Frugality is not deprivation. At least, not in my opinion. Frugality should be liberating, not restrictive. Frugality should give you options and breathing room and remove the yoke of debt or the stress of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Frugality isn’t meant to punish or induce guilt when you spend money. It’s meant to free you from constant worry about money.
Frugality is a mindset that encourages us to evaluate our money based on the following:
- Am I spending in alignment with my goals?
- Am I using my money towards my highest and best priorities?
- Am I creating a financially stable life that I enjoy living?
- Do I have longterm goals outlined and a financial plan to support and enable these goals?
This month, thousands of you are participating in the January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge and a recurrent topic in our private Facebook group is the feeling of guilt when you spend money. I don’t want you to feel guilty, I want you to feel empowered!
Today, I’ve crowdsourced wisdom from Frugalwoods readers on how to create a life of frugal abundance and how to view frugality as a freedom-enhancer, not a limiting, depriving force.
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions.
The Goals of Money Management
Managing your money isn’t about berating yourself for past mistakes or never spending anything or living a life of monastic stoicism (although if that’s your thing, you do you!).
It’s about being enfranchised to:
- Understand your money: what you earn, what you spend, how much debt you have, where your investments/retirement savings are, and what you need to work on
- Know why you spend money: boredom, habit, necessity, to treat yourself, etc.
- Areas where you can be smarter with your money:
- Are you identifying frugal substitutes for expensive items?
- Is your spending (and your earning) allowing you to create the life you want to live? If not, what do you need to do to change that calculation?
These are not the questions of deprivation or of guilt. These are the questions of rational analysis that will, ultimately, lead to being confident, proactive, and at peace with how you use your money.
The Lonely/Cozy Bench: Thoughts from Mrs. FW
I love to visit this bench overlooking our pond when I hike. It’s either at the end or at the beginning of a tough hike, depending on which route I take. And it’s either lonely or cozy, depending on how I choose to think about a comfy bench all by itself in the woods.
This is how frugality works. It’s either deprivation or abundance, depending on how you view it. Used furniture, old clothes, and cooking from scratch is either sad or refreshingly simple–depending on how you view it. Not buying stuff is either restrictive or the path to financial freedom–depending on how you view it.
When we choose to see the world through the lens of what we don’t have, we’re setting ourselves up for deep disappointment.
Because there will always be something we don’t own: a newer car, a bigger house, prettier clothes… and the more we buy, the more we think we need. That’s the insidious hedonic treadmill at work. But if we can instead reframe how we see our lives, there’s the chance we’ll unlock a deeper contentment and a resilience to marketing, to consumerism, and to unhappiness.
- Deprivation Or Abundance? Turns Out, It’s Your Choice
- Strategic Luxury: The Difference Between Frugality And Miserliness
- Frugality Is Not Deferred Spending
- The Joy That Comes When Less Is Enough
- How Making Luxuries Rare Increases Our Happiness
- 19 Reasons Why Frugality Is The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened To Me
How Frugalwoods Readers Reframe the “Frugality as Deprivation” Narrative and Truly Enjoy Their Frugal Lives
Plan Ahead For When You’ll Spend
Dora said, “I keep a Spending List. I get one item on the list and plan when I’ll get the rest. Knowing that I’ll get what I want eventually takes the edge off of deprivation.”
Lisa said, “I have one or two areas of spending (ie. outdoor sports, travel) that I consider highly related to enjoyment of life and fit with my values. I set an amount or a percentage that I wish to limit my spending to in these areas, but allow myself to be more relaxed about them if I am close to overspending. I allow myself to work on ways to increase my income ( or increase my savings from not spending so much in other areas) so that if I want, I can increase the areas I spend in this area.”
Rebecca wrote, “For us, it’s not so much about simply not spending money, but about deciding what to spend money on before you do. We budget in a few meals out and a new outfit on occasion, or supplies for our hobbies and budget in savings or paying extra on our mortgage. This lets us have things that feel like a treat, but we don’t get to eat out every day, and I don’t get all the new outfits etc. This lets us accomplish more than one goal at a time. To keep frugality sustainable, we plan in a few things each month that could be considered a “splurge” but don’t let us get off track of the bigger goals. Another thing we do is plan for months about big purchases so that we have time to look for good deals and make sure we both love the item. For example, we might say, we want to replace our sofa by April. We talk about the budget we feel comfortable spending and then we look at a ton of places and have fun looking at a bunch of consignment or antique stores and online yard sales and new furniture stores. We can spend the next few months looking around leisurely and having fun with our search. We decided upfront that we’re not in a hurry and agreed on a budget so that whenever we find it, we are ready to get it.”
Jennifer explained, “We still buy the stuff we want. We just think about it a lot more. Same with food. I bought a van vacuum so I could clean mine easier without getting frustrated and paying someone else. This is not a need my regular vacuum would work, but it is a hassle. We thought about it a few days and then bought it. (Thankfully with gift cards but I would have either way) Planning ahead such as packing lunches and snacks, having easy stuff such as pizza for supper available keeps us from fast food runs. The days I cook I make enough for the second day most of the time so I don’t need to cook daily. Basically I don’t feel bad when I spend because I think about it instead of impulse spending. And I save and plan to make everything more frugal so when we do really want something we can get it without worrying.”
M.C. said, “I have started a want/need list. That way I can keep track of upcoming purchases like the next size up in shoes or clothes for the kids, or if they are low on tights for dance, etc. I will also sprinkle in a few nice-to haves on the list for when people ask for birthday/Christmas suggestions. It allows me to be more thoughtful when shopping and not just buy a bunch of cute tops for the kids and then find out they are already swamped with tops and really needed pants.”
Rachael suggests, “Scheduled splurges. My son and I stop at a cheap coffee stand on the way to his counseling appointments. Counseling can be rough, so sweetening it a little is helpful, but it also is a planned treat that I look forward to and don’t spend going out during the rest of the time.”
Find Frugal Substitutes for Expensive Treats
Mallory wrote, “We still struggle with this a little bit, but the biggest difference for us was when I loosened the purse strings on our grocery budget and got super into menu planning. Now our weekend meals are favorites that usually include drinks and an appetizer so we don’t feel like we’re missing out on a restaurant meal. Buying nicer cuts of meat, Costco frozen appetizers, etc. is still way cheaper than eating out. I also think there’s something to the psychology of knowing that we *can,* but we’re choosing not to for our financial goals.”
Katie said, “We discussed what our goals and values are. Then we discuss how much we think is reasonable to spend. I mean, it would be nice to not have to prepare lunch and/or dinner multiple times a week, but it doesn’t align with our values: it’s not as good for our bodies and it costs significantly more. I also watch sales and keep a list of things I’d like to buy, but aren’t urgent. That way, when I find a good deal, I do not hesitate to snatch it up, and it also prevents me from buying things we really don’t need. We also find lots of free activities. Through our local library, we can check out an experience pass, once per place/museum once per calendar year. We also have friends who are frugal – so we do cheap and fun things together! We don’t feel like we’re missing out because we’re doing the exact same thing as our friends.”
Tucker said, “I try to remember that I have so much more than I need. One luxuriously frugal thing I love is taking a slow visit to my town’s library and looking through shelves of books! I have a kindle and love getting ebooks from the library’s electronic collection, but there is something about being able to check out a whole stack of books that really speaks to me! I also love not feeling rushed or hurried, which is a part of my life that frugality has really enhanced. I find I spend less time on things that I don’t care about (ex shopping mindlessly or eating out) so I have more time to spend on walks around my neighborhood, reading thick library books and enjoying cups of tea!”
Cyndi shared that, “Making dinner at home can sometimes be more luxurious than eating out – for example we can make as much guacamole for our homemade nachos as we want! 🙂Also it’s important to get rid of the reasons for wanting the treat – when I stop procrastinating on something hard at work, my need for a treat goes away.”
Carolyn wrote, “While I buy generic most of the time, name brand foods are on my grocery list when I know that the generic will not do. I try generics. If they don’t meet my standard of living up to the name brand, I return to the name brand.”
Avoid Comparison (it is, after all, the thief of joy)
Dieta said, “It’s been a slow mental shift, now I don’t desire most of the things I used to spend money on. The only time I feel deprived is when I spend too much time on social media and start comparing my lifestyle to others! And when I do want to ‘splurge’ usually all I need a bar of dark chocolate… ”
Lisa shared, “The past few years I’ve been reading tons of books about consumerism and the way that corporations manipulate huge chunks of our lives: how to spend our time, what to eat, how to treat ourselves, how to show love to friends and family, what “happiness” is, and more. The more I’ve resisted the status quo, the more I’ve found incredible freedom, a sense of giddiness that I don’t need corporations telling me what to do. For instance, I gave up home Internet, including Netflix, a couple years ago, and now I have so much more time to devote to painting with watercolors, reading good books, and working in the garden. I wouldn’t trade my frugality and freedom for anything!”
Rebecca suggests, “Surround yourself with people with non-consumerist values as much as possible. If you don’t have any Joneses to keep up with, you don’t feel deprivation so much. Obviously you can’t opt out entirely – extended family, co-workers, all these may put pressure on you, but to the extent that you can, cultivate a community of folks who share a priority of connection over stuff.”
Appreciate The Non-Money Benefits of Frugality
Abbie wrote, “My local swap shed is a wonderful social venue to talk with my neighbors. I drop off things I do not need and happily take away a couple things that I like. Many satisfying gardening projects can be done easily with a frugal approach. The rewards are tremendous. Even in the winter, I can enjoy rooting lemon grass stalks from the Asian supermarket in a glass of water. Seed swaps are a great resource. Some public libraries let patrons help themselves to donated seeds. Gardening tools can be found at yard sales. Your composted food scraps will increase your soil fertility and quality.”
Denise said, “I think it’s freeing to never ever shop as a hobby. When I’m out over the weekend and see the crowds, traffic, parking lots around shopping centers, I feel a ton of gratitude that I never developed the desire to just browse and buy.”
Laura likes, “Spending my time differently! I find making time for me to go slower makes me less likely to buy: gadgets, fast food, or whatever spontaneous urge I have.”
Liberation Comes When You Change Your Mindset
Lauren wrote, “For my husband and I, it has been easier to adjust to thoughtful budgeting by adjusting our mindset from what we are losing to what we are gaining. One of the hardest things was greatly limiting our dining out or ordering in. Meal planning and prepping together has offered us more time as a family. We also plan fun meals for the weekends as to give ourselves something to be excited about!”
Kent said, “I ask myself, does what I’m about to receive as a result of my money invested serve me and does it help me do my work to positively elevate humanity (through capitalism). In other words, am I using money to develop myself and advance something much bigger then myself for others? I invest in my health. I invest in travel and experiences. In the past (way past) I had a lavish lifestyle made up of significant possessions. My life is even better…now without collecting possessions. I sold most all of them. My spouse and I have a farm in Vermont. We also spend much of our time living in a small Boston apartment. By most standards we live a great life and don’t want for anything except to keep our health and have lots of freedom and flexibility to bring the best out of us to benefit others.”
Alison wrote, “I try to reframe it as goals and budgets and make sure that my money goals and budgets align with my time goals and budgets. For instance, I love to bake & cook, but have no energy during the week, so I treat myself to a few hours of baking/cooking time on the weekend and feast on the product all week long. I also really like taking continuing education classes at the local community college, but if I over commit I get overwhelmed. I’ve found that 3/year is about right for both the cost and my time. Finding ways to involve other people also helps. One idea is having swaps (clothes, items, or food) is a low cost to spend time with like minded people. Also local Facebook groups really help me balance my budget and desire to hang out with people (I’m in a zero waste group for instance).”
Allison wrote, “I cultivate gratitude. Even a few years ago, when we were in a tight budget spot and living even more frugally than I prefer, we were in relative luxury compared to the majority of the world, and even a great many people here in our own country. I have enough. My needs are met, and then some! I visit the library. I pick up anything I want and feel a delicious sense of abundance in carting home a dozen books and a few DVDs, shopping for free! We buy pretty much whatever we want at the grocery store, especially if it’s an ingredient/whole food. We cook all of our meals, eating out as a treat only. Yes, generally I look for ways to frugalize our meals and not waste money (store brands when it makes sense, etc. Or like, we get one of our fave cheeses at Costco, freeze half of it, and it saves $$). We eat plenty of (delicious) meatless meals, plenty of chicken bought on sale and stuck in the chest freezer… But we will also get the good cheese, the better bread, the lobster for an at home date night.”
Beth said, “If I’m being totally honest there are times I really resent the need to be frugal. Most of the time, though, I find comfort in simplicity by actively practicing gratitude. I make a list of three things I’m grateful for at the end of each day and when I’m having a difficult day I play a game with myself where I mentally start listing the things I’m grateful for to see how long a list I can make.”
Becky said that frugality, “…feels to me, like meeting an old friend again. Let me explain why… 13 years ago we knew we want to retire.. but there was absolutely no way with the bills we had. Then I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer..while fighting for a whole year. I notice we had all this cash after each month. Why? Because we were living a quiet frugal life and it was unbusy, simple, and not spending money to keep up with the Jones. What we learnt from this experience we went on after a year of fighting the cancer and continued living that way we were out of debt in 5 years and have been ever since. So my old friend is back living a simple but quite life at the beach debt free.”
Identify Your Priorities
Allison said, “We determine our priorities individually and as a family and craft our plans for how to fund those. It’s our source of confidence when we make give and take decisions. Ex: We brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and ate them outside the Louvre a few weeks ago. Because our priorities were getting to Paris and to the freakin Louvre and what we had for lunch was not a priority for us. (Don’t worry. We did splurge on a few delicious French dinners!). The key to this is realizing not everything can be a priority and identifying what is a big deal to you. Going all in on that and letting go of everything else that doesn’t matter to us is necessary for contended financial success. It’s also been a big deal to find friends with similar spending priorities or ones willing to dabble in our frugal eating in/game night/movie night ways.”
Ruth said, “It is about priorities. We aren’t depriving ourselves, we are working very hard to spend money only on things that are meaningful to us. So, if we *really* want something, we have the money and didn’t just spend it on random stuff that we don’t care about.”
Kim suggests, “Understand what matters to you and will make you frustrated if you go without. I don’t care about a high end cell phone, but I do want a reasonably fast recent laptop. I don’t need expensive clothes but I like having enough work shirts that I can go over a week without ironing. Be aware of how with creativity an overspend in one category can be offset by an economy in another – having flexibility in the use of your overall budget feels empowering.”
KT shared, “This was a Uber Frugal Month suggestion: keep a note in your wallet/taped to your credit card(s) to remind you of your frugal end goal. I live in an apartment in NYC and don’t have my own private outdoor space. Every time I go on vacation, I take my coffee outside on the vacation house patio/porch/balcony, in the sunshine, and my day has the most incredible start. So I have a note taped to my cards that says: AM coffee on your patio. I’m saving for a down payment for a place that has private outdoor space. Every time I go to swipe my card, I’m reminded about my future, and what I want, and how my current frugality isn’t about deprivation but rather building a luxurious life that fills me with excitement. The only downside is the paper note gets stuck in the pockets of my wallet.”
Holly shared, “We are intentional with where we direct our money – by purchasing experiences (vacations, trips, memberships, sports activities for our kids) and things that align with our values (organic foods, humanely raised meats, toxin free body products or laundry soaps) we enrich our life instead of depriving ourselves. We enjoy saving money but when we do spend, it’s done intentionally and on things that truly add value to our lives.”
Rebecca says to, “Be very clear on why you want to be frugal. If it is because you feel you are supposed to be, if it comes from a place of fear or competition, it will be a trap just like spending is. If you have a clear purpose, frugality just becomes a tool to the life you want, and you can show some self-compassion on your journey when you (inevitably) ‘mess up.'”
Use a Budget/Expense-Tracking App or Program
Mary wrote, “I use YNAB and that is the whole premise behind their method. Starts with deciding where every dollar you get will go when and only when you actually have it in hand. When you first start, it is an educated guess, but then you track every expenditure so you know exactly where your money is going, and adjust your budget accordingly. They also emphasize that you need to plan for things that only come up occasionally as well as unexpected expenses… It is all about setting your priorities and choosing what is most important to you. I thought I had a good handle on my finances, but YNAB has literally changed my life.”
Emma and Ingunn both recommend the book, “The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More.” (affiliate link)
Make Frugality a Hobby and a Game
Laurie said her solution is to, “…make it fun. It is a challenge to only spend a certain amount on food or other utilities. We see how low we can get them down and try to think of creative ways to still have what we want just in different ways. Want Chinese food well let’s find recipes to make it at home. Lower electric bill, we live like the settlers did and cook outside and use lanterns for a weekend. We have so much fun trying to out do each other by finding great deals on things we need. We don’t see it as deprivation it is about stretching what we have and being creative.”
Kristen wrote, “Frugality has become freeing to me after approaching it as a game. I’ve found a number of really neat items for FREE on local social media listing sites. They may not be exactly the style, color, form, etc I’d choose were I to buy from a store, but they’re close enough and I get a healthy sense of satisfaction from my free finds. I think this increases creativity as well. I’m finding new ways to repurpose items I wouldn’t have thought of if I weren’t trying to be frugal. It’s actually fun…
If you can be patient, something will come along. We lived without chairs for our dining table for 3 months. No big deal for us as we ate at the kitchen counter. We got 6 free, nice wood chairs that perfectly match our table 2 weeks ago! It’s a huge score when the timing works and I find these treasures. It’s luxurious to me from the aspect that I’m not a slave to the marketers of America. I do NOT need to drop 50k on a brand new car. I do NOT need to replace my decor every few years to keep up with the latest style. What IS a luxury is being able to afford experiences vs stuff. I can go for a hike and free my mind for a few hours. That’s a luxury in this busy world! I can go for a bike ride, a run, a walk, go ski, snowshoe… there are so many things that my body physically allows me to do and that is a luxury. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone lives in an area they love that offers ample experiences to free their mind. Working more to make more money for things I don’t need? I see nothing luxurious about that!”
Lea said, “We try to find free/inexpensive hobbies or hobbies that coincide with actual needs. For example we enjoy biking (basically free the way we do it.) Also I enjoy cooking, so while we might buy some nicer ingredients occasionally if I want to have some fun in the kitchen, we save money by not going out to eat, and overall my hobby satisfies a need. My husband also enjoys building/repurposing things so rather than buying new furniture we buy older, cheaper pieces and he refinishes them to work for us. Our frugality allows us to enjoy our hobbies, become better at them, and utilize our creativity so we can create things that perfectly suit our needs.”
Abbie wrote, “I like the adventure of seeing what I will discover on the reduced produce shelf of the supermarket. I scored recently with a tray of 3 very ripe papayas for $49 cents and a bag of lemons with cosmetic blemishes for a dollar. I have tried unusual vegetables for a low cost with these fun searches. I am a passionate about reducing food waste and am very willing to cut away blemished parts for my compost pile. Sometimes I am annoyed by what is lingering in my pantry. There are gifts of preserved fruits, canned vegetables, and tins of meats that have been collecting dust. I like the challenge of Googling this odd collection of ingredients and see what recipes I can come up with to use them. These cooking projects are a way to declutter and be creative at the same time.”
Know the True Cost of Your Stuff
Erica wrote, “I used to feel like I was missing out a bit until we bought a boat (30 years old, paid with cash). However, maintenance on the boat costs a lot of money! We do enjoy it, but that drove home a lesson for me. I like the simple life in my terms. I keep life simple by being frugal and doing what pleases me. What stops me from buying a lot of things is that I don’t want to spend the time maintaining them, fixing them, cleaning them, or having to upgrade all the time. When I purchase something now, it has to be something I want to spend time on or with. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it to me. I find a lot of possessions and “toys” are not worth it because of that. It takes away from my peace and simple life. I feel I live a good life and I would rather spend it with people versus things.”
Nancy shared, “I think realizing that even if we could buy everything, we’re not truly capable of enjoying everything. And also after a few good declutters, realizing that WE paid money for this stuff, and maybe we’d be better off buying less, and only buying what we really want, not because it’s a good deal, or in the heat of the moment.”
Maddy said, “I think understanding trade-offs is invaluable with frugality. Recognizing that spending money on X will inevitably be trading away another opportunity can help you become a valuist- someone who chooses to spend money only on things of value that really make a difference in their life. I realized that spending all our excess money on things we kind of enjoyed took away the opportunity for us to quit our jobs sooner. I then recognized that I valued my freedom more than the stuff I only cared about because others did. This is where goals come into play- for us it’s quitting sooner and having more options. When we have these goals they remind us about the trade offs we’re making which helps combat deprivation. If you’re not working towards a goal, deprivation is more likely to set in and make you want to give up.”
Getting to a place of seeing frugality as abundance, and not deprivation, can be as abstract as changing your mindset or as concrete as making a nice dinner at home on Saturday night instead of going to a restaurant. I personally use–and rely on–both of these approaches. I need the intellectual considerations of my privilege, of my profound good fortune and I also need to occasionally buy a nice bottle of wine to enjoy at home, knowing I’m spending less than I would at a bar, but still feeling indulgent. It’s the combination of these two things–a changed mindset about consumerism and the utilization of “frugal substitution”–that makes longterm frugality not just possible, but desirable, sustainable, and ultimately, liberating. Finally, finding benefits to your frugality that outstrip the money saved makes it all the more worthwhile.