7 Frugal Myths Debunked
We frugal folks often get a bad rap. In the media, one of two things tends to happen. When the economy is bad, the media races to interview diehard frugal gurus to figure out just how they do it and peek behind the mysterious veil of living within your means. When economic times are brighter, frugality is marginalized and those same gurus are looked upon with a mixture of sympathy and disdain. I think both of these extremes are fueled by fundamental myths about what frugality really means. Let's set the record and debunk seven of the most common frugal myths:
1. People are frugal because they have no choice
Many folks are frugal because they have to be (and in this day and age, there are few among us who can afford not to be). For others, frugality is a choice — a method of successful living that's a response to understanding the intimate link between time, labor, money, and things. The frugal realize that every purchase we make represents time that's been (or will be) sold. Consequently, we tend to prioritize expenditures differently. (See also: The Enemies of Frugality)
2. "Frugal," "cheap," and "tightwad" are all synonyms
Some tightwads may be cheap and all tightwads are frugal, but not everyone who's frugal is a tightwad or cheap. Follow? To me, tightwad and cheap are terms of disparagement. They're meant to imply a personality flaw — a tendency to hate to spend money and when spending is unavoidable, to always choose the cheapest option. Frugal folks, on the other hand, are not so rigid. We seek out quality and we cut corners in certain categories so that we can indulge in others debt-free. Maybe a young couple chooses to live off a single salary so that one parent can stay home with a child. Maybe a single man takes his lunch to work every day to pay down his mortgage faster. Frugality is born from understanding priorities — from conscious calculation and from rational strategy.
3. Frugality is all about self-sacrifice and denial
Not true. There have been very few times in my own life when I've felt denied anything truly important because of my frugality. Maybe my wants have been suppressed, but more likely, they've been recalibrated. For me (and I have a hunch, for most frugal folks) the real denial would be the peace-of-mind lost from living beyond my means. I truly get a charge out of saving money and I enjoy the rich experience of (usually) being worry-free.
4. Frugal people pinch every penny and clip coupons all day
On the continuum of frugality, I fall somewhere in the moderate or moderate-to-extreme range. Still, I don't pinch every penny, clip coupons, reuse tin foil, or collect old soda cans along the highway. But that's just me. Everyone approaches frugality differently and employs different tactics and strategies for success. The experience of frugal living is varied and personal — we all have our own way of doing things.
5. Real frugality is impossible in this day and age
This is a tough one. On one hand, it's simple to see how frugality may have been easier two or three generations ago when people tended to live near extended family and lead more rural and self-sufficient lives. On the other hand, in a nation and age of excess, there are always frugal opportunities. Human ingenuity is less about the age in which we live and more about inspiration and motivation.
6. Frugal people aren't concerned about style or fashion
Wrong. Scratch those stereotypes of frugal folks strutting around in acid washed 'mom jeans' and garage sale huaraches. Great style has always been about classic cuts, a good fit, quality materials, and durable construction. All of the above can be found (albeit with a bit of patience) in thrift stores, on discount racks, and at garage sales. Frugal folks may not be trendy (who wants that anyway?), but many of us are spot-on with our style.
7. Frugality is too hard
This may not be a myth. Frugality is hard, especially in the beginning and especially if you're used to a life with few financial limits. But it gets easier. Over time, frugality becomes second-nature and it's the unreasonable spending and excess that become difficult. As the sugary-sweet high of consumerism begins to fade, it'll be replaced by the joy of living debt-free, living more simply, and with less stress.
We can all help fight misconceptions about frugality since we're all examples of stereotypes that don't fit in some way or another. Maybe the larger social trend of moderation is here to stay. If so, let's help shed the thinking that has marginalized thrift and popularized excess. We just may be better for it.
What myths and misconceptions about frugality have you encountered? What are people surprised to learn about your frugal ways?