Frugal Factors: What Traits Do Most Savers Share?

Photo: Jimmy_Joe

As I get older, I find myself more and more inclined to spend time with those who share my views on frugality, simple living, and saving. It seems as my age increases, so does my resolve to be quite open about my frugal ways. I guess that’s either drawn like-minded folks toward me, or repelled others — perhaps it’s done a bit of both simultaneously. The more I think about it though, the clearer it becomes — frugal folks do share a set of traits, values, or ways of living that bind us together and help us recognize each other in unlikely places. (See also: 30 Signs You Were Raised by Frugal Parents)

After a bit of observation and introspection, I’ve compiled a list of frugal factors — primary traits that we frugal folks share. Now, it’s by no means a comprehensive list or the least bit scientific. Instead it’s a character study of what it means to live simply in an age when “more” is often synonymous with “better”. So, here goes; I think frugal folks usually...

1. Recognize the Golden Mean

If you’re watching your dimes and dollars, you tend to recognize more quickly the optimal amounts of nearly everything. Not too much and not too little, the golden is all about finding balance.

2. Buy for Quality, Durability, and Timelessness

Let’s face it — we’re human, and sometimes buying things is downright fun. But frugal buyers focus less on the transaction and more on the benefits of that transaction over time. We look for quality, we buy for durability and functionality, and tend to gravitate toward timeless looks that will never go out of style.

3. Make the Connection Between Time, Labor, and Things

Unless you’re spending lottery winnings (and congratulations, if you are), there’s an inseparable connection between time, labor, and things. The price of any item or service is directly related to labor and labor is directly related to time. More visceral than the idea of money, we know that things cost time.

4. Live Below Our Means

If things really do cost time, why spend all of it year in and year out? The frugal among us typically understand that living below our means helps us to save and ultimately helps preserve our future time and labor.

5. Understand the Real Cost of Ownership

Most things we purchase require an ongoing and indefinite cash outlay. Cars break down, high-def TVs inspire us to upgrade our cable service, printers need ink, suits need dry-cleaning — even our adopted pets need food and good care. Savers understand that the act of buying often means agreeing to pay for years to come, and we plan accordingly.  

6. Distinguish Between Needs and Wants

For those who can differentiate between the things we need and the things we want, life is a whole lot simpler. It’s easier to prioritize, to control spending, to live within a budget, and to truly (madly, deeply) enjoy a splurge.

7. Embrace Satisfaction

We all live in a world that’s suspicious of satisfaction. If you don’t aspire to own a bigger house, buy a newer car, take more exotic vacations, install a spa bathroom, or build an outdoor kitchen, you’re viewed with a combination of pity and mistrust. But for those less driven by upgrades, the peace that comes from satisfaction can be priceless.

8. Understand the Difference Between Spending and Investment

Frugal folks often get painted with a broad brush; people think we penny-pinch and save no matter what. But, of course, that’s a false notion. More accurately, we understand the difference between spending money and making an investment. And we do our share of each — with awareness. Buying six pairs of new shoes is spending money; buying one versatile pair for work and everyday use is an investment. Taking a cab three times a week is spending money; buying a bike is an investment.

9. Avoid the Use of Credit

Credit is easy, tempting, and often habit-forming. Savers understand the pitfalls of compounding interest on unsecured consumer debt and we avoid it at all costs.

10. Know When to Seize an Amazing Deal

One of the most unsung skills of frugality is knowing how to spend. When an amazing deal presents itself, frugal folks recognize it immediately and know what to do. When spending now means saving later, we can whip out our wallets as fast as the next guy.

I’m sure there are more I’ve missed, but these qualities seem to form the foundation of frugal living. Each idea is learned personally, one at a time, often through trial and error. Also, at this risk of sounding sappy, each idea unites us in a sort of movement that’s rethinking consumerism, excess, and debt-as-a-lifestyle. So, take some to time recognize all your frugal neighbors out there, share some tips, some adventures, and maybe even a cup of coffee. You have a lot to talk about.

Do you see yourself in this list? Is there an important trait I’ve missed? What’s your journey been like as you’ve grown into your own frugality and what do you still struggle with?


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Guest's picture

I'm not sure how universal this is. The frugal folk I know tend to be a tad less conventional. They might reuse old things in new ways. Experiment in the kitchen. Swap with each other. Refinish. Faux paint. Even do some curbside gleaning.

They also enjoy less expensive diversions. Outdoor free concerts, roasting the perfect marshmallow on a stick, bird watching on a warm spring day. It doesn't have to be a cruise to Europe or a Broadway play.

Guest's picture

well put

Guest's picture

Great article Kentin. I think many of those are things that people trying to be better savers contemplate. However, number 5 is a sneaky one and one that I think I am not always cognizant of (like your HDTV/cable example). Thanks for the reminders!

Guest's picture

People who embrace a frugal lifestyle also have a comfort level with themselves. Having the latest gadget, wearing the latest fashion, driving the best looking car does not define who we are as a person.

Kentin Waits's picture

An excellent point, Diana. Comfort and satisfaction go hand-in-hand are true markers of the fabulously frugal. :) Thank you!

Guest's picture

Savers procrastinate on some purchases until they find a cheaper option. Other times they buy ahead, when they find a great deal, knowing they will need the item later. Also, savers like freebies!

Guest's picture

I think the title of this article is interesting... I am a frugal spender, if that makes sense. I love to shop (for bargains, now) and can spend a pile of money amazingly quickly if I don't check myself. Frugality hasn't come naturally or instinctively to me, but over the years I have become convinced that debt is incredibly destructive and consumerism won't make me happy in the long run. I have been reforming, and see more and more the wisdom in being frugal and telling my money where to go rather than letting it control me. I am getting better and better at telling myself no when I want some thing that I don't need or that doesn't line up with the lifestyle I want to lead for the next 50 years. Yet part of me does wonder if I will ever truly be a saver, and the struggle will ease up eventually, or if I will always be a "spender under control". Thoughts, anyone?

Kentin Waits's picture

Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa. You hit on a great point -- the difference between consciously choosing to take control of money vs. it being second-nature (based upon family history, natural inclination, etc). I think many people just assume that savers are "born" rather than "created" by shear determination. :)

Guest's picture

All of these points are definitely true, but many self-proclaimed frugalists are straight up cheap. lol. While I would generally consider myself a frugal spender, i often make an effort to buy stuff just for the sake of it to fulfill a want. I think that we all need to reward ourselves with nice things and not only buy what is necessary or practical.

Guest's picture

I love that you put "avoid the use of credit" in this article. Personally, I don't own a credit card, because I realize that the system is designed to have my rely on debt and thereafter pay interest. Sure, there are those who can spend responsibly, but for the rest of us (most of us, dare I say), the best route is to go with a debit card.

Thanks for the article!

Guest's picture

Once I stopped being lonely I stopped wanting stuff.