Playing Around: Frugality as a Game

Face it: most people don't find frugality fun. If you describe something as frugal, people tune you out. They walk away, bored, uninterested, or afraid they don't have the willpower to do whatever it is you're talking about. Describe a person as frugal and he immediately seems uninteresting, nitpicky, and maybe even annoying. Frugality turns us off, plain and simple. In fact, there are people who will not read this article because it has the word "frugal" in the title.

We are turned off by frugality for one of two reasons: it seems boring, like something our parents would be interested in, or we're afraid of it. We fear frugality because it requires willpower and our society doesn't exactly turn out people who can consistently choose something uncomfortable. It's a lot easier to never try than to try and fail, so we avoid frugality.

The truth is, frugality can be difficult, particularly when it is required and is not a lifestyly choice. However, being frugal does not have to be so burdensome. When we think of frugality as a game we play with ourselves (and maybe with our friends or family), it becomes less threatening and more achievable.

Full Contact Frugality

If you thrive on competition, compete against someone else in money matters. See if you can save more than your brother on any given day, or bet your best friend that you can spend less than she does on quality Christmas gifts. You can even use this concept to foster frugality in children: have them each see who can save the most in a month, then give a prize to the winner.

An added bonus to frugal competiton is that you will be more motivated to be frugal because it will cost you something to lose. Even if that "something" is only knowing that a friend outdid you, you probably don't want that to happen. Skipping dinner at your favorite restaurant for a sandwich at home because you want to win a bet may not be the purest motivation but it does keep the money in your wallet.

You can compete even if it's only against yourself. Try to spend less money on clothes this month than you did last month. Eat out one time less this week than you did last. Go for a "personal best" in your spending for holiday decorations. Even though you have less on the line, you'll find yourself feeling good when succeed at these competitions, too.

Problem Solving Frugality

Is the crossword puzzle your thing? Are you a wizard at chess? Then make frugality the same sort of game. Figure out new, money-saving ways to do everyday tasks and activities. Do you like to keep your car clean? What if you washed it yourself or paid a neighborhood kid to do it once a week? Which would save you more? Make it a game to figure out several different ways to do a task and then determine which one saves you the most money.

Once you get your mind moving in this pattern, you'll find yourself doing it without thinking. Seeing each task as a problem to solve as frugally as possible will become a way of life instead of something painful.

Frugality as a Sport

Do you like a good baseball game? Is college football just too crazy for you this year? Do you like to know all the stats on your favorite team? Then play your frugality the same way. Make a list of frugal rules you want to follow and come up with a way to give yourself points for following them. You can make your rules as complex as you want. Follow these rules as you go about your day. Assess your performance in the evening and score yourself based on your success. If you get above a certain score, or if you do better than the day before, give yourself a prize (or just feel satisfied in your achievement).

While this might feel a little odd at first, it's a great way to tackle several frugal goals at once. The rules will help you focus on the things you choose and the rest won't distract you from your goals.

In the End...

Whatever you do, make it enjoyable. If you don't enjoy it, you probably won't stick with it. If you can't think of a way to make things more fun in your situation, ask someone else or leave me a comment here. Achieving your goals is definitely worth the effort.

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Guest's picture

Reading your list, I would fall under the "full-contact frugality". Generally, I compete against myself (I found three great sweaters at the thrift store and only a fraction of the cost at department stores!), but I do like to hear other people's stories of great deals. Between my family (I was taught young) and my friends, there is always something new to learn and to share even if I keep a few of my frugal methods to myself. I enjoy living frugal and seeing what I can next implement.

I am not so certain about your sporting and gaming ideas. They do not appeal to me, but I can understand a person is more likely to practice frugality if they enjoy the pursuit (and benefits) of it. Does anyone practice the gaming or sporting methods?

Myscha Theriault's picture

You know, I don't think I practice the particular gaming scenarious you describe as much as I just feel like I'm "beating the system" or "winning the game" so to speak when I stay focused on the financial goals we've set as a couple. Although, that being said, I do like to problem solve my way to new solutions, so maybe I am on your list . . . either way, great post!

Guest's picture

Great post. Frugality can be fun. Quicken is what motivates me. I get pleasure from seeing the line on my graph move upward. I try to outdo what I did previously.

Guest's picture

LOL I like this post. I'm definately into the full contact frugality.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

It amazes me how much we'll do in the name of competition--everything from deny ourselves food (to wait until we eat at home) to stab our friends in the back.  I wonder why that is...

Myscha, I like your spin on competition when you're by yourself.  It truly is a good feeling to beat the system or get something for nothing when you know that wasn't the original idea.  

Thanks for chiming in, everyone! 

Guest's picture

Thanks Sarah for confirming this idea.

Just stumbled onto your post today. I make saving into games. Start by pulling all the things you've encountered over the years and apply them to a new situation. There's alot of great advice out there too,from alot of neat people (like the Wisebreaders). We have to make ends meet, but why should it be drudgery?

Hope you are doing well.