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Is Frugality a Way of Life, a Game, or a Necessity?

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I consider myself a frugal person. I try not to waste time, energy, money, or other resources because I know that everything we have on this earth is limited and I don’t want to waste it. But I’m also not so jaded that I think everyone else feels that way.

Reasons for living frugally

I was thinking about frugal living the other day and it struck that people are frugal for different reasons. For some people, such as myself, frugality is a voluntary way of life. However, people are motivated by different things. For some people, frugality is a game – a way to beat the system to find the cheapest deal possible. For others, frugality is a necessity. The need to save money stems from the need to put food on their table and have a roof over their head. There is no right or wrong for any of these motivating factors, but I thought I would examine them to learn more about myself and my motivations.

Frugality is a way of life. In many cases I can afford to spend more money on certain things, but I choose not to. Instead, I prefer to seek out deals, find ways to earn more money, or do without expensive luxuries if I don’t need them. This extends into other aspects of my life as well. I try to conserve electricity and other resources, recycle waste, and in general consume less. In fact, I think conservation and frugal living have a lot in common.

For some people frugality is a game. There are many people who treat saving money as a game. Google the term “coupon game” or “grocery store game” and you will find multiple websites with tips on how to best use coupons for making strategic money saving purchases. There is nothing wrong with finding ways to save a lot of money, and turning it into a game can make it fun and more rewarding. However, this can be detrimental when one unnecessarily spends money buying things they don’t need in order to “save money,” or if they spend too much time trying to find methods of saving a few cents. There is a definite ROI factor when playing this game.

For others, frugal living is a necessity. Finally, some people have no choice but to be frugal. I understand this completely. I have gone several months between jobs before, and I know it is not fun. I had enough money in my emergency fund to hold me over and I had income from unemployment insurance, but I didn’t have spare money lying around either. Every monetary decision I made was based on whether or not it was the most frugal option available to me.

So my question to you today is this: Are you a frugal person, and if so, what is your motive? Is frugality a way of life for you, is it a game, or is it a necessity? Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, but I am curious to read your responses. :)

Reader Poll: What is your motivation for being frugal?

  • All of the above. (35%, 310 Votes)
  • Being frugal is a necessity. (29%, 256 Votes)
  • Being frugal is a way of life. (26%, 229 Votes)
  • Being frugal is a game. (10%, 101 Votes)

Total Voters: 896 (poll closed – thanks for participating!)


Published or updated April 7, 2011.
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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily

It’s hard to understand people who, in this economy, are NOT frugal. The future’s pretty uncertain, and you don’t have to look far to see someone who had it made and now has a heap of problems (can Ed McMahon please raise his hand?).

And, on a personal note, it’s very hard to watch people who were once frugal become “entitled”. I mean, you had this amazing set of skills, growing your own produce, shopping with coupons, reusing everything, and then you throw those skills away because suddenly you have too much money? Somehow, that’s the saddest thing to watch.

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2 Karen

For me, it’s a little bit of all of those things. We could probably afford to spend more money than we do, but we’re just starting out, so if we want to be able to pay our bills AND save for our goals, we kind of have to be frugal. It can also be a fun game to try to get the best deals and see how little we can spend. So, yeah, definitely all three.

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3 eric

I do it because I don’t want to add to the statistics of our nations Lowest savings rate since the depression. I do it because I want to accumulate wealth and not be like my father who, at 53 years of age can’t come to see his grandson because he has to work in order to pay his bills and does not get much vacation time. I do it because I don’t need to spend wildly and keep up with my neighbors.

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4 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

For me, it’s just the way I’m bent. I splurge here and there, but I can’t stand waste and I love figuring out the best deal available on something I have to buy.

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5 James@Capital Couples Finance.com

I have a few motivations: a baby on the way, plenty of debt, and I want to afford to retire comfortably.

The other big thing is I just don’t like to waste money. Since I’ve really started looking at my finances, I’ve just realized how much I was throwing away for no reason. What a waste!

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6 Emily

It’s definitely a way of life. As I grow and learn and change and my financial picture changes, I don’t ever want to be who the first poster described. I am not living this way like it’s a 6 month crash diet to get ready for my reunion and going back to my old ways once I don’t have to anymore. Setting the tone for my life young will hopefully make for a more comfortable life in the future, but I hope to always keep the appreciation for what I have and not ever feel entitled or take what I have for granted.

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7 Mr. ToughMoneyLove

I vote none of the above. Being frugal should ba a strategy that you use towards a goal that you have, financial (saving to buy something or to become financially independent) or otherwise (e.g., giving it to charity or lowering your impact on the environment). Otherwise, where is the motivation?

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8 deepali

For me it’s about making sure that my lifestyle reflects my values and principles. I believe that less stuff = less stress and less impact on my environment, and more social and environmental justice. So being frugal is part of that. It’s not the whole thing though – sometimes my values require me to not buy the “cheapest” thing, so potentially that makes me less frugal.

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9 Momma

Right now, it’s a necessity. We have one (very small) full time income from my job. One (very sporadic) income from my husband’s contracting business. Until he has steady income and we’re caught up on our bills, frugality is just the way it has to be.

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10 No Debt Plan

How about a mix? I do it to see the best value I can get both for my benefit and also as somewhat of a game.

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11 Kate@Living the Frugal Life

It’s a way of life, a means to an end, and I make it into a game to keep myself motivated. Frugality, conservation, and respect for the environment are deeply held values for me. So my way of life reflects that. Frugality is also the means for us to pay off our mortgage very early, which is my primary financial goal at the moment. And I get a lot of cheap thrills by finding “tricks” that save us money. Two of the best “tricks” are gardening and knowing how to cook, which means that we eat exceptionally well, for a fraction of what most people spend on bad or mediocre food.

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12 Writer's Coin

@ToughMoneyLove: I like that response. Unless you’re just wired that way, then I also believe it should be in service of a goal. Whether that’s to save more, go on a vacation, buy a new home, etc. — without a purpose you just become a hoarded.

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13 Ryan

Karen: It’s a little bit of all 3 for me as well, but sometimes I don’t have time to play the game, so I go for the quickest good deal and move on. There is always a breaking point for determining how much time to spend looking for deals. Thanks for stopping by! :)

Eric: Eric, my plan is to grow wealth too, so I can have employment options later on. If I can grow the money I invest, then I may not have to rely on “working for the man” when I would prefer to be spending time with family. :)

Mr. ToughMoneyLove: Very good insight. For myself, I think my motivating factors include a little bit of all of those. I want to become financially independent so I can spend my time doing the things I want to do – not structuring my life around an employer’s schedule. I am also motivated by the environment because I hate wasting resources – be them financial, natural, or other. I guess I have these ideas entrenched in my mind, and approached this article from that angle.

deepali: :)

Momma: I’ve been there, and there is nothing wrong with that. In some ways growing up without a lot of extras was a blessing because I learned frugality at an early age. When I started out on my own I continued living frugally, and continue to this day. Sound financial principles will take you much further than throwing more money at the problem (although more money certainly doesn’t hurt!). :)

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14 Abigail

For us, it’s all of the above. Right now it’s a necessity as we pay down debt caused by illness, low income and, yes, some overspending.

Certainly, when we’re out of debt we will be able to breathe a little more easily and I will loosen the financial reins a bit. We will have a larger spending allowance, etc.

But I was raised to be frugal and so it’s a way of life. Plus, being raised frugally means you start to see it as something of a game. See how much you can save.

Right now, though, the game is: See how much we can pay down on disability and unemployment. We’re doing pretty well, so far: about $1500 on his student loans while still keeping up credit card payments.

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15 Meg from FruWiki

Growing up, frugality was just common sense. My mom raised me without a lot of money, but I never felt ‘poor’. In fact, in many ways, I think I was better off than friends whose parents made a lot more money but who bought a lot of crap and didn’t take care of things.

When I moved out, I did alright out of necessity (poor college student) until my husband and I started living together. I sort of got used to him spoiling me, and we both felt too tired and busy to try to eat at home (and our cooking knowledge was as our small apartment “kitchen”). Combined with college expenses for us both, a period of unemployment, and some other unexpected expenses, we got ourselves pretty deep in debt.

We’re still working on climbing out of our hole, but we finally turned things around. We had tried just simple “not shopping” but that didn’t work. Finally, I started researching frugality the way I researched other interests in the past. And my husband has been very cooperative when I suggested making changes.

Sure, there are some things I might do differently when we have more money, but mostly I think I’d buy higher quality items that I can’t afford right now and fix up our house more.

Most of the things we do revolve around not wasting stuff and I don’t see any reason why having more money means we should start wasting what we have and trashing the environment. And sometimes it does turn into a game, like seeing how we can improve our financial numbers from week to week, or see how little garbage we can produce.

Plus, a lot of other things we’ve started doing are just fun. For example, I have a lot of new cheap/free hobbies like birdwatching, learning about (and eating) edible wild foods, gardening, caring for our chickens, taking walks with my husband, cooking, reading books from the library, etc.

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16 Grace

I recently did a post on the cycles we seem to go through. When I was a child my family was frugal through necessity. When I was a young adult, I was a spendthrift in reaction to that. Now, as an older adult, I kind of like the notion that I do have choices in what I do, and that those choices can, in the long run, influence how this planet is run. I like that. G.

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