crave it sometimes but there are only so many ways you can dress up cheap carbs. During the times I ate a lot of Ramen I would add in proteins or prepare it differently. Did you know you can make hamburger patties out of it? What I learned from the Ramen diet was that once I accepted eating it often I didn’t really feel deprived. Sure, I enjoyed other foods but I wasn’t a starving african child. I felt just as fulfilled eating Top Ramen as I did eating other foods.

Here’s another good example of getting used to something: I worked for an outpatient lab that suddenly sent me to work 50 miles away everyday for about three months. I would wake up most days around 4:30 am to go sit in LA traffic and be at work by 7. I grumbled, griped, and even promised to quit. I did not sign up to live my life in traffic no matter how much the overtime and mileage piled up.

But something interesting happened, over the weeks and months I just stopped complaining. I got used to the routine and my life sort of adjusted itself to the new schedule. I got to know my patients at the new location and even got to know the area a little. I had accepted the situation I was in and that seemed to make all the difference.

In my life of frugality so far I’ve learned that I can get used to just about any kind of lifestyle. If I didn’t have a car I’d adjust, if I had to make every single meal at home I’d adjust, if I had to work 12 hours a day 7 days a week to make the income I need to save adequately I know in my heart that I’d adjust. Unhappiness and uncomfortablitiy comes not from my circumstances. It comes from my thoughts about my circumstances, my attitude about where I’m at, and especially wanting to be somewhere other than right where I am.

When I get used to circumstances and accept them at face value I’m at peace.

Lesson #2: I Don’t Give a Rat’s Ass What People Think Anymore

Our Next Life made a point about social pressures that I love, “wealth is relative, and our perception of our own is extremely contextual, based largely on our surroundings.” The culture at my work is to eat every meal at the cafeteria, about $8-$10 per day. If my coworkers saw me eating Ramen for lunch everyday I can guarantee you they’d start teasing me. “Why are you eating that food what did you blow all your money on?” I can hear them chiming in already

The thing is, people’s approval of my lifestyle is not going to get me any extra happiness, fulfillment, or financial freedom. It’s another one of those things that goes into the “useless expenditure of brain space and effort” folder.

If I had to wear a banana costume everyday 24/7 to reach financial freedom I’d do it. The funny thing is, frugal people are sometimes treated like they’re constantly wearing a banana costume. Peers see us ride by on our electric bikes or in ripped thrift store jeans and they say look at the odd ball. I embrace that today because it probably means I’m getting further from traditional ideas of spending money and closer to the radical idea that one can build wealth at a young age.

Reader challenge: if I get 100 (unique) comments on this blog post I will wear a banana costume around town for one day. (DD here: we’ll need pictures once it happens!)

Lesson #3: I’d Rather Have the Walkaway Money

I think cheapskates and frugal people can admit that we lead fairly unique and atypical lives. Our methods range from just plain smart decisions to downright strange behavior. Not only do I know that I can get used to any lifestyle and that I don’t care what anyone thinks about it, but I know deeply that whatever I might go through to save money is easier than financial bondage.

I define financial bondage as not having the ability to make the decisions that are right for me because of money. If I have no money saved I’d have to stay working at a job I hate. If I’m worried about servicing my debt each month I won’t have space to go after the pursuits that give me joy but not money. I don’t think you can compare that type of hardship to eating Top Ramen, no matter how dramatic you are.

In a way having a fancy car or a big house represents for me the idea that I might always be bound to needing lots of money to be ok. I really want to stay as far away from that situation as humanly possible.

Borne out of my strange frugal ways has been the freedom of choice. I could quit my job tomorrow, move to Alaska, and not have to work for at least a year. If I had to buy a new car or I had to pay for my bachelors degree all in one payment with only cash I could.  How many young adults can say that? Mostly only banana costume people I’m guessing.

Embrace the Ramen

I’ve been living the savings life for about four years now and I’ve definitely gained some gems of wisdom. I’m not always going to save perfectly. I’m not always going to make great decisions. I’m not always going to feel ok but I will always BE ok. I have doubts, fears, and self-pity just like everyone but I’ve found that if I just do it anyway I grow.

More than anything I try to shed what other people say will fulfill me and get at the root of the thing. I have to say I’m the most fulfilled I’ve been in my life and I don’t have any of the things I thought one needed to be happy: a partner, a degree, a house, those awesome yoga pants.

That begs the question, if I can feel fulfilled and happy with or without, then how do I want to live so that I have the utmost freedom to choose my lifestyle in the future?

I think I’ll embrace the Ramen and be able to relax later.

32 comments… add one
  • Miss Mazuma Aug 10, 2016, 6:19 am

    Let’s get this banana suit challenge underway!

    I ate top ramen for awhile in my hippy days. After the Dead stopped touring I hate a slight quarter life crisis which catapulted me out of my hometown to the lovely city of Ashland OR so I could be with my people. This was around Y2K times when bottled water and duck tape were at an all time shortage and ramen was a delicacy to us 20 something kids with limited job options. Man, that was the life!!

    I have gotten over the critics of other people. This weekend I am camping in a tent on the floor of the hotel room my aunt and my 93 year old grandmother are staying in while we tour DC. Odd, yes. But it beats sleeping with either of them or worse – the alternative of paying $600 for my own room! Frugality at its finest. Though I don’t have to explain my choices to my grandmother (she lived though the depression for gods sake!), my friends at home think I’m nutty but I don’t care – I just keep on keeping on. Nobody is paying my bills but me. 😉

  • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 6:34 am

    Such a true statement: no one will pay my bills but me. That may be the one statement I need to explain frugality to all those nay-sayers in my life.

  • Distilled Dollar Aug 10, 2016, 6:45 am

    Excellent post! I knew it would be great when me and my girlfriend laughed out loud in the first paragraph. 🙂

    I agree with your approach to happiness – buying items typically adds to our current lifestyle, but it doesn’t necessarily remove the items causing stress and turmoil. The bandaid approach might make us feel better for a moment, but then we still need to tear it off.

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 6:30 pm

      Thanks so much for having me, Matt. It seems to me that anytime I’m trying to use a money bandaid that issue is still waiting for me when I’m ready to deal with it.

  • [email protected] Smarter Decisions Aug 10, 2016, 6:46 am

    Your avoiding the $8-10 a day at the cafeteria was totally me when I first started out. I worked at a jewelry store in the mall and all my co-workers would leave on break and come back with some food/drink from the food court and usually a bag from shopping somewhere! I’d bring my lunch from home and just walked during my breaks… Freaks – aren’t we? But I’m free now and wonder where they might be. Looking forward to the banana costume pics 🙂

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 6:33 pm

      Oh yes, if this actually happens there will be pictures. I would not deny you guys the pleasure.

      Whenever I think about having lunch at the place I work or just generally buying things I think about it as a trap that’s been set up for me. Anything convenient that I don’t really need to buy is a financial trap that’s been cleverly set up for me. If I resist the buy, I’m winning.

  • Preston @TheDrunkMillionaire Aug 10, 2016, 7:52 am

    Awesome post! I totally agree that the frugal lifestyle can be just as fulfilling as keeping up with the Jones’s. Although, I never quite got used to the Ramen diet in college. Kudos to you! 😉

  • Rudy Cakes Aug 10, 2016, 8:53 am

    Banana suit.

  • Mrs. Bitty Budget Aug 10, 2016, 10:48 am

    Great post! I think adaptability is especially important to living a life of contentment—what a fantastic lesson to communicate. You’re absolutely right: we can get used to so many things if we have a positive attitude and keep our eyes on the big picture. For me, I never thought I could live on a reduced income until, well, I had to live on it. Then it became second nature!

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 6:37 pm

      There’s nothing to push you along like lack of choice. I try to keep myself in that state. I pretend I have no choice but to spend less. I feel like that makes things easier.

  • Samantha Aug 10, 2016, 1:10 pm

    So true about how some people think you are strange for your frugal ways. Similar to your post about accidently revealing your plans to retire early, plenty of people give me a judgmental look about I plan on maxing out my 401k for the next year. Understandably, it’s a huge chunk of money, but at the same time, I’ve paid off about that much in debt this year, so I know that it is doable.

    In the end, do what’s best for you and don’t listen to the haters. Haters gonna hate. People doubt you because they had doubts about their actions but they don’t want to change or have to be in mild discomfort (at first! and then, yes, you adjust).

    Now wear that banana suit with pride!

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 6:40 pm

      There will always be haters out there. Whenever I talk about early retirement or my thoughts on owning property I’m met with opposition. People don’t want to believe its possible because that would disturb their held beliefs and many years of hard work in vain.

      Like most areas of my life, in my finances I just try to do me. I seem to be doing great so far.

  • Adam Aug 10, 2016, 5:29 pm

    Great post! I think I’ll have ramen tonight

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 6:41 pm

      I’m having it tonight for sure on graveyard shift. Tastes so good at 2am I don’t know why.

  • FinanceSuperhero Aug 10, 2016, 6:45 pm

    Very thoughtful ideas, Elsie! I identified with so much of the personal anecdotes you included. I went through similar feelings with the 2000 Mercury Sable that I drove back and forth to work everyday for several years. Fortunately, none of my colleagues actually said anything to me, but I could tell that they thought I was nuts for driving an older vehicle, even if it was in pretty good condition.

    I’m just as excited as everyone else about the banana costume. Do we get to count your comments? 🙂

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 10, 2016, 8:13 pm

      I’m planning on driving my little Honda Fit until the wheels fall off. I’m sure at some point my coworkers will give me looks too. They already sort of do because I don’t wash it. I just feel like there are far more productive things I could do with the time and water 😂

      I’m holding Matt responsible for the final comment count. He said he could tell fairly easily how many there are. We still have a long way to go though!

  • Chris @ Keep Thrifty Aug 10, 2016, 9:20 pm

    I’ll keep the comments coming. C’mon Banana Suit!

    I love the “I’m still OK” attitude here – reminds me of a quote from Seneca:

    Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”

    When it really comes down to it, we’re convinced of our need of many things that we don’t actually *need*. Once we try going without we often find that we’re still ok 🙂

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 11, 2016, 4:39 am

      Couldn’t have said that better myself! I think most of the time what we fear is fear itself. We think when something bad happens or we are in a tough situation that we will not be ok. The truth is that we are almost always ok, even when bad things are going on. The better part of the discomfort we experience comes from our fear of the future.

      It seems like whenever I sit back and ask myself “Am I ok?” the answer is always yes. Thanks for dropping in Chris!

  • Jon @ Be Net Worthy Aug 11, 2016, 4:57 am

    I’ll contribute to the banana suit challenge!

    A very inspirational post and it takes me back to my college days when I ate A LOT of ramen! I’m certainly not as frugal as I used to be, but I do my best. I remember the guys at the office used to make fun of me for wearing Kirkland brand jeans, Costco’s store-brand, because they were cheap!

    Keep up the good work!

  • Mrs. CTC Aug 11, 2016, 7:29 am

    Good stuff and well written!

    “I know deeply that whatever I might go through to save money is easier than financial bondage.”

    This pretty much sums up what keeps me going. Living frugal is still the best alternative because of this conviction.

  • Gail @NextGenTrust Aug 11, 2016, 7:47 am

    Very familiar with the Ramen diet! My Ramen has transformed into potatoes lately – still inexpensive and filling! Fully embracing my potato life for financial freedom =)

    Also, can’t wait to see the banana suit =)

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 12, 2016, 1:17 pm

      I’m not sure if I’m lucky or unlucky, but I generally dislike potatoes. Unless they’re fried. I can deal with that.

  • [email protected] Aug 13, 2016, 3:26 am

    We don’t have Top Ramen here in the UK, but Pot Noodles would probably be my student equivalent! Agree that we get used to a routine more quickly than we think (not always a good thing), also that I need reminding to care a bit less what others think – so, please, inspire us all with that banana suit!

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 13, 2016, 1:23 pm

      I’m going to rock the banana suit! I need to get used to being the odd ball because I think early retirees are odd balls too!

      I’ve never been to the UK but I’m sure I’ll visit soon and enjoy these pot noodles you speak of.

  • FinanciaLibre Aug 13, 2016, 8:45 am

    A great article, and I especially like your definition of “financial bondage.” Clever.

    Though I suspect you’ll look somewhat less than clever in your banana suit…looks like you’re on your way to 100 comments!

    Thanks for the inspiring post.

  • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 13, 2016, 1:25 pm

    Thanks FinanciaLibre. I think I’ll look pretty cute in the suit although I may have to go to school that day. Hard to say whether I’d be thrown out of class. You can’t really study seriously in a big yellow costume.

  • Dave @ AffordEverything.com Aug 15, 2016, 3:36 pm

    I too, was once on the dreaded ramen noodle diet, I remember those days well, lol! We used to “soup” them up with cheese and tobasco. Eventually my frugality helped me to get ahead of the curve in finance.

    • Elsie @ Gundomoney Aug 15, 2016, 8:56 pm

      I have to say if nothing else eating ramen teaches you to dress up a meal. It’s a pretty versatile food considering how cheap it is. I wish I was a better cook, I’d save even more money.

  • Frugal Rossi Dec 20, 2016, 1:23 pm

    I’m down for the banana suit challenge! Great article, I agree entirely 🙂

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