4 Frugal Habits We Can Learn From People with Autism

It has been almost one year since I wrote about the advantages of autism on personal finance. That post turned out to be immensely popular, so I thought I would write another one, also focusing on the positive aspects of an autistic-inclined mind, rather than the negative ones.

I was diagnosed with autism as an adult. My more energetic older brother and my largely female-manifesting autism (watches people, emulates behaviour and speech patterns of others) meant that rather quiet and introverted me was able to pass in most instances during childhood. Even though I was considered eccentric, introverted and a book worm at best (and a snow queen in junior high, but that is another story).

If you are curious of some of the ways autism may manifest different in females, here are some resources:

With that aside, here are some awesome tips we can take from autistic people which can increase your own frugality.

People with autism are, as a generalization, fond of routine, habits and predictability. We dress for comfort rather than looks, and we can be ridiculously disinterested in what most people consider “pop culture”. This helps guard us against peer pressure, but can also lead to poor money and health choices if we are not careful.

1. If you love it, buy two (or three)

This might seem counterintuitive on a post focused on frugal habits, but trust me on this one.

On the rare occasion that I find a garment that I really like, I buy two, at least. I probably should buy more, because my two beloved, soft, charcoal turtleneck sweaters are wearing thin at the elbows and are getting holes everywhere. I would live in those things if I wasn’t so aware that wearing the same thing to work every day is socially unacceptable for women (ballooey).

But those two sweaters bring me joy. They are comfortable and appropriate, and as long as I have them, I have no desire to go look for other sweaters.

So much like how Marie Kondo is trending this season – if it brings you joy, buy several so you don’t need to go shopping again when the old one wears out. It can be terribly easy to grab a few more items when we are in a shop, so staying out will help you save that cash.

On that note, stuff trends

My aforementioned beloved sweaters are so simple they can easily pass for timeless. That is another advantage. If you dress for comfort and classic style, you can afford to spend a little more on quality fabrics that last longer. Consider natural fibers that smell less and do not release microplastics when washed.

Remove yourself from anyone or anything that triggers peer pressure in you. You don’t need the latest top, or the latest color. Just get clothes that you like and feel comfortable in.

2. Use your stuff to the bone

I mentioned that people with autism are people of habit, right? That doesn’t just go for clothes. I have seen many stories of parents of autistic children who empty the shelves at their local mall if they find a pair of shoes their child will wear (get all the sizes!) or a toy they will have a meltdown without.

Many of my clothes are sorely in need of a change by now. But I don’t want to let them go. They are comfortable, in a neutral color, soft after many times in the washing machine and by gob, I do not want to enter a noisy, blinking, sensory-overload-inducing mall if I can avoid it.

But also think about the economic and environmental impacts of wearing out your stuff. If we use clothes as an example again, many of us buy ourselves free of guilt by donating barely used clothes when we splurge on new ones. But Africa doesn’t want your used clothes!

Far better for everyone if each garment had only one or two owners before it was completely worn out. It would mean less fossil fuel in the transportation of the garment, less energy in producing garments because we buy less and buy quality – and if we do, perhaps we could afford quality garments that last longer and aren’t produced in sweatshops and slavery-like conditions? Perhaps there’s a local, or atleast national creator you could support with your money?

3. Ignore trends

If you’ve ever met or interacted with an person with autism, you might have noticed that in addition to being creatures of habit and often hyperfocused on our interest – we also couldn’t give a rat’s ass about this season’s colours, that new ceramic knife or matching out curtains to our pillows.

Unless interior design just so happens to be an autistic person’s big interest in life, we just don’t care what’s “in” from one year to the next. And neither should you!

Just like I urge you to use your stuff to the bone, I also urge you to keep your furniture, kitchenware and car and everything else for as long as possible. Every time we sell, donate or give something away, we are increasing the risk of it ending up on the landfill. Would you be as careful with a free table as with a $2000, after all (do $2000 tables even exist? I’m sure they do)? Every time something travels further down the ownership ladder from when it was new, it is one step closer to the landfill.

Just like with used clothes – save the transportation cost and energy consumption and keep your stuff for as long as possible. Moving across the country/world is an obvious exception, but a lot of us don’t do that too often.

Is your chair the most comfortable chair in the world, but terribly unfashionable? Keep that chair. You could reupholster it if you like, but don’t throw out comfort for appearances.

4. Feed the creature of habit

No post about frugality would be complete without addressing the ever present challenge of food.

People with autism can have many challenges revolving food. It can be texture based, spice based, or maybe an obsession with only eating individual ingredients without mixing them. But there’s always some foods that are on the “good” list, and you’d do well to keep those in the house.

Similarly, we can all learn a couple of frugal dishes and make them at least once or twice a week. They may not be the dish you’re most excited about, but if you always have ingredients for a few basic dishes, you know you can’t really use the excuse that we have “nothing to eat” when you head to the grocery shop – again – on a day you weren’t really supposed to go shopping.

In addition to the ingredients listed in the link above to our frugal pantry, I also always have popcorn kernels. They may not be chips, but if that salt craving is there they sure are a whole lot cheaper and take up less space in my cupboard. They’re not the worst of snacks either.

By keeping staples you always have something to eat. Be that ingredients for PB&J sandwiches or rice and beans. You know best what fits your family and lifestyle. But keep that creature of habit happy by lining the cupboards with a few things you know you will eat without running down to the supermarket.

So if you too, are a creature of habit – there is no reason to be ashamed! It is a shameless superpower! Solve that jigsaw puzzle again, use that old sweater until it falls apart. Your wallet and the environment will thank you.

4 Comments on “4 Frugal Habits We Can Learn From People with Autism

  1. Wow, I never realised that the characteristics of autism could be beneficial for being frugal! I recognise a lot of those traits in myself even though I’m not autistic, and you’re right that they help with being frugal (e.g. total disinterest in current fashion trends). I suspect you’re the first person in the FIRE community to write about the relationship between autism and FIRE. Well done on coming up with such an original article!

    • Haha, thanks. It isn’t such a big topic. But it is nice to be a part of the larger choir who is showing that the financial independence community is large and diverse. The middle aged white tech dude stereotype is so outdated!

  2. Pingback: Four Frugal Habits We Can Learn From People With Autism ⋆ Camp FIRE Finance

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