Frugality goes international

By Philip Brewer on 14 February 2009 10 comments
Photo: Kıvanç

The existence of a strong frugality movement in rich countries may be more of a surprise to people in the poor countries than the other way around.  Still, with the economy the way it is, I don't suppose it's a surprise to hear that frugality is booming everywhere, in countries rich and poor.  This was brought home to me recently when I discovered a frugality site in Turkey that had linked to one of my posts here on Wise Bread.

Ozan Sener is editor of, a site whose name means "be frugal" in Turkish.  I got in touch with him, and he agreed to answer a few questions about his site and about frugality in Turkey.

Here at Wise Bread we're all about "Living large on a small budget."  Can you sum up the philosophy of "tutumlu ol" in a few words?

It’s nearly same! “Unlimited life with limited budget.”  I often emphasize that frugality should be a lifestyle in my articles.

What sorts of articles do you tend publish?

I publish everything about frugality and saving. Saving is not just about money, it’s about energy, time, place, etc. It can be a web site, news, advice, story, etc. I prefer to publish articles which you can put into practice. I track nearly 30 web sites  about  frugality  (just two of them in Turkish). Some advice is hard to put into practice. You can’t just tell people “don’t spend too much”. We have to give practical examples.

I also care about DIY articles because you can save so much by doing things yourself--and it’s fun!

America has something of a split personality about frugality.  Popular culture tends to glorify consumption and excess, but we have national heroes like Benjamin Franklin who praised frugality.  Is frugality a traditional value for the Turkish people?

Individual earnings of Turkish people are less than American citizens. So frugality is the must here in Turkey, especially for women who traditionally run the home economy.

On the other hand most of Turkish people are Muslim so the religion advises frugality. For example it’s said that tossing bread out is a sin. But surely we toss bread out. Bread is important for people. When someone see a piece of bread on the street he or she’ll probably take it.

When I first saw the Wise Bread I did some research, but couldn’t find any web site in Turkish about frugality.  So, I established But I realized that there are lots of web sites and books about frugality in English.

You probably have a broader view of the international conversation about frugality than most Americans.  Is frugality the same everywhere in the world, or is different from one place to another?

I think generally it’s similar because consumerism craziness is everywhere but conditions change depending on the quality of life. For example clothes drying machines aren’t common in Turkey. So drying laundry on a clothes line is a frugal choice for you but not for us because we already do that.

In English there are many little sayings that support frugal living--things like "A penny saved is a penny earned."  Can you give us such a saying from Turkish and tell us what it means?

Yes, we have some sayings:

“Sakla samanı, gelir zamanı”  means  “Keep a straw, it’ll be used sometime.”

“Damlaya damlaya göl olur” means  “Drop by drop you can build a lake.”

“Ayağını yorganına göre uzat” means “Extend your leg according to your blanket.”

“Ak akçe kara gün içindir“ means  “Save up something for a rainy day.”

Thanks, Ozan, for the fascinating look into frugality in Turkey!

I'm looking for other frugality websites in far-flung places--especially in poor countries, but also in rich, non-English speaking countries.  If anyone knows of one, please let me know or have a writer or editor at the site get in touch with me!

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Guest's picture

I always like to read about other places; amazing how things can be different and yet so much the same. I especially liked the sayings you included.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Very cool.  I like the frugality proverbs as well. Thanks for doing the interview, Philip. My husband lived in Turkey for a couple of years and loved it. We are trying to go back for an extended trip sometime as a couple.  I hear it's a phenomenal country.

Guest's picture

Wow, what an enlightening post! I particularly like the turkish sayings. "Extend your leg as far as your blanket" is brilliant! May need to make that into a poster to hang in my room...

Linsey Knerl's picture

That saying rocks!  Thanks, Philip!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Regina Ann

“Drop by drop you can build a lake.” Perfect.
Thanks Ozan! and Phillip.

Guest's picture

This newspaper article from the Bangkok post is a few weeks old but still relevant. I've never seen a US personal finance website suggest that you bring your own guavas to the movie theater to save money!

Guest's picture

I'm not quite sure if this counts, but my frugality blog is based in France, where I live. I'm American, and I write for a mostly American audience, but I do often write about frugality and France.

Guest's picture

My husband is from Southeast Turkey and I can attest to hanging out the laundry to dry, as I have done this for my mother-in-law during visits. When the weather's rainy or there's a dust storm blowing up from Syria, she has special racks that she sets up inside the house and hangs the clothes on them instead of putting them outside.

I have even seen friends kiss bread if they happen to drop a piece when picking up the remnants after a meal. But this respect for bread i Turkey really extends to food in general. Creative use is made of leftovers for the next day's lunch. To this day my husband has a genuine horror of wasting any food.

I have not seen processed food used in my in-laws' home; fresh ingredients are purchased and food is made from scratch. I'm not able to cook every day as my mother-in-law does, but I rarely purchase processed food. Instead, I plan what I will make and spend at least one day of the weekend preparing most of the meals for the week, including for our lunch boxes.

And here's my husband's most-used Turkish saying on frugality:

Ucuz mal alacak kadar zengin değilim.

Meaning: "I'm not rich enough to buy cheap stuff." In other words, it's sometimes more frugal to spend a little more and purchase something of better quality that will last, than to spend on cheap stuff that has to be replaced frequently or just doesn't work.

Guest's picture

This idea of frugality might eventually contribute to a development of culture not revolving around material things. I am excited about what great thing might come of this.

Guest's picture

Take it from a Canadian/American dual citizen who has travelled all over - other countries in general are more frugal than us. I remember seeing recyclers in Hong Kong selling their wares at a flea market, Egyptians are the ultimate in hagling and making a deal, Mexicans seem to have a wonderful ability to make wonderful meals on a small budget, a Turkish man bartering for lipstick for his many wives, Jamaicans who always see a business opportunity in every transaction.

We could definitely learn a thing or two...