Frugal Living & Thrifty Ideas

Why is frugality so out of fashion?

Frugality has fallen terribly out of fashion at the moment. Maybe it’s where I live, maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my workplace- but I rarely hear frugality being talked about in a positive light (outside of supportive online forums of course). In fact, we seem to have entered an age of what I call “glorified credit”- an age where being terrible with money, where spending every cent you make, where living paycheck to paycheck despite a steady salary, is like some clever joke that everyone laughs about.

People seem to think that being frugal is defined by all the things you can’t do. You “can’t” go out to eat,  you “can’t” buy something just because you want it, you “can’t” go over budget. But frugality in itself is neither virtuous or evil, it’s what you choose to do with the effects of your frugality that defines your relationship to money- and in many ways to the world around us (since ours is a capitalist world).

Imagine that you tell a lifelong smoker that they should quit smoking. To the smoker, you are telling them that they can no longer do something they enjoy. They will think of all the times they have enjoyed having a cigarette, how cigarettes have helped them be more social, and how all of those many little relaxing moments will no longer exist if they stop smoking. What they aren’t thinking about is all the positive things they will gain from no longer smoking, all the massive health benefits, not to mention benefits to their own appearance (and odor), and all the other healthy activities they may enjoy once they quit. Even if they intellectually know the benefits of being a non-smoker, they still don’t truly realize it- because they have an addiction.

Chronic spenders are the same way. They see spending as something that helps them have fun, that defines a part of their life. They imagine a word without mindless spending (although most of them don’t even realize how mindless their spending is) to be a world without fun, without a social life, without accomplishment or enjoyment. These big spenders may even intellectually realize that saving money is a good thing, and that having credit card debt is bad- but they can’t seem to separate the idea that spending money is necessary to enjoying life.

Frugal people, like myself, are often laughed at a bit- if not simply thought to be strange. I am sure there are people in my life who wonder why I don’t live in a more fashionable neighborhood, why I don’t have a more “decorated” apartment, or why I haven’t traveled more extensively. I’ve had many people ask why I bring my lunch to work, and several comments have been made about the lack of variety in my footwear. These same people who gently poke fun at me also make comments about being in debt, about barely making it until their next paycheck, about wishing that someday they could retire. In the same breath that they complain about not having enough money, they gush over their new leased cars, or their latest fashionable purchase. “Why not spend it today?” seems to be the modern mantra.

What these spenders don’t realize is that just because I’m frugal, doesn’t mean I’m not using my money for something. I may not buy designer handbags, but I do buy investments. I may not shop online for the latest housewares, but I do get great enjoyment from checking the balances on my various accounts- and watching them grow! I’m not just hoarding my money for no reason, I’m using it to buy myself freedom. That’s the key thing that separates spenders from frugal folks- the concept that money can be used not just for consumer goods (that depreciate in value), but that it can be used to buy your time and to literally give you a better quality of life (not a perceived better quality of life that commercial goods promise).

A handbag isn’t going to give me peace of mind. But knowing that if I got fired tomorrow, I could support myself for over a year- that’s true peace of mind. A new kitchen won’t actually change my life, but a high enough savings rate can result in early retirement- which is definitely life changing (I save about 54% of my income a year).

I can literally trade my money for consumer goods, or my own free time and peace of mind- in short, my life. I can spend today, and retire at 65 (if I’m lucky). Or I can save most of my income today, and be financially independent in my 30s or 40s- free to do whatever I choose. My life is unbelievably luxurious, I still go out with friends, I have the best boyfriend ever and the best kitty ever, I have a wonderful place to live, I work out, and I eat delicious food, I watch movies, I go to classes to try new things. The exaggeration of how deprived you have to be to save money only exists because our standard of living as a country is growing exponentially (even the size of houses, for families with the same number of people, keep getting bigger and bigger). What we consider “necessary” as a culture keeps growing, so people assume that frugality means some sparse sad existence.

In reality, I’m just living more like someone in the 1950s (with a couple added technological tools from today, like a laptop and a great smart tv that plays netflix). I saved up for a month before buying my new couch (I don’t ever rely on credit), and I won’t replace it until it no longer functions- even if the style goes a bit out of fashion. I don’t upgrade things for the sake of upgrading them- I use everything until it truly can’t be fixed, and then I do research to find the best possible replacement (both in terms of cost and longevity). I try to do things myself, I make all our food from scratch, and I buy things for their quality rather than their status.

I’m happy saving, I’m happy living my frugal life, and I’ll be happy when I leave work for the last time- hopefully wearing the same pair of sturdy leather shoes that I’m wearing now.

How do people respond to your frugal ways?

6 thoughts on “Why is frugality so out of fashion?

  1. Everyone in my office gave me a hard time when I started talking about minimalism, about a year ago. Now a lot of them are trying to follow my example. People who don’t know me look at me sideways sometimes, like when I pull out my notebook for recording a grocery’s prices for future reference. I’m comfortable enough in my stride against the mainstream to not care what they think.

  2. I try to live according to what works for me and three girls.People may think it is a strange way to live. We have cloth toilet paper. I use the clay pots with candles to help warm the room, etc. I had a friend over helping shovel the huge amount of snow we had gotten, and the kids were playing in the yard. He mentioned how happy my girls are. You can see a bond between us, respect for each other and we choose to live very simply. We do not own a t.v. We have a computer and they each have an I-pod. That is it. I want to show them that you cannot buy happiness. It is not in a brand new pair of shoes, unless you really need them. We would rather save our money for a family swim night. We all wear hand -me -downs and we are okay with that.I want to teach them the value of life in in helping others, making the best of what you have and being healthy. To me that is the bottom line. Sickness just does not strike the simple and frugal. and all the fancy clothes and new products will not save you. Less stress in a simple life, and better prepared for the future when something does need attention.

  3. I’ve been working on myself now for a while. I’m getting there slowly but surely. I do not use shopping as a form entertainment and I do not buy designer clothes. I do like to travel but I travel on a budget.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this – I rarely talk about being frugal to my friends and family because of the denigrating comments I tend to get. When I have spoken about it to certain friends in the past it has been because they’ve been in financial trouble and I thought my experience might be able to help them. Frankly, it hasn’t – they seem to almost purposely “misunderstand” basic concepts, and cannot seem to grasp that blowing money on a daily basis can add up to startling amounts over time. At the same time, they tend to mildly mock me.

    When one friend lost her job, I felt for certain she’d want to get serious and ask me how to get by frugally; money was tight for them before this and I’d tried to help them in the past by showing them how to use coupons, shop sales, etc. Instead, she was more interested in what I might have in my freezer that I could give her family to get by. When they found out that they qualified for food stamps, the husband, who only worked part time, crowed, “Finally, we’re going to be getting ours.”

    I truly believe I live very well on very little, but it does take time, planning and effort. I guess there are those who feel it is worthwhile to buckle down and make an effort and those who are always going to be blaming someone else, feeling sorry for themselves, or expecting something from someone else. Remember the story of the Grasshopper and the Ant…

    I, too, eat very well, but frugally, and I walk with neighbors and my dog on an almost daily basis, have a wonderful cat, take classes (I’ve taken, recently, a number of free classes with Coursera) and I also listen to great music at the number of free outdoor concerts available in Minnesota in the summer or the indoor ones in the winter. I like to drop in on some of the free college lectures or exhibits put on by our University when one interests me. I watch movies at home on Netflix with friends and movies out at the “Dollar” Theater (which costs $2.00, except on Tuesdays when it actually IS a dollar) or perhaps I’ll go to the matinee, which is always cheaper, and I think I live a lovely life (although not without it’s own worries.)

    Living frugally has enriched my life in so many ways! I’ve had to get creative in so many areas! I’ve learned new skills as I’ve figured out how to do things around the house instead of paying others. I found I simply love tiling, for instance! I’ve also found a rather Zen appreciation for many of the more mundane things that need to be done, but that I don’t necessarily like as much, and a feeling of pride for my accomplishments. I can reset a toilet, fix drywall, replace a light – but my friends and family, instead of encouraging me, started making Lesbian jokes…which I’m not, but if I were, I’d be a proud one!

    Of interest, I have one family member who has done very well for himself, and that is the one person who applauds my efforts! I truly felt that my experience, shared, might help someone, especially my adult daughter and others like her, and that is why I started my blog. I may not be able to help MY friends and family, but just perhaps, something I share might help someone else. The only people who know I have a blog on shopping and eating frugally are my immediate family and one very close friend.

    I guess your post really opened up a floodgate here! I guess I’ll have to say that I’m frugal and proud of it…but I wish I COULD get through to others, and I wish my friends and family were prouder of my accomplishments!

    1. Frugal Hausfrau, I know exactly what you mean. Most of my frugal support comes from online communities, not people in real life. I think talking about frugality makes non-frugal people feel guilty (and then angry) about what they aren’t doing to help themselves, so rather than put in the effort to try it and see if it works- they mock it, explain it away, or claim it wouldn’t make a difference to them. I like to use the 10 or 20 year example in conversation when this flippant behavior happens. I was talking about how not having cable saves me a lot of money recently and a coworker said, well it’s only $120 a month so it’s not a big difference. I just nodded and said, “but over 20 years that’s over $28,000 spent”. This seems to have some moderate success (not always), but I think most people honestly never run the numbers on their budgets, they don’t even know how much they spend on different things. I know what you mean about wanting to get through to others, their lives could be so much easier and less stressful but all they can see is the small amount of work involved and having to face up to their bad spending habits. You should be really proud, you’re much handier than I am- I’d be really interested to see some DIY posts from you, especially on how to tile!

      1. I’ve used the “money over time” examples, too. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how things add up. Can you imagine how much that 28 thousand would be over the 20 year period if properly invested?

        I’m visiting my daughter’s family right now (new twins) and she has direct tv – I realized how much I DO miss the Food Network – but I also realized how nice it is not to be bombarded with commercials and how much awful programming is out there. I’m glad you used that example as it will keep me strong when I get home and now I won’t be tempted to add it back into my phone package!

        My gosh, don’t even get me going about ppl who buy lottery tickets!

        It might be fun to expand and do some diy posts! I did make a small modification to a kitchen cupboard which was simple and one of the best things I’ve ever done to my house – it saves me so much time every time cook – the instructions aren’t really detailed but the finished “product” is shown!

        And thanks, too, for your encouraging words!!

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