What does the word “frugality” conjure for you? Perhaps a mirage of miserly discontent with no worldly comforts and a tin of beans at your side as your only solace in an otherwise cheerless existence? If so, then you’ve come to the right place!
Frugality gets a horrendous rap, primarily from those who peddle the pricey products we’re lured to believe will equal the good life. When Mr. Frugalwoods and I embarked on our extreme frugality regimen three years ago in order to reach our goal of a financially independent life on a homestead in the woods (which we brought to fruition last year), I figured frugality would be a mere tactic–a necessary strategy–in this quest.
I didn’t realize at the time that my frugality would become a destination and an enriching element all its own. I didn’t understand that frugality gives you much more than a heap of money in the bank and the ability to pursue unusual aspirations. I didn’t foresee that years later, I’d continue to choose frugality as my preferred mode of existence, not merely as a tactic. I didn’t know that frugality offers ancillary benefits, which don’t get much press.
It’s uncommon to hear someone espouse the virtues of frugality for frugality’s sake, which is precisely why I’m taking this topic on. You’re probably curious about frugality, or you’ve already embraced it, or you’re on the fence, or your partner/husband/wife just forwarded you this article and is standing over your shoulder making you read it. No matter, because today I want to open your mind to all the ways that frugality makes my life better. Seriously, you read that right: frugality makes my life better.
19 Reasons Why I Choose Frugality
1) Frugality Helps You Identify Your True Priorities
Frugality, at its core, is a question of doing only what matters most to you. A successful frugal budget spends money only on the most important things and a happy frugal person only allots their time to their highest priorities. There’s a reason why the first step in my Uber Frugal Month Challenge is to identify your priorities and longterm goals.
Frugality encourages you to discern what you want out of life and to eliminate the noisy, expensive, time-consuming distractions of what the media tells us we “should” do. Frugality is about living the life that matters most to YOU, not the life that matters most to someone else.
There’s a whole lot that I don’t do and don’t spend money on simply because it doesn’t rise to the level of priority in my life. I know that my time and money are both limited so why fritter either away on stuff that doesn’t bring me happiness? When I first began to cut things from my life, I thought of each cut as a loss. As something I didn’t get to do anymore. Now, I see them all as things I don’t have to do anymore. Things I don’t have to waste time, energy, and money on. Things I’ve freed myself from needing and from doing.
- Uber Frugal Month: The Ultimate Guide To Saving More Money Than You Ever Thought Possible
- My Foolproof Method To Stop Impulse Spending
- Strategic Luxury: The Difference Between Frugality And Miserliness
2) Frugality Promotes An Environmentally-Friendly Life
Frugalism is environmentalism. The act of consuming less new stuff means a lowered carbon footprint. Driving less in order to save money on gas, and driving an efficient car (we have a Prius), decreases our impact on the earth. Not wasting food means less methane in landfills. Not throwing away clothes or other usable items means less trash. Being mindful of our electricity usage–not to mention our water–keeps our bills down and helps the environment.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I keep what we own for a long time, we don’t rush out to replace stuff, we fix what breaks, we make do with what we have, and we don’t buy more than we can eat, or use, or share. And when we do buy things, they’re usually used, which means we’re keeping something from the landfill and not incurring the embodied environmental costs of new products.
In this way, frugality is an environmental statement that’s much more powerful than a bumper sticker. Quite simply, living frugally means respecting the earth and her resources.
- How I Fight Food Waste At Thanksgiving And Beyond
- Clothing Care For People Who Don’t Buy Clothes
- The Myth Of The Gross Used Things
3) Frugality Reduces Clutter
Buying less means you own less, which means you have less clutter and less to clean. And less clutter and less to clean means more free time and less stress. Yay!
- My Quest For A Clutter-Free Life (P.S. I’m still on this quest and likely will be for the rest of my life… )
4) Frugality Ensures You’ll Never Be Bored
Frugality militates against boredom because it engenders a life of constant learning and creating. Since we don’t pay people to entertain us or do projects for us, Mr. FW and I are in an endless state of discovery. Just this week, we spent an afternoon measuring the walls in our basement and drawing up a design for a set of shelves he’s going to build. We want to organize our storage so that everything is easily accessible (as a side benefit, going through the basement will likely yield a bunch of stuff we can get rid of and thus help my lifelong anti-clutter mission… ).
Mr. FW hasn’t built shelves quite like these before, but he sees it as an opportunity to teach himself a set of skills he’ll use for years to come. Plus, we had fun discussing how to best design and layout the shelves for all the iterations of life we want our basement to contain–from preserved food to Christmas decorations.
By embracing the art of DIY, we’re never at a loss for what to do with our time. If it’s a sunny day, we’re out in the garden or hiking. Rainy? We’re inside writing, baking, reading. Neither of us ever runs out of ideas or projects because our life is engineered to create these opportunities for us. We don’t expect someone else to tell us what’s entertaining, we expect to create our own fun. Another advantage is that this teaches Babywoods she’s in charge of her own entertainment, which has helped her build the skill of independent play (and not a reliance on Elmo, although he is handy on occasion).
5) Frugality = More Free Time
There’s a commonly cited myth that you can either do something quickly or you can do it cheaply. But I find quite a few instances in my life that take less time and cost less money. One of my favorite examples of this intersection are our at-home DIY haircuts.
If I were to go to a salon to get my hair cut, I’d have to call and make an appointment, drive there, wait in line, get my hair cut, pay, and drive back home. In all, this would probably take me over two hours. Not to mention I’d be out some serious cash.
Lucky for me, Mr. FW cuts my hair at home (and I cut his), which takes a whopping 15 minutes and costs me zero bucks. That’s a pretty straightforward win-win as far as I’m concerned. And I no longer worry about having ‘perfect hair’ because…
- Time vs. Money: How We Choose
- Final Frontier Of Frugality: My Husband Gave Me A Haircut
- How to Give Home Haircuts in 8 Easy Steps
- The Tyranny of Time Optimism
6) Frugality Grants Permission To Let Go Of Perfectionism
It’s impossible to achieve perfection while being frugal. But this shouldn’t be too much of a blow because it’s also impossible to achieve perfection while spending a ton of money! The difference is that when you’re frugal, you don’t expect perfection whereas when you spend a ton of money, you’re counting on an ideal result.
Frugality demonstrates to me the power of the 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto Principle). Essentially, I can achieve a result that’s 80% perfect for 20% of the cost/effort. Since I source almost all of our stuff used for either free or very, very cheap, I spend very little on it (usually much less than 20% of the original price). Because of this, I don’t expect it to be perfection incarnate. Rather, I’m just grateful to have it. Take my funky turquoise end table, for example. It was free–came to me through my Buy Nothing Group–and I love it! It doesn’t exactly match anything else, it’s kind of an odd shape, and I’m not sure why it’s on wheels, but none of this bothers me in the least.
Conversely, if I were to spend $100 on the perfect end table? I’d expect it to live up to a level of perfection that’s not possible because I’d be trying to imbue my material possessions with a power they don’t have. Stuff is not a stand-in for human emotions and it doesn’t exist to make you happy. It exists to serve a function. As a recovering perfectionist, I find it liberating to accept–at the outset–that things aren’t always going to work out quite right.
7) Frugality Fosters Lowered Stress, Increased Peace, and Greater Simplicity
My life is simple. Not in a boring, backward sort of way, but in an unhurried, un-frantic, uncluttered sort of way. Through my frugality mindset, I’ve eliminated unnecessary elements of my life and whittled my days down to their raw essence. Yes, I do stuff I don’t 100% love because we have to run a household (I’m looking at you, laundry… ), but there’s a lot that I flat out don’t do because I don’t enjoy it. This simplification and streamlining means that I have more time to devote to the activities that I do find fulfilling.
Case in point: I stopped wearing makeup on a daily basis because it was expensive and, I decided, a waste of my time. Plus, it caused me anguish: did it look right? Had I selected the correct color of lipstick? Did I just accidentally rub my eye and smear my mascara??? These the traumas I used to endure. So much easier for me to simply say no. To simply not wear it anymore. To not buy it, to not need it, to not put it on. To simplify and to do without is to create a level of ease and calm.
- The Sweet Synergy Between Simple Living And Saving Money
- Less Makeup, More Confidence: My Frugal Beauty Manifesto
8) Frugality Increases Happiness
Frugality encourages an embrace of life’s simple pleasures. It’s also the antidote to the dangers of hedonic adaptation. When we continually treat ourselves–with lattes or, you know, yachts–our brain adapts to those treats. We begin to expect those treats on a regular basis in order to maintain our baseline happiness. Then, over time, we gradually need bigger or more frequent treats. This is how a weekly latte becomes a daily $5 binge. We’ve essentially calibrated our brains to expect more. To anticipate that jolt of dopamine and to crave it more and more. Frugality, on the other hand, trains our brain not to require those consumer highs. We’re happier with less and we enter a state of contentment, as opposed to a state of constantly craving.
This is what happens to me when I eat a piece of cake. If I were to just, you know, NOT eat any cake, I’d be perfectly fine and would merrily go about my day. But when I eat a piece of cake? I become a cake-obsessed raving sugar lunatic, trying to scrape bits of frosting off of other people’s plates to devour in secret and possibly inject into my veins. I nearly took out a six-year-old at coffee hour after church last Sunday as we both dove for the last piece of coffee cake. I regained composure and let her take it, but I considered grabbing it and handing her a carrot stick instead. I didn’t say I was proud of this. Same goes for buying stuff. If we keep ramping up our purchases, we essentially become deadened to their pleasures because of the routine exposure.
Going out to dinner is another excellent example. Mr. FW and I used to dine out all the time. All the time. And while yes, we enjoyed those meals, we weren’t deriving a high level of satisfaction from them. Now that we only eat out once a month, we find we enjoy that meal far, far more. It’s a rare treat and our pleasure level is commensurately much higher.
- Treat Yourself: More Like Defeat Yourself
- The Joy That Comes When Less Is Enough
- Smoothing Out The Happiness Curve
9) Frugality Encourages Creativity
Frugal people are creative, not perhaps inherently, but frugality makes us creative (not to be confused with crafty because we all know where I stand on crafts… hate them). Frugal people don’t use the boring, easy option of money to solve our problems. We innovate, we experiment, and we do it ourselves. We devise our own food, our own entertainment, our own gifts, our own way to live. Normal is boring (not to mention expensive and typically stress-laden).
10) Frugality = Not Worrying About Money
Frugality grants you the financial ability to: 1) manage crises with ease; 2) seize fabulous opportunities that come your way. Unexpected events–both amazing and terrible–will be thrown in our path, it’s pretty much the one constant in life. Frugality ensures you’ll have the financial capacity to cope with these extreme joys and extreme griefs.
When you can eliminate the stressor of money, you can instead focus on what truly matters. Babywoods had a rather traumatic birth and spent a week in the NICU, which was certainly an unexpected curveball for us. I was so thankful–in the midst of that sleep-deprived anguish–that we didn’t have to worry about money. It was just one less thing on our plates.
Frugality gives you the liberation to know that a job loss would be merely an inconvenience, that if your dream house comes on the market you can afford to buy it, that you have ample investments to ensure a happy retirement, that if your child needs medical treatment you can pay for it. Frugality frees you from the day-to-day anguish of managing a rigid budget.
When you operate with the worldview that there’s very little you need to buy, you no longer need to count pennies or worry if there’s enough money in your account. You’re set.
11) Frugality Facilitates A Deeper Connection With Your Partner
Mr. FW and I do just about everything together. A life of frugality is one of insourcing, which means collaborating with your partner on everything from the mundane (how many times have we cleaned the kitchen together over the course of our marriage…. ) to the profound (making the decision to buy our homestead).
We’ve learned to respect one another and rely on each other’s skills in nearly every facet of life. Rather than paying someone else to solve our problems, we work together to develop a relationship that isn’t conflict free, but that has a framework for resolving conflicts.
It’s also true that our shared frugality has eliminated the urge to fight over money. By being on the same financial page, we’re committed to open communication about our finances. This has enabled us to set–and achieve–longterm financial aspirations.
There’s no single thing that has brought us closer in our nearly nine years of marriage than our frugality because it focuses us on the same goals.
- How Insourcing Strengthened Our Marriage
- The Curious Parallels Between Frugality and 7 Years of Marriage
- Behind the Scenes of a Happy Frugal Marriage
12) Frugality Encourages a Harmonious, Family-Centered Balance
We don’t structure our lives around externalities such as employers, busyness, distractions like television and shopping, and a fear of not owning enough stuff. Instead, our days are dictated by our family’s needs, wants, and feelings, and by our own personal to do lists.
This doesn’t mean we’re entirely inward focused hermits–to the contrary, we’re extremely involved in our community, our church, and with our friends and neighbors. But what it does mean is that we consider the needs of our family first. If Babywoods is exhausted or sick, we stay home. We prioritize the rest and recuperation she needs rather than dragging her to a party we want to attend. If I’m feeling the pressure of a deadline or just need time to do yoga alone? We don’t rush out to run errands. We structure our lives so that self-care is paramount. We go to bed at the same time every night and get 7-9 hours of sleep no matter what else is going on. It sounds indulgent to sleep that much, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s what’s recommended and what makes us feel good. Sure, we watch less TV and do fewer chores in order to get to bed on time, but that’s what our bodies need.
Frugality has simplified our lives such that this mode of living is possible. We spend less money, we bog ourselves down with less stuff, we do fewer things, and as a result, we’re happier. It’s also true that we’re incredibly fortunate to spend every day together as a family. The ability to quit jobs that kept us separate is perhaps the best fringe benefit of our frugality. By focusing on our family–not on buying things for our daughter or upgrading our cars or getting take-out every night–we’re able to eliminate the expensive distractions that would keep us apart.
Embracing what makes us happy, and not worrying about doing the ‘expected’ thing, is a wonderful gift of frugality.
13) The Fewer Choices Of Frugality Make Us Happier
Research has proven that the glut of choices we face in making decisions in our modern economy do not, in fact, make us happier. The more options we grapple with, the more stressed we become and the more likely we are to regret or second-guess whatever we do finally decide to buy.
Frugality allows us to narrow our choices in two ways: 1) we need less stuff; 2) the stuff we do need, we buy used or accept as free hand-me-downs. Take Babywoods’ jogging stroller, for example, which I recently bought at a thrift store for $5. The entire purchasing experience–from entering the store to checking out–took us about 5 minutes. We saw the stroller, we tested it out with Babywoods in it, and we bought it. We didn’t do hours of research in advance, we didn’t have to compare 20 different models of stroller, we didn’t have to endure an upsell from an employee, and we certainly didn’t have to stress out over the expense. After all, it was a whopping $5.
The same scenario plays out every time we shop at a thrift store or a garage sale. There’s a misconception that used shopping takes longer, but I can assure you it’s much faster–they either have what you need, or they don’t. Frugality ensures that I don’t fall victim to the dangers of paralysis by analysis. It also ensures that I don’t waste precious time comparison shopping and panicking that I’ve selected the wrong thing!
I’m far happier with the stuff I buy used. Since that jogging stroller was only $5, I’m thrilled every day that I hike with it. I don’t worry that maybe I should’ve sprung for a better model, or a different color, or one with a cupholder–none of those concerns ever enter my mind because I eliminated those choices from the process. It sounds counterintuitive, but research bears it out and I encourage you to try it and see how you feel.
- The Sneaky Way That Frugality Fixes Paralysis By Analysis
- The False Choices That Steal Our Future
- How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting
14) Frugality Provides Built-in Exercise
Much of frugality is the art of doing things yourself. Lucky for us, these things are often physical in nature! Hefting a toddler around, weeding a garden, chopping down trees for firewood, clearing brush on our hiking trails, cleaning our house, walking the dog, carrying the laundry downstairs to the washing machine, even cooking involves movement!
By doing everything ourselves, we have ample opportunity to move our bodies throughout the day. I’m an inveterate fidgeter, so this suits me quite well. I can only sit at my computer and write words for an hour or so at a time before I need to move around. Fortunately, there’s always something active I can turn my attention to (usually the ever-mobile Babywoods).
Not only is it healthy to move frequently, it’s also much cheaper than paying for a gym membership. Ponder for a moment that the stereotypical middle-class American lifestyle is to work at a stationary desk job for far more hours than you care to in order to afford to pay people to do all of the active chores I listed above PLUS pay for a membership to a place where you go and exercise your body on a machine indoors (commonly referred to as a gym). Just think about that one for a minute.
P.S. We didn’t have a gym membership when we lived in the city either. By biking and walking everywhere, we were set. Plus, I worked out a system of barter and trade with my yoga studio in exchange for free classes! Now, I do yoga at home for free using the site doyogawithme.com
- Hike More, Spend Less: Our Tricks For Frugal Hiking
- Hiking: The Perfect Frugal Day
- How We Recreate In Winter: The Gear, The Mindset, and The Baby Sled
- How Does Free Yoga Help Our Financial Goals?
15) Frugal People Have Hobbies
Frugality is a hobby in and of itself, but it also encourages you to seek out fulfilling, free, interesting hobbies that build your curiosity and promote lifelong learning. Mr. FW and I know how to do so many more things now that we’re frugal. Frugal folks don’t fritter away their time at the mall, or the movie theater, or the hair salon. Frugal folks are out doing things.
We’ve taught ourselves how to refinish kitchen cabinets, how to install window trim, how to redecorate rooms, how to plant gardens, how to plow snow, and the list goes on. Plus, on the purely recreational side of things, we nurture free hobbies: hiking together through our woods, playing board games, doing yoga, reading, and more. We’re both innately curious people and frugality allows us to feed that appetite for learning without the expense of “traditional” hobbies.
16) Frugality Engenders A Gratitude Mindset
I used to be envious of other people’s fancy kitchens, their lovely clothes, and their flawless skin. I stewed over how to manifest these fabulous things into my own life, because I assumed that’s what would make me happy. I wondered how I’d cope with this desire for the finer things when we embarked on project extreme frugality. Would I be eaten up with jealously? How would I go three years without buying clothes (very easily, as it turns out)?!?
Turns out, frugality profoundly shifted the way I think about the world. Instead of this endless lust for more, I found myself experiencing an abiding sense of gratitude for everything that I have in my life. I’ve come to understand that Mr. FW and I are among the most privileged people in the world and I find there’s no room for jealousy in this life (ok I am not perfect, as previously asserted, so there’s still some jealousy… ).
When I stopped consuming, I started to see how many things we own that we never even use! Forget buying new stuff, we don’t even need half of the stuff we have. Frugality encourages you to cherish what you have, not to lust after what you don’t and I find that, more often than not, this gratitude mindset is what permeates my life.
- Deprivation Or Abundance? Turns Out, It’s Your Choice
- Starting The Thanksgiving Season With Gratitude
- Striving For Compassion In A World Of Judgement
- The Privilege of Pursuing Financial Independence
17) Frugality Will Increase Your Confidence
I used to be insecure. I was forever fretting about what people might think of me, my appearance, and my choices. Would they think I was successful? That I was doing the right things? Did everyone love my dress??!!!?? I wasted so much energy in totally worthless, pointless, vapid worry.
Embracing frugality became about embracing who I really am. I no longer strive to attain the (impossible) standards our consumer culture establishes. I no longer care about the harsh judgments of others and, interestingly, parallel to this was an evaporation of my judgment of them. When I stopped worrying that everyone was judging me, I also stopped judging them.
I let go of comparing myself to other people and started creating my own metrics for achievement. I now ask: have I met my own expectations? Am I being the writer, the parent, the partner, the friend, the daughter that I want to be? Am I creating an environment of peace wherever I go? Ok definitely not that last one, so there’s something to work on…
After quitting my conventionally successful job and leaving my conventionally “perfect” life, I was freed from living a life that didn’t make me happy. I stepped off the consumer carousel of trying to keep up and prove myself and I stepped into a simpler life that doesn’t give me shortness of breath and sweaty palms. I made a conscious decision to stop trying to demonstrate my worth as a person through the things I own, which allows me to focus much more on the things I do.
When I feel bogged down in the day-to-day (laundry, deadlines, a whiny toddler), I do the cliche thing of stepping back and pausing. For me, this means going for a hike in our woods (or if I’m short on time, just standing on the back porch can suffice). I clear my mind, I breathe and I ask myself if I’m creating a life I’ll be proud of and happy about when I’m an old woman reflecting on how I spent my days. What I’ve come to realize is that in the end, the only person who’ll care how you lived your life is you.
- The Danger Of Comparison
- How I Let Go Of Caring What People Think
- How To Build Confidence In Your Frugality
18) Frugality Builds Community
In our increasingly fragmented, individualistic society that’s focused on paying money as the answer to everything; frugality, conversely, encourages us to meet our neighbors and build connections. The ethos of barter and trade is far from dead–as many of you shared in my post on the topic.
Frugality encourages a reliance on one another, a sharing of skills, of time, and of stuff. While part of the reason Mr. FW and I enjoy a vibrant community life is that we live in a small, rural town, it’s also true that our frugality–and our willingness to give and receive help–enables us to foster these relationships. The frugal life is an interconnected life where you acknowledge that you need help and have gifts to offer.
- How Barter and Trade Enhances Frugality and Community
- This Month On The Homestead: Sunrises, Community, and Ice
19) Frugality Gives You Options and Freedom
I saved the very best for last. More than anything else, frugality gives you options. Or, more precisely: frugality gives you a level of financial stability that affords you options. When you’re not in debt and you’re not living paycheck-to-paycheck, you are able to make decisions based on what you want to do with your life, not what you have to do.
When we mire ourselves in costly, consumer-driven lifestyles that require tons of money to maintain, we’re effectively limiting our options. We might own a lot, but we’re unlikely to be able to do a lot. I’d much rather have a life rich with experiences, with family memories, and with the pursuit of passions than a life rich with brand new furniture and cars.
Frugality Is About So Much More Than Money
I’m passionate about the positive change that frugality has brought to my life and, in many ways, my frugal worldview is informed by tenets that stretch far beyond the financial. My quest isn’t to become rich, it’s to become content and fulfilled, but what I’ve discovered is that I reach that end with–and through–my frugality. For me, frugality wrought a wholesale lifestyle transformation.
I’m fond of saying that frugality is a virtuous financial cycle: the less money you spend, the more money you save, and the less money you need to earn. But frugality is also a virtuous lifestyle cycle: the more you embrace frugality, the simpler and more enjoyable your life becomes because you need less, you want less, and you do less of what makes you unhappy.
You can’t buy your way to happiness, but you can certainly go into debt trying. You have permission to stop spending money in ways that don’t feel rewarding, to stop competing over material possessions, and to instead start looking inward. Allowing frugality to take hold in your life can bring dramatic and powerful changes that are likely to sharpen your priorities, assert your values, and eliminate the unimportant.