How to Be Frugal (Without Becoming a Hermit)


“I can’t afford it.”

You probably hate saying that, right? Heck, I don’t even like hearing it. It spells a dead end, no fun — and there’s a little bit of shame that goes with it, too. Saying it aloud sometimes feels like not being picked for the dodge ball team; there you are, standing out there by yourself. It can be enough to make anyone either suck it up and pull out the credit card or retreat to reading library books and watching whatever TV channels come in for free — alone. But don’t toss out your social calendar just yet. Fortunately, there are other options. But there’s also a catch — being frugal among spendthrift friends may take a shift in thinking. (See also: 47 Cheap, Fun Things to Do This Weekend)

Be Honest

Turning down invitations to dinners or vacations with friends with “I can’t afford it” may be honest, but it also frames your lack of funds as a sort of affliction to which you’re forced to submit. Instead, try saying, “I’m trying to save money.” Then follow it up with an invitation to something you can afford later in the week. This way, it sounds like you’re making the decision rather than letting your bank balance lead you along like a petulant child. I also find this phrase strikes a different note when you use it. Rather than feeling sorry for you, people tend to nod emphatically, tell you that’s a good idea, and say they should really be getting into that saving business, too. Plus, by matching your rejection of their invitation with an invitation of your own, you can avoid looking like a jerk.

Remember That Fun and Money Aren’t the Same Thing

If you think you need to spend a lot to have a good time, you’re missing the boat. Don’t believe me? Think back to your college days. A lot of people count those as some of the best times of their lives, despite the fact that many students barely get by. But they also live it up every weekend at parties without invitations or matching silverware — and they have a blast. If you’re feeling like a shut-in, maybe it’s time to get creative and host a party of your own. Pick a theme, and ask guests to bring drinks or snacks. If you have great company, the rest will take care of itself. You’ve probably forgotten everything you learned in first-year algebra by now. Who would have thought that knowing how to party would be a lesson that would pay dividends in the real world?

Find Frugal Friends

I’m not saying you have to throw your friends overboard, but if you have friends or are only willing to meet over an expensive dinner or a round of golf, you might need to add some new people to your social circle. Because while you might be able to have a grand ol' time dancing in your living room or walking the neighborhood, not everyone is going to follow your lead. And that’s OK. Maybe they can afford to live the way they do, maybe not. But if they’re never willing to meet you in the middle when it comes to getting to together, you might be forced to choose between their company and your capital. And when it comes down to friends who are this inflexible, you’d be better off choosing the cash, because friendships like that are likely to dry up as quickly as your funds.

Don’t Feel Sorry for Yourself

Remember Michael Jackson? Of course you do. He sold millions of records, raked in hundreds of millions of dollars, and died barely solvent. The point is, money is always finite; no one can afford everything. When we have more money, our tastes tend to expand to accommodate it. When you have a financial plan that involves saving money and staying out of debt, it often means less money to spend. But that isn’t really the same as not being able to afford things. Think about it as making better choices — your kids’ college fund rather than a Caribbean vacation, a contribution to your retirement plan rather than a restaurant meal, an extra payment on the mortgage rather than a fancy dinner party and, most importantly, living it up rather than just laying it out.

Those aren’t easy choices, and it’s possible that some of your friends won’t buy in to any sort of frugal fun. But if you have to buy friends, you’ll have pay to keep them, too. Now that’s a relationship you really can’t afford.

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Guest's picture

Such a great point, about changing your wording "I can't afford it." I disagree, though, about that being true. If your life depended on it, you could afford it, but you really just don't want to spend your money on THAT. I love the idea of changing it to "I am trying to save money." I am going to do this! Thanks for the tip.

Guest's picture

Great Article! Being honest with friends is key. If you say"I'm to broke for that" they usually appreciate your candor. I also like to budget for one night out a week and put aside money for that night.

Guest's picture

Number one is really good advice! As a twenty-something year old who often has to forego fun things with my friends because of my bank account, I always find myself saying "I don't have any money for that." But "I'm trying to save" will not only save me from feeling a little embarrassed by my financial situation, but will also somewhat make me feel like I am doing the right thing by opting to chill in one night rather than going out for dinner and drinks with some friends who probably shouldn't be doing that either.

Tara Struyk's picture

Thanks for the comment. I think you'll find people will be more supportive of your efforts than you thought (and yes, because they know they should be doing the same). Hope it works for you!