Endurance Frugality: Staying The Course And Being A Winner

Photo: infomatique

Frugality can be fun and help you sleep peacefully, knowing that you are not in debt (or at least that your assets are starting to outnumber your liabilities), building an emergency fund, saving for major purchases, and investing for the future.

But don’t be fooled: as frugal days turn into frugal years and frugal decades, bag lunches can be become boring; smallish houses, confining; thrift shop clothing, unfashionable. And though you may not care what people think of your “voluntary simplicity,” it can become tiresome to always live outside of an acquisition-oriented, size-counts-the-most social norm.

“Why don’t I just get frugal friends?” you might wonder. It’s true that I know people who tout The Millionaire Next Door as a model for living. But they see their frugality as smart and wealth-building; others' minimalist living as a pitiful, paltry, and desperate attempt to avoid foreclosure.

Call me shallow but while I don’t care if people think I’m poor, I certainly don’t want them thinking I’m stupid. It’s taken me years to figure out ways to look smart, be cool, and remain true to my frugal roots. Here are my tips on gaining the psychological edge needed for endurance frugality:

1) Don’t let frugality inhibit your ambition.

Just because you can live on less doesn’t mean that you have to make less money. While money or the opportunity to earn more doesn’t need to drive every career and life decision, getting better at what you do, making greater and greater contributions to your employer or community, building a reputation for excellence, setting and meeting aggressive goals are worthy apart from a merit raise or bonus.

2) Take excellent care of yourself.

Being frugal should not be hazardous to your well-being but rather improve your mental outlook and physical health. Cooking at home, a frugality mainstay, is typically less expensive and healthier than the often high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sodium meals from restaurants so you are already a few paces ahead. But don’t stop there: make sure you get regular health screenings (physicals, blood work, and cancer checks) and push the exercise as much as possible to control weight, and build stamina and strength. People tend to admire those who are positive, energetic, and fit.

3) Go on adventures.

Adventures allow you to 1) have pure fun and 2) give you intriguing stories to tell, further separating you from things-based social status. Whether a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail or a theater- and museum-hopping visit to London, if your experience involves what you love, do it; who doesn’t respect someone who dares to live his/her dreams?

4) Take excellent care of things you own.

Being neither materialistic nor visually attuned to artistic details made it difficult for me to understand the value that society took on appearances. But I finally realized that stewardship should be aligned with ownership, which meant taking care of my possessions: polishing my shoes; getting machines repaired; clearing up water stains; and replacing dented vinyl floors. Making overdue renovations to my home in the past few years made me understand that I can afford nice things though not necessarily super-sized ones of everything. Friends and guests are charmed at fine finishes, not just large structures.

5) Stay on top of technology.

You don’t have to be an early adopter but years of eschewing new technology can make you seem like a dinosaur or worse, just plain slow to grasp new things. And if you associate exclusively with frugal fanatics who do not have cool electronics, then a primary source of instruction (your friends) is not available. Let your friends show you their gadgets and learn how to use the latest features so you keep up to date and conserve cash.

6) Become an expert in something.

If you don’t already have an expertise, get one. You might become the go-to person and community educator on rock climbing, rabbit breeding, or astronomy, for example. Your depth of knowledge and extreme interest in an unusual topic may brand you as eccentric but no one will ever think of you as stupid.

7) Forgive yourself for frugal lapses.

Stay upbeat even when you take a frugal misstep or just feel like paying for convenience. You may not lead in every stretch of the race but you’ll be a winner of the frugal marathon.

8) Be nice to the wealthy.

There are people who can reside in 3,000+ sq. ft. homes, drive upscale cars, take luxury vacations and give to charity, build wealth, enjoy honorable lives. They have much in common with the frugal: they want to be admired for who they are rather than their net worth. Make friends and don’t worry about spending differences. 

Frugality is more than saving a few pennies and becoming debt-free, it's about pursuing your dreams and not someone else's idea of success.

Tagged: Lifestyle, frugality
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Myscha Theriault's picture

I really needed this post today, as cabin fever in the great white north was starting to get me down. I pay attention to all the items you mention, but fully admit to needing to pay way more attention to number two.

Good job.

Julie Rains's picture

You and other bloggers helped inspire me.

My frugality and a host of personal/professional obligations kept me from #2 for a while. I finally broke down and joined a gym (where I do exercise regularly) and have spent some money on gear (bicycle, technical clothing). I envision you cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter, kayaking/canoeing in the summer, hiking year-round.

Myscha Theriault's picture

That's why I think it's so cool that people share their success as well as their struggles here. If you think everyone has an easy time doing it, it's easier to feel like you're failing when you might just be going through what others do on a weekly basis. I think it's so cool you chose a marathon picture for the article. Very appropriate.

And yes, actually. I do have snowshoes. Although I'm such a weeny when it comes to upper arm strength that I have to stand there like a toddler while my husband pulls tight the boot straps. Other than not being able to get them completely on by myself, I don't do too badly with them. It's our first year having the gear.  


Guest's picture

Thank you for this. Simple steps and easy to keep in mind. It's true, being frugal, living in a tiny house, etc. can be hard. This post helps.

Guest's picture

When frugality becomes a lifestyle choice rather than an undeniable necessity, I think it's useful to be generous with the things you have been able to accumulate as a result--whether it's more money, more time, or more knowledge.

And, if you're successful at the game of living below your means, stash your cash! (retirement, college funds, real estate investment...) There's nothing like a 6-figure surplus in your checking account to tempt you into an unnecessary splurge.

My husband and I disagree on this a little (I've come to realize, 4 years into our relationship, that this is probably the only major disconnect in our financial styles, and it affects more than just monetary assets). He likes to keep more in the checking acct. (~2 months' basic expenses), as well as more in the ING acct as short-term savings (another 4 months) than I think it necessary . I think that big of a cushion tends to make a person feel financially "cushy" and indulgent.

Philip Brewer's picture

Frugality isn't about doing without--it's about choosing what's important. But knowing that is one thing; actually making the right choices day in and day out is another. For that, it helps a lot to have some guiding principals (or, at least, some rules of thumb), and you've provided some good tips.

Guest's picture

What your talking about is the difference being cheap and being frugal. I define frugal as living life to the fullest on the least possible budget. People confuse them becuase they read stories about Americas Cheapest Family and how they eat out of date meat and think yuck, or pick up the tightwad gazzette learn about sharing stamps with your neighbour.

To me being frugal is about making wise choices. For example both my wife and I like dressing nice but not paying full price. So we wait for sales and stock up. Same with cooking, I buy quality ingrediants but use a price book to make sure I don't over pay. We love our vactions but our CC stays at home.

Being frugal isn't just about being debt free it's about making wise choices that allow you to live life to the fullests.

Julie Rains's picture

I definitely think that frugality is all about choices and priorities, and there is a difference between being frugal and cheap though one person's "yuck" is another person's "that's okay sometimes" and even that changes over time.

I also wanted to bring clever, real-world, live-in-society ways to build/reinforce self-esteem for those who are (or feel they are) constantly assaulted by well-meaning friends, acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers, etc. who look disapprovingly on their choices and priorities.

Kathryn, I know that it can be tricky to navigate frugality when you have that financial cushion -- thanks for the generousity mention.  

Guest's picture

This is a very useful article and the tips are simple and practical. In my city many are at the crossroads of this dilemna too, may I link to this post and your site on my blog? Thanks.

Julie Rains's picture
Yes, you are welcome and encouraged to link to me. I am glad that the post is helpful, and more universal than I realized.
Guest's picture

Good post, thanks to it I have decided that as a couple my wife and I need to "take more adventures" together.

Guest's picture

Buildings are quite expensive and not every person is able to buy it. However, loans was created to aid people in such kind of situations.