Frugal is More than a Way to Spend Money, Part 2


It's not wrong to spend your money. This is a little bit of a caveat to this series that I'm doing, but worthy of time and energy anyway. (See also: Frugal Is More Than a Way to Spend Money, Part 1)

My experience, which consists of examining my own life and talking to my friends, says that most Americans struggle with a combination of cultural messages about spending money.

The "Typical" Debtor

When I think of someone who struggles to be frugal, I tend to think of someone who suffers from the "Debt is just a part of life" mentality. They rack up debt like it's going out of style. They always own the newest technology, vehicles, homes, home furnishings, and anything else they can think of that's cool. They eat a lot of meals out, often at hip, expensive restaurants. They live life in the fast lane until they can't possibly do it any longer because of the creditors breathing down their necks. Their financial troubles come in heaps, and they have no idea how it all happened.

While this is something of a caricature, one or more of these aspects often apply to people with a lot of debt. Their struggle with frugality is clear, and there are a lot of resources to help them out of it.

Another Way to Struggle With Frugality

There is, however, another way to struggle with frugality. These people suffer from the "Avoid debt at all costs" mentality. I am, self-admittedly, one of these people. We do everything in our power to avoid debt, even good, healthy kinds. We are the people who put $800 into re-building the transmission in our 1990 Hondas because we don't have the cash to buy a new car up front, and we don't want to make car payments. Trouble comes when we need to go into some sort of debt, be it for a house, a vehicle, medical bills, or something else. We panic and tend to make poor financial decisions because we feel like failures and don't know what to do with debt. We also struggle to enjoy the money we make because we are so afraid of anything that touches on financial insecurity.

Again, this is also a caricature, but aspects of this description apply not only to myself, but to so many people I know. Our struggle with frugality is more confusing, and there are fewer helpful resources.

The Vicious Circle

The truth is that there are probably items in both of these caricatures that apply to each of us, if we take an honest look at ourselves. In some places, we spend too much. We want to be cool more than we want to spend our money well. But we feel guilty about spending money...we feel like we should have more to show for the work we do, or like no matter how hard we're trying, we should have less debt. But there are so many things we want, so we go out and buy some more, only to feel more guilt and perpetuate the circle.

So What Do We Do Now?

For me, the key to coming to terms with this has been to allow myself to spend some money. Every paycheck, I give myself an amount I can spend. This varies depending on how much money I have coming in, how much I know I need to pay out, and what I want to buy. But I let myself spend a certain amount, guilt-free. The money is mine; I earned it and I can spend it however I choose. While I have some responsibility to deal with it wisely, I realize that part of wisdom is knowing that I want to spend something. If I pull the reigns too tight and don't let myself spend anything, I tend to want to spend everything. If, however, I give myself an amount to spend that I know I can afford, I don't have the urge to spend everything. Both my needs and my desires are met, and I can beat the vicious circle and find some rest.

Thus, being frugal actually means spending money, because by allowing myself to spend something, I keep myself from spending everything.

What about you? Do you experience the vicious circle outlined above? How do you defeat it? 

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

You're absolutely right about the dangers of binge spending on useless crap when there isn't a little leeway on our frugality. This principle reminds me of my exercise/diet obsessed friend. He has a cheat day once a week where he allows himself to eat whatever he wants -- guilt free. The cheat diet of steak, mounds of pasta and cheesecakes actually helps his training. The cheat day enables him to be good the rest of the week. The biggest benefit is that he'll stay dedicated to the diet/program longer because he isn't tempted to cheat all the time. Great advice Sarah!

Guest's picture
Strawberry Jane


I couldn't agree more - those of us with frugal tendencies need to make room for some materialistic pleasure in our lives!  Otherwise, life becomes a bit of a death march - a never-ending grind; endless self-denial.

We all go through times where we have to go to our own personal extremes of frugality.  When there's only $3 left in your bank account, you might skimp even on going to the library because of the price of gas.  Or, when you're unemployed, you may wear your last pair of contacts for several months on end.  Or, when you have credit card debt, you eat many meals of lentils with rice; or ramen; or canned tuna. 

So it's kind of weird when you're fully employed, fully out of debt and realize you can buy higher quality ingredients at the grocery store if you want!  Or indulge some other materialistic want, like an MP3 player.  There is definitely a personal balance we need to strike in order to be financially healthy yet enjoy our lives; allow ourselves some new non-Walmart goods once in a while but not get swept up in materialism!!       

Guest's picture

I like that you give yourself money every paycheck that is guilt free. The key to this is you ARE allowed to spend a REALISTIC PORTION of your money that you have earned. I have been paying myself in this matter for two years now. I only withdraw what i allow myself to spend. When i have money left over in my wallet, i have that additional amount the next week. Eventually i gather enough cash in wallet to treat myself with something real nice. You may want to try this. It works!