4 Reasons 'Frugal' Shouldn't be a Dirty Word

By Claire Millard on 1 April 2016 2 comments

What does living frugally mean to you? Do you think of deprivation and doing without, people merely scraping through in a life barely lived? Or maybe you think of fanatics, evangelizing for their way of life while extreme couponing and haggling in Walmart?

Frugal living has had quite the PR problem. But modern frugality really isn't about hair shirts and gruel. Today many people come to frugal living through conscious choice, rather than necessity. They often find it's a lifestyle choice that can actually enrich. Here's why.

1. Frugal Choices Are Value Driven

It's a common misconception that frugal living is all about saving money — but sometimes the frugal choice is not the cheapest one. To take a simple example, the frugal choice when buying a key item you need to be long lasting, like a winter coat, might not be visiting the thrift store. You might actually be better off buying new, and buying the best quality you can afford. Apart from the wider range available, this is a good way to avoid the high price of cheap clothes.

That might not sound so different from the choice anyone else might make, but the crucial point is that it's an examined decision. Frugal choices are mindful, where wall-to-wall commercials and our consumer society tend to promote mindless, reactionary buying.

A frugal mindset means that you're aware of your spending, thinking about the real purpose of a purchase before you make it. At its core, modern frugality is not about penny pinching. It's about attaching value to the right stuff. Which, of course, might not be stuff at all.

2. Living Frugally Offers Independence

There's little we Millennials prize more than independence. At first glance, frugality might seem to remove independence, forcing you to forgo opportunities and limiting your choices. And it's true that on a day to day basis, a frugal approach will see you dropping your skinny Starbucks latte habit, and put the kibosh on the designer handbag collection. But in the long run, a frugal life offers great independence.

People who choose to live frugally deliberately reduce their material needs. If you need less, you can save more — but many choose frugality not for the option of filling up the coffers, but for the opportunity to rebalance work and life.

Free from the need to keep up with your neighbors, you can critically examine how much money you need to earn for a lifestyle you will enjoy. As your financial needs diminish, you can choose to cut your working hours, take time for your hobbies, visit family, or study. Maybe you could even retire early.

3. Being Frugal Fosters Creativity

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Being frugal is a surefire way to foster self discipline and creativity.

Take birthdays or celebrations, for example. When you start from a frugal mindset, gifts and parties are not about how much you spend, but about how much you think. No last minute, guilt-driven smash and grab at the shopping mall here. The same goes for eating. Frugal living is about cooking from scratch, planning a menu and shopping list, understanding and working with seasonality. Put down the take-out menu.

Some elements of a frugal life are more demanding than others. That's where the self discipline comes in. But we humans are meant to be able to look after ourselves, and modern conveniences have stripped away some of that. Getting frugal is a great way to get creative, and experience the rewarding feeling of making something yourself, whether it's a gift or a gazpacho.

4. Frugality Promotes Personal Connections

Living frugally naturally leads to valuing experiences more than things. By being open and mindful to experiences, frugality can deepen personal connections.

Traditional research into the science of happiness agrees. The Easterlin Paradox suggests that people could ultimately be happier if they devoted more time to non financial goals like spending time with family, or improving our health. More money, once your basic financial needs are met, does not make us happier — the idea that it does has been described as the "money illusion."

One reason for this is that a more consumerist outlook can inadvertently foster a sense of competitiveness. Even with those closest to you, you might get a jealous twinge looking at the latest flash purchase. Instead of comparing designer high heels, frugal people might share an experience with those around them. Get into the countryside for a walk or cook a meal together — just stay away from the mall!

So, far from merely enduring a miserable existence, perhaps those embracing a frugal life are actually demonstrating that you can have more, with less. Maybe collecting a life full of experience is more rewarding than a closet full of clothes.

What do you value about frugality?

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Guest

I love this! Amen! I love being called frugal and frankly the other"s way of life sickens me!! The world needs more frugal people.

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David B

Right on thank you guys and gals