Ask the Readers: Is It Possible to Be Too Frugal?

By Ashley Jacobs on 17 January 2012 (Updated 24 January 2012) 121 comments
Photo: Ken Teegardin

Congratulations to frugalportland, Kristin Haffey, and Bob Muller for winning this week's contest!

Being frugal is typically something looked upon favorably nowadays. From clipping coupons to buying on sale, most people practice frugality in their day-to-day lives. But is there ever a point where someone can be a little too frugal?

Is it possible to be too frugal? At what point does being frugal become cheap? Or is it impossible to take frugality too far?

Tell us if you think it's possible to be too frugal and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

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We're doing three giveaways — one for random comments, one for random Facebook "Likes", and another one for random tweets.

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Thad P

I think it is possible to go from frugal to cheap. The difference is attitude. You can be frugal and still be generous. It is far harder to be cheap and generous at the same time.

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Monica

You can be too frugal. When your quality of life is barely above the level of torture you've gone too far. If it is a means to an end it can be worth it though!

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Therese

It's possible to be too frugal if you are doing things you really hate to do or depriving yourself of things you love just to save money, even if you can afford to buy them.

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ronb.

The discipline of trusting yourself daily,choosing wisely,and doing the next right thing leads me to a healthy frugality.

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Guest

Yes...I really think you can be too frugal, when your health and the well being of people around you become at stakes.

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Tim

As long as it doesn't hurt anyone I don't think you can be to frugal.

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Guest

What a funny question! If you're looking in the mirror and asking yourself if you're "too frugal", then IMO you don't have a frugal soul and should be instead supporting the economy with your new car payment and fancy dinners out.

Is there such a thing as "too frugal"? Heck no.

Guest's picture
Shannon

Yes, I think you can be too frugal. If a person's desire to save money interferes with their health and general well-being, then I think that crosses a line. Things like avoiding doctor's appointments or neglecting household cleaning/maintenance to save money could be potentially life-threatening.

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Jenn

Yes, I think that it is possible to be too frugal, but I think the threshold is different for everyone. My husband and I are quite frugal, but we do not allow that to affect our values. Having built in "splurges" allows us to enjoy the efforts of our frugality without breaking the budget.

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Christie

There is a place where frugal becomes cheap. Going out with friends and constantly "forgetting" your wallet and never paying anyone back because you want to have fun without the expense, that's cheap. Frugal is going out with your friends, ordering something within your own spending limit, having a great time, and not making every friend hate to go out with you! Be frugal, but don't forget to have fun once in a while, your goals will still be there and if you are wise, you can live well along the journey!

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Lani C

I like you on FB

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Guest

When you've used a coupon in conjunction with a store-wide sale, get a large percentage off on a typical item and you're excited, you're just being frugal. If you're NOT excited and you're still not satisfied with your large savings, you're being cheap.

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Lani C

I think it goes from being frugal to cheap when it starts impacting your life (or your family's) in a negative way.

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rm

I know someone who was so frugal it ruined his marriage. There is a fine line between being frugal and cheap.

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Staycee

I think a lot of the answer depends on the situation of the person being frugal. A man with a million dollars who reuses paper towels is being cheap. A man with no money and debt up to his eyeballs reusing paper towels is frugal.
It's all a matter of perspective.

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Guest

I think you are being too frugal when your actions adversely affect another person.

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Lisa

Yes--it is possible to be "too" frugal when you do things that are unsafe (reuse those styrofoam meat trays) or silly (wash and reuse plastic wrap) or just 'ick' (bathing every third Wednesday and doing laundry only in February and July).

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Patrick

Yes, it is possible to be too frugal. The point at which being frugal imposes upon your ability to maintain basic relationships, your health, or the health of others, you are too frugal. Dumpster diving, a diet of only Top Ramen noodles, taking only cold showers may be examples of being too frugal.

Guest's picture

If your frugality interferes with your long-term happiness, then you're being too frugal!

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I like WB on Facebook!

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Monica

I like wisebread on facebook!

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Shelley

Yes, it's entirely possible to overdo frugality. If you are washing and reusing paper towels or swiping condiments from fast-food places you, my friend, are too frugal.

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Becky

My father-in-law had the opportunity to buy a nice new condo in Florida at a great price but decided on a used mobile home because of the reduced investment. After around 20 years, the trailer park was ultimately sold and all the trailers had to be moved. My father-in-law went to sell the trailer but it was barely worth anything. Matter of fact, If he had bought the condo, it would have been free and clear at that point and the taxes and fees would have been a small percentage of the lot rent cost. Matter of fact, they spent their winters in Florida without many amenities such as central air and a washer and dryer in that little trailer. Yes, you can be too frugal.. becoming penny wise and pound foolish as some people say..

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Becky

https://twitter.com/#!/anappaloosagal/status/159307350015082497

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Becky

I "like" on facebook and left a comment!

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May Kirby

In this economy, I don't think it's possible to be too frugal. Things are now in such a state we need to move back to the automatic frugality, as in the time of the Depression and World War II- when conservation and frugality was a way of life. Today, it's not a choice for our family and many others. We are frugal to survive, and live beneath our means so we can squirrel away some savings for emergencies, medical expenses and a weekend away now and then. Since none of us is exempt from a financial crisis, we must all be diligent in appropriating the money we earn!

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Guest

Victorian Age Wall Street investor Hetty Green, who became the world's richest woman, was so frugal throughout her life that she pinched pennies in every aspect of her life, even to the point of wearing the same clothing for months at a time. I think she went overboard with frugality. So, yes, it's possible to be too frugal, particularly when it cuts into all enjoyment of life.

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Guest

Yes, I think a person can become too frugal. I admire people that can live on a shoestring, but most of the people that live on a shoestring do so because their income dictates that. Now, the other side to the coin is when you live so frugal that you deprive yourself the enjoyment of living. My father passed away with money in the bank and never meet my grandchildren, his great grandchildren. Thechilden all live in CA and while he was living he lived in Ohio, not a long hard journey. He lived so frugal he was cut off from his family and ate cheap unhealthy food, which contributed to his poor health. So, yes I think you can live to frugal. If you have the means enjoy your life--it is really short.

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Lorena M

The point at which being frugal interferes with personal hobbies, cultural activities, or just being able to do what makes you happy, is when it has gone too far.

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steve

Of course you can be too frugal. Frugal, in my mind, is a commitment to making prudent financial decision; weighing the pros and cons of spending money. But like anything, there needs to be a sense of balance. I find myself to be cheap and when I need to make decisions about purchases for myself, I always chose to be frugal. But my balance is my family. I would never be cheap with them and I would never put saving money over their needs.

Recently, for example, I needed to get new shoes. However, instead of buying a new pair or taking them to the repair shop, I super-glued the heal of my sneaker back on. I can afford a new pair, I would like a new pair, but this pair is almost back to normal without spending money. However, my Mother recently needed a new pair of sneakers for work (as she spends a good amount of time on her feet) and I went out and bought her two pairs. Now I got a good deal on them, but I bought two because I want to make sure my mother is always provided for. She should not have to make the sacrifices that I choose to make (she has already made her fair share of sacrifices for me).

Putting money before family, to me, would be too frugal.

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Dana

No, I don't think you can be to frugal. Frugal is the act of saving and being sensible with your money. Being frugal does not mean you won't spend the money. It means you are more likely to save up for the more expensive things you want and try to find a deal. It doesn't mean you won't buy it if you can't find a deal. You may just wait a little longer so as not to deplete your resources.
Being Cheap is an attitude. Cheap is when you won't spend the money because you don't want to let go of the money. It's a side effect of a condition known as greed.

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chris

Liked the FB page!

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chris

I think it depends on the times - some times call for much more frugality and cheapness. These days I do not think you can be too frugal. I think more people need to be much more frugal and not worry so much about maintaining lifestyles.

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Sarah

Yes! There are some people who take it to an extreme to the point where it is detrimental. For example, I know a co-worker who saves almost every penny that she earns. Some of her habits can be a good example of how to save, such as not eating at restaurants, shopping only at Goodwill, and downsizing her apartment. However, she is so obsessive about every cent that she causes negative results in other areas of her life. For example, she rarely attends social events, and when she does go out to eat, she will "forget" to tip. It is difficult to spend time with someone so stingy that they won't tip workers. Also, she has a land line and will not call anyone with an out of area code number since it will be a long distance charge. This eventually pushes people away, which weakens the social net that most people rely on. The worst part was that she didn't purchase health insurance because she "couldn't bear to see the extra money leaving her paycheck." No health, vision or dental insurance! That also means no regular check ups! What happened that year? A car accident. Now instead of the little bit she would have paid each month she has medical bills coming to her apartment. It is unwise to be frugal to the point of being unhealthy. Luckily she signed up for insurance the next year, but she serves as an example of taking something to the extreme - being so extremely conservative with your money that you cross over to extremely risky with your health and life.

Guest's picture

I think a person can be too frugal and cross into "cheapskate" territory. There is a line between frugality and cheapness, and it's different for each person. The line isn't a dollar value, but rather the point at which frugality breeds misery. If you're getting no joy out of the money you're saving, or if you're missing out on joy because of it, then you've crossed the line.

I wrote a blog post that goes more in depth on this topic... http://www.talkingcentsblog.com/2011/08/10/dont-sacrifice-prioritize-you...

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Diana

I think the term "too frugal" would only apply if you're not happy with your own practices, since we're all different and have different ideas of what constitutes "frugal"... If you're stressing yourself out because you forgot to clip coupons this week, or you didn't have time to pick up one particular sale item, then yes, I would say that's going too far. The idea is to make your life easier, not more stressed! Be happy with what you can do, and forget the rest...

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B

Absolutely!!! Have you seen TLC's "Extreme Cheapskates"?!

I digress...

Frugality is a means to an end, and for me that means an enhanced quality of life for the long-term. I use resources at my disposal to get what I want/need at the lowest possible cost, but I don't deny myself the freedom to live a nice life. I recognize that investments in today and tomorrow are equally important, both require a clear mind and discipline. However, at the end of the day, frugality shouldn't compromise your quality of living to the point where you're scooping rice off of the ground after wedding celebrations (see "Extreme Cheapskates" if you need an explanation).

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Seamus

It depends on your attitude. A certain frugality works for us if it's based on a deep respect for the resources that we use. It means that we're in tune with the earth and each other and respectful of the energy that each thing uses in order to be created

On the other hand, poverty consciousness is just another way to disrespect ourselves, saying that we're not worthy of better lives. It shows that we're not in tune with the earth, because we're not in tune with, or in love with ourselves.

Poverty consciousness actually creates more poverty, while respect for the flow of good creates more good. That's the way the universe works.

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NJJ

Yes, it is possible to be too frugal. For example, when being frugal can cost you your health IE buying dented and/or expired goods to save a few pennies. Also, being to frugal can also cause added stress, like with extreme couponing. There's nothing wrong with getting a good bargain but when a stockpile pushes you and/or your family out of your bedrooms and home, that's a bit too much unnecessary stress. There's nothing wrong with stocking up on things or trying to save a penny or two but as long as its done in a healthy way :)

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sassy

I think it is personal. I do think there are people who can go from frugal to flat out cheap though. If you are purposely not allowing yourself to enjoy life due to the cost, that is cheap. That is not to say spend all your money and do whatever you want.

For an example- if you really love Indian food but you see it as a waste of money because it is so expensive to you, and you refuse to ever spend that and resort to ramen noodles (and you consume yourself with wishing you could have some Indian food without allowing yourself to ever spend money on that), I think that is cheap. There are frugal choices you could make in this situation- you could learn to make it, go to the grocery store (Fresh and Easy sells a $4.00 premade meal), or go to a restaurant and treat yourself which would cost at least $20 easily plus tip and whatnot.

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sassy

I like you on facebook as Sasha L.

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sassy

I tweeted today. I think this is a great discussion too, by the way.
https://twitter.com/#!/ThriftySassyMam/status/159328305122787328

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Kate

Sure, if watching every last penny when it's not an absolute necessity starts to impinge on your enjoyment of life. Part of being frugal is so that you can afford to spend a little more once in a while to do something fun.

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Happy Love

Yes. Too frugal is called stingy.

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Betty

I'm not sure you can be too frugal, but you can be frugal stupid. As my father would say, penny wise and dollar foolish.

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Betty

Liked you and your post on Facebook.

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Betty

Answered on Twitter. https://twitter.com/#!/1bets1/status/159333667783720960

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Kristy OT

I think if it becomes an obsession, or if your actions start hurting people, then yes, you've taken it too far. Otherwise, do what you want. Have fun. Live in a box if you want. But don't come to my house and steal my toilet paper.

Guest's picture
Jenny

Most of us have an area of service we unreasonably resent paying for. My spouse's blind spot is yard services - his frame of reference is out of step with going rates. When it's paying for someone's time, consider it an "opportunity cost," or value it this way: waking up on Saturday and having the whole day free for a bike ride, or bagging leaves?

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Ashley

Yes, you can be too frugal. There is absolutely a fine balance that some people cross over where it becomes an unhealthy obsession. At some point, your time is also more valuable. Especially if you have kids.

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Valerie Morgan

I liked you on Facebook.

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Valerie Morgan

Yes, I think it is possible to be too frugal. When you make money more important than your family, when you treat others poorly to avoid spending money, and when you sacrifice quality of life to save a few pennies.

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Alex J

Frugality is taken too far when it overtakes your life and becomes your identity.

Frugality and "cheapness" should enable you to live a life that is fulfilling.

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Jennifer Dubbs

Yes - when you sacrifice so much that you don't even allow for an occasional treat or to enjoy life.

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Diana

yes you can be too frugal: underwear / socks with holes should not be kept. Anyone and everyone can afford to buy a new pair of those.

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mk_writer

I think too frugal is when you sacrifice other things (time, mental health, etc) that you consider precious for amounts of money that you can afford to pay, just for the sake of doing it. For example, if your time is as (or more) precious than your money, and you can afford to pay someone to put a new zipper on your coat, then do it, instead of causing yourself frustration and wasting time.

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Leah

Of course you can be too frugal! For example, if you're eating the cheapest food money can buy--which also tends to be the most unhealthy (Ramen, highly-processed junk, etc.)--you're too frugal.

All of life is about balance.

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Guest

I do think it is possible to be too frugal. I watched a show once where the guy actually washed and re-used paper towels. I mean if you want re-usable towels..they already make them....they are called dish towels. Extreme couponing is a joke too! They pay for the coupons, spend all their free time searching for the best deal, rent trucks/trailers, and pay insurance on their "free" goods. Thank you but i don't need that many toothbrushes or deodorant....even if they are free!

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KelR1

Like you on FB.

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KelR1

Yes, I think you can become too frugal. If you become so cheap that you are no longer spending on necessary things like your health and well-being or your home (i.e., it isn't safe because of disrepair) then that would be TOO frugal. Also if you skimp on other people's gifts. I'm not saying you should spend yourself into bankruptcy or buy things simply to impress, but it is nice to give a small, thoughtful present if you can on someone's occasion.

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Talaga

When you start suffering needlessly and feel bad about it then you have gone too far.

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KelR1

https://twitter.com/#!/KelRo1/status/159359357652447232

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Lisa

Everything has a happy medium including frugality. Saving money and resources is wonderful unless it comes at a cost to one's health and well being.

Guest's picture

Of course -- and the litmus test is to see whether your frugality has become a burden for the people who love you (i.e. they need to pick up the tab every time).

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Guest

I think being frugal can be taken to an extreme that can be unhealthy, unsanitary or anti-social.

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Bob Muller

The most obvious one would be: put a value on your time, and if you're spending HOURS to save PENNIES by searching, clipping, storing coupons it's a negative value. But the most obvious response is that if ALL you do is SAVE and HOARD money and never enjoy your life, what's the point?

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Diane

Personally, I think it is possible to be too frugal~ as my boyfriend always says, "Extremes are evil!" I know a family who refuses to pay for garbage pick up service, but instead takes their garbage to put it in a relative's garbage can, or a business dumpster. I'm talking about $20 a month, which they can easily afford! This is just one example, but I think any thing can be carried to an extreme and it is possible to be too frugal.

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Diane

I like wisebread on fb~

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Guest

I disagree with everyone else! It's NOT possible to be too frugal. It's not necessarily in its definition, but I infer "frugality" as making smart money choices and not spending lavishly. Frugality implies a certain level of boundaries. If go beyond the boundaries, you are not longer being frugal.

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Lorena

It's absolutely possible to be too frugal. My husband's uncle is a "too frugal" type. While I understand why (his retirement and his daughter's off to college are nearly simultaneous life events), but he really pushes it by making everyone else really uncomfortable when we go out to eat as a family. While I'm all for saving money, there's a time and place for everything, and being pushy about restaurant choices and the bill is really off-putting.

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Aaron L

Being frugal is to be economical with your time and money. I think you can be TOO frugal if you don't do things you enjoy and are stingy and sad. Spending on things you truly enjoy like good food, travel, and fun should be allowable. But there are some people who choose to make themselves uncomfortable, like walking outside in 30 degree weather instead of driving somewhere to save money on gas (we don't live in a pedestrian friendly place either. That's too 'frugal.' Probably cheap.

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Aaron L

https://twitter.com/#!/linjiunhan/status/159426246130929665

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Pat S

Of course it is... if you make 200k a year and eat nothing but rice and lentils, you may be overdoing it.

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Laura

Yes I think you can go too far. When your habits effect others negatively then I'd say you've become too frugal.

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Laura

I've already "Liked"" wisebread on facebook.

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Laura

Link to my tweet: https://twitter.com/#!/Tweeting_Laura/status/159430031318323201

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Lynda

yes it's a fine line between frugal to cheap. you have to discern very carefully.

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Lynda

tweeted https://twitter.com/#!/oshkoshbgosh123/status/159441205799829505

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Lynda

i like wisebread on fb

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Miranda

Yes, it's possible.

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michelle

Yes! Frugality is good, but when it starts affecting your healthy, that's gone too far.

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Joan

I honestly don't believe that you can be too frugal. However, you can carry it too far and become cheap which may endanger your health and well-being.

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Tiffany

Yes, if it reduces your quality of life.

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Jerry

Frugal, at least my definition, is being exceptionally smart with spending money or getting the most out of a product. I don't think a person can be too frugal as long as it doesn't impact safety or health of themselves or others. If they're happy with it, so be it.

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Debra

It is possible to be too frugal. If you're making sacrifices that take all the enjoyment out of life or negatively impact important relationships in your life, you may have gone too far.

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Rusty

Yes.. You can be too frugal. If you pull apart 2ply toilet tissue to make 2 rolls of single ply, then that's too frugal... and scary..

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Rusty

I like wisebread on facebook.

Guest's picture

My roommate in college was WAY too frugal. Nobody would go out with him because he always wanted to fight with the wait staff about the bill.....not fun.

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Nicholas

There is a point that it practically becomes an obsession where you try to stretch out the usefulness of items so much it just isn't practical anymore. Frugal is being smart with your money by making sure you get more per dollar and not just avoiding something in order to not spend the money.

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Nicholas

I liked the article on facebook!

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Tyler S.

Sure, it's possible to be too frugal. You can take everything to an extreme, and once you get beyond a certain point, it becomes detrimental in some way. If you're so busy all the time finding ways to save money and always worrying about not saving enough, you're not going to have any time to appreciate what you do have.

You always need to be in control of your finances, but you can't let them control you.

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kasey

I think it's possible, but it's so subjective that I hate to judge it - if it's not harming you or your family or society, then it's to each his own I guess

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BRB

Yes, some people do gross or dangerous things in their attempts so save a few cents.

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debbie

it's all in the eye of the beholder. to the frugal one in question, they are not too frugal. to someone else on the outside, it is a matter of opinion.

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GL

It's definitely possible to be too frugal when the cost/benefit just doesn't add up, or when you live like a miser even though you have hundreds of thousands (or even millions) stashed away...

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GL

"Liked" your Facebook page. :)

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GL

Tweeted for my third entry: https://twitter.com/#!/grigorylukin/status/159748472449400832

Thanks for doing these giveaways, guys - you're awesome! :^D

Guest's picture

Being married to a frugal-bordering-on-cheap person, I can say that yes, it is definitely possible to be too frugal. Automatically reaching for the least-costly item will sometimes result in having to replace the item too frequently, which would cost more than if you bought a good-quality item in the first place.

And, as far as couponing is concerned, I think it is also possible to be too frugal in that department, as well. If I only bought items that I could get coupons to buy, I wouldn't have as much fresh food in my larder; the kind of food that is best for us to eat doesn't usually come with a name brand or in packaging, and thus, rarely do you see coupons for them. (I'm always, always horrified at those extreme couponing shows where the person has hundreds upon hundreds of processed food items in the "stash." Processed foods have excessive amounts of sugar, fat, and salt, and not much nutrition otherwise.) Better to be slightly less frugal and have a balanced diet than to get dirt-cheap non-nutritive items.

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And, I "liked" y'all on Facebook ;)

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Angela

Definitely. Limiting the number of sheets of toilet paper you use is yucky, NOT frugal ;)