Confession: I’m Not Frugal


I probably read 200 blog posts a week that reference frugality. How to save on groceries. How to make your own laundry detergent. How to reuse everything from old sweaters to rotten carrots. And while I’m always amazed by the ways people find to save money, I’m not a frugal person.

I’m a pack-a-day smoker. An avid purchaser of gadgets. A spendaholic in remission. None of these qualities are synonymous with frugality.

Do I turn in my PF blogger card now, or should I wait for it to be taken by brute force? :)

There’s nothing WRONG with being frugal. In fact, if you’re struggling with debt, it probably wouldn’t hurt to look at a few ways to hold onto more money. I’m in debt and it definitely wouldn’t hurt me! Personally, though, frugality isn’t high on my priority list.

I do frugal things! Sometimes!

I don’t consider myself frugal, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done frugal things. When I shop (rare for me these days), I shop sales. I also buy cheaper clothing in general - no more Banana Republic for me when Old Navy is so much more affordable.

I have also managed to cut my restaurant spending tremendously in the past few months, using a goofy point system I made up myself. This has had a huge impact on my finances. In the spring, I was spending anywhere from $150-$250 a month dining out. In September, I spent $61.

After some aggravation with my cable service last month, I decided to cut off my cable. The cost to keep my internet access is $65 a month, a savings of $50 from the $115 I was paying before. And as a bonus, a glitch in Comcast’s system (which they are aware of but can’t fix without rebuilding the infrastructure in my area) allowed me to keep ALL my cable channels! Basically, I saved $50 a month and didn’t even give up anything.

Frugal? Or just less wasteful?

When I look at the three examples I just listed, none of those things really strike me as being frugal. I mean, technically they are, but not really. None of those things involved a lot of sacrifice on my part - I just cut back on some of the stupid spending that sucked my bank account dry every month.

If I was really going to be frugal, I wouldn’t set foot in Old Navy - I’d be shopping yard sales, friends’ closets, and consignment stores. (I do all those things, though not regularly enough to count.) I wouldn’t go to restaurants; I would stretch a tiny food budget to make multiple homecooked meals throughout the week. And I wouldn’t have cable OR internet at home. That’s what I think of when I think “frugal.”

“Frugal” conjures bad images in my head.

Despite the fact that I know how to be frugal, I still can’t get into frugality as a lifestyle like many people do.

I know I could save $10 a year or so by unplugging my TV when it’s not in use. I could save probably $80 a year if I made my own laundry detergent. And I might save a gallon of gas a month by driving 5 MPH slower on my way to work. (I totally made up all these numbers, by the way.)

When I think of being frugal, though, I have this mental picture of a little bitty hamster running on a human-sized treadmill. It seems SO POINTLESS to put forth all that effort for savings that don’t really amount to much. For me, the time it takes to shave a bar of soap with a cheese grater (necessary for making laundry detergent) or make a pillow out of an old sweatshirt could be better spent doing something else.

I can’t help it - I feel like all that stuff is a waste of time. For me, anyway.

If I can save $50 or $100 a month, I’m all for it. But the piddly stuff that saves a few dollars here and there? I can’t make myself do it.

Defending frugality, even though I don’t love it.

There’s one big reason why I’ve never jumped on the frugal bandwagon - I’ve never had to.

I don’t believe people are born pinching every penny. Usually, those habits form out of necessity - growing up on a very limited budget, for example. A job loss. A death in the family. Being raised by frugal parents (or very irresponsible parents, in some cases).

Look, I’m fortunate to be able to pay my bills, pay down my debt, and have a lot of the things I want. I know many people who can’t say that. Could I turn minimalist/frugal and pay off my debt even faster? You bet I could. But I’m not willing to do that unless there’s no other way to make it. And I’m grateful to have that choice.

Families who struggle financially - truly struggle, not just because they do stupid stuff like I did do - don’t latch on to frugality because it’s trendy. They do it because it’s NECESSARY. And there are stories all over the internet of people who have achieved amazing things by drastically cutting their spending. I may run screaming from the word “frugal” in my own life, but that’s because I’m spoiled. Even when I talk about being broke, I try to remember that there are people who would love to be as “broke” as I am.

I mentioned before how many blog posts I see about ways to be frugal. I may not choose to apply that knowledge in my own life, but I read every single one of those posts and file the information for future reference.

Why? Because I could easily find myself in a situation where frugality ISN’T a choice someday. And I never let myself forget that, no matter how much I hope it never happens.

What do YOU think?

Are you a frugal person? Or, like me, do you cringe every time you hear the word? How do you think your ideas about being frugal (or un-frugal) developed?

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  • Niki

    I love this because I consider myself frugal to a degree. I’m not frugal to save money, I’m frugal when I like being frugal. Like making Halloween costumes or doing DIY. I like doing these things not because they save money but because they do give me a sense of purpose (when I read this it kind of sounds lame, oh well) and I am pretty good at it. If I can say that about myself.

    I do make our laundry detergent and we did cut cable. Yes, I know these things are considered frugal, but the laundry detergent was kind of a fun experiment and our cable was not worth paying for (no good channels, we live in the middle of nowhere) But I don’t unplug my cell phone charger (mostly because I forget) and I don’t buy clothes in thrift stores ( I already hate shopping, thrift stores just seem to make it worse) I like being frugal when it makes me happy.

    Now as I write this it makes it sound like my frugality come from boredom. Maybe I should get a job. :)

  • April Stotler

    Its like this: There is a difference in my head between Frugal and Extreme Cheapness. Frugal is going to the cute consignment stores for my designer jeans that I like. (Why you cost an arm and a leg Tommy Hilfiger?) I can get a 50-80 dollar pair of jeans for around 20. Extreme Cheapness is making your own clothes. You might spend the same 20 dollars…but then think also of all the labor you put into create that clothing? Frugal is saying on Saturdays and Sundays I’ll buy some food from a grocery store and make lunch instead of going to the local eateries on my lunch break. Extreme Cheapness is making 20 lbs of beans and then only eating beans for a month. Both will feed me and the beans are cheaper but they aren’t going to make me happy/ satisfy me the way that the canned soup and crackers will.

    I know that there are people where I go to school that don’t understand why I make my own hot tea in the morning and keep a picnic thermos for refills in my car instead of just buying the 4-5 dollar cup from the local cafe on campus. To them, that’s Extreme Cheapness instead of Frugal-ness. I think saving the 20 dollars and spending them on new bum covers of the Hilfiger variety makes up for it. We all have our level and that’s ok. Just as long as a person understands why they are spending their money, has the money to do it without taking food from their mouth and is responsible, I think its fine.

  • Jason@LiveRealNow

    Comcast gave me free cable because of the same glitch.

    Then they updated the infrastructure. :(

  • Miss T

    Excellent post. I am with you. I am frugal sometimes and I do try to save money and generate less waste. However I do also like to spend money on good quality items and experiences. If I didn’t spend on these things I wouldn’t enjoy my life very much. Many people define frugal differently, but to me, it is about spending on what matters to you and skimping on what doesn’t.

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I like that definition! That makes much more sense to me than the sense of “You can’t have anything. Ever. Unless it’s made from your dogs’ hair and costs ten cents a year over 400 years.”

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Luckily I don’t see my area getting an update anytime soon. (I live in the middle of nowhere. We just got 3G phone service over the summer, and only in certain areas.) But I really don’t mind - I very rarely watch TV, and when I do it’s usually Netflix. But my son may have a nervous breakdown when that day comes.

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Those are great examples! I guess it’s just a difference in terms - the things you defined as “extreme cheapness” are what I think of when I think frugal. And the things you said were frugal are what I would consider normal. I think we all do things that other people wouldn’t - I change my own oil most of the time, for example, because it seems silly to pay someone when I can do it myself. A lot of people would think I was nuts. But I would rather be shot than try to make my own clothes (much less wear them out in public).

    Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    You do some awesome frugal things, Niki - I love your posts about the things you make! In your case it seems different; probably because you’re not that way about EVERYTHING. Choosing to be frugal in the ways that make you happy is a good way to look at it. Totally stealing that idea at some point in the future. :)

  • Miss JJ

    I consider myself frugal. However, due to cultural differences, we probably have different frugal opportunities (thrifting, what is that?)

    My motivation comes not so much from immediate need. However, I would like to change my job for a lower paying and less stressful one. Maybe even retire early. Frugality certainly helps. I too certainly don’t want to be in a situation when I have no choice in the matter.

    - Miss JJ

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Now that’s a teaser comment if I ever read one! :) I hope you’ll tell us more about opportunities where you live.

  • Miss JJ

    Haha, didn’t mean to tease. I am Singaporean, and it was not so long ago that we were still a developing country. People are still getting used to the good life, so no one wants old stuff. Craigslist? Nope. Free cycle? Nope. Coupon clipping? Nope, we don’t get coupons, but we have traditional markets, where things are fresher and cheaper. Probably equivalent to your ethnic grocery stores.

    Conversely, central hvac for homes? Nope, don’t have that.I don’t quite understand the practice of keeping the house cooled when no one is home. Most homes don’t have dishwashers or dryers either. Paper towels? Most of us use cloth towels. When I see these on us/canada centric frugality blogs as money saving tips, it feels a little surreal since it is already a way of life for us. 

    - Miss JJ

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    That is so interesting. Thanks for sharing! As far as cooling the house goes, where I live, if I don’t run the air conditioner while I’m gone, it would take hours and hours to cool the house back down in the summer. With high temps around 100 F, it would be miserable to come home to a 90-degree house. Also, it actually uses more electricity to turn it on and off than to just let it kick on periodically to maintain the temperature.

  • Kevin McKee

    I’m not frugal either. Not by a long shot. I don’t work my ass off so I can live like I’m poor. Frugality is great for some people. Just not for you or me! :)

  • JT

    Frugal takes too much work, and I’m lazy. The way I see it is that I don’t like doing things I don’t like. So, if I can make money doing something I like to pay for something I don’t like, then I’ve created a much better outcome-even if I don’t earn a “frugal” label.

  • TeacHer

    I’m definitely not frugal. I’m a conscious spender, meaning I spend on the things that are important to me and I don’t think I straight out waste money, but I’m definitely not a rice and beans kind of person. I don’t analyze my spending and flip out because I’ve gotten three lattes last month when coffee at home is cheaper. As long as I’m saving and not getting into cc debt again, I really don’t care.

    I think there are a lot of people out there who really enjoy being frugal. I’m just not one of them :)

  • 20′s Finances

    Being frugal has been the only way that I survive… at least so far. Things are changing soon with my wife’s promotion, but you do what you have to to get by. Since i have been frugal since college, I will probably stay this way and retire early. can’t beat that…

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    If you develop those habits early on, I definitely think you’re in a good position to retire early. I look forward to reading about your progress!

  • Squirrelers

    Hey, we’re all different. No need to turn in that personal finance blogger card because you’re not making your own paper towels or laundry detergent! Frankly, I never understood the obsession of making household products to save a few cents or a dollar or two. Time and effort aren’t free.

    And actually, the examples you gave above about Banana Republic/Old Navy and dining out seem to indicate that you make very responsible choices anyway. It’s all good.

  • Carrie Starr

    I definitely consider myself frugal- though I am far from a zealot. I’ve never made my own laundry detergent and I can’t stand coupons. I’m pretty sure my passion for spending less than I make comes from my childhood experience. Growing up in a low-income, single parent household, we were always pinching pennies. If something broke, we didn’t fix it. We went without. If we needed clothes, we went to the Salvation Army. If we couldn’t afford it, we didn’t buy it. Period. That is engrained in my psyche. The challenge for me now is to continue living frugally even though I CAN afford to spend more. By living simply and consciously spending less, we are able to save toward big things that are important to us. But it definitely takes self-control to say “no” when you know you could say “yes!”

  • Red

    I consider myself semi-frugal. I make my own laundry detergent and am looking forward to making my own foaming soap for dish washing when we run out of what we already have. I made my own laundry detergent before determining the cost benefit, however. I just like being able to make more of my own products at home for environmental reasons. If they end up saving money too, well that’s just more incentive to keep doing it.

  • Sandy - yesiamcheap

    People hear frugal and think that they have to so to the other end of the spectrum from spending. Not so! As with anything there are degrees to everything. For some people it might be using the occasional coupon, for others it’s EXTREME couponing. As long as you make a conscious decision to spend as you do, it’s all good.

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  • Audrey @ Mom Drop Box

    I do try to be frugal on the things that don’t matter to me- for example, if I can’t tell the difference between buying generic versus buying a name brand product, I buy generic. I do the ‘frugal’ things that I can comfortably do to give that money back to my family so that we can put it to good use.

  • Lindy Mint

    My whole aim in life is to find ways to save (or be frugal) that don’t require much effort on my part. Like you, I’ve never had to be frugal for my budget. If I were more so, we might meet our savings goals faster, but in the end I haven’t been willing to make the sacrifice. Some people enjoy it, as if it’s part of their nature. But some of us have to work a little harder.

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  • hereverycentcounts

    Don’t hand in your PF card. The PF blogosphere needs more non frugal bloggers. While frugal works for some people, for most of us, we splurge, we spend, we save. We aren’t perfect money wise. The world needs more bloggers like you!

  • Rachel Jonat

    Confession: I’m not frugal either.

    We just paid of $82,000 in consumer debt and student loans and we did it without cutting coupons. Why? Probably because, like you said, we didn’t have to. We still had good income and while I slowly cut a lot of spending, bills and we even sold our car, I just couldn’t make myself buy the super cheap rotting vegetables and cut the mold off. I didn’t have to to survive and and I didn’t want to.

    I also think that my non-buying ways (I’m all about moderate minimalism and owning less stuff) allow me to not feel guilty about buying over-priced strawberries and not clipping coupons. Work with your strengths, I say. If that’s cutting the cable instead of living on rice and beans, so be it.