The Enemies of Frugality

Photo: B.Rosen

There’s a lot of talk today about embracing simplicity and rediscovering frugality, but what are the culprits — obvious and hidden — that undermine our efforts? At root, what are the emotional, logistical, and social forces that conspire to figuratively reach into our wallets and pluck our cash day after day? Let’s explore the seven challenges to frugal living. (See also: Endurance Frugality: Staying the Course and Being a Winner)


Stress may be roadblock number one on the road to frugality. So many of us seem to be overworked, over-scheduled, and overwrought. Stress forces us to take the path of least resistance, and that path is typically the most expensive. When we’re stressed, we make bad decisions about our health, our diet, and our money.


Keeping up with the Joneses is expensive — especially when the Joneses don’t have a clue what they’re doing. It’s a financial game of chicken, really. Our neighbors buy a new toy and not to be outdone, we follow suit. Everyone on the block ends up with new toys they can’t afford, and no one learns a thing. What’s wrong with appearing a bit restrained in this country? When did frugality and poverty become synonyms? What’s more, when did poverty become a crime?


The complexities of modern life can be exhausting, and often the only thing that can keep us going is the promise of a grand reward — sometimes just as exhausting, but slightly more exciting. After a year of 60-hour work weeks, a ten-day spa vacation seems not only warranted, but deserved. Demanding a bit of mental “spa time” each day gives way to one grand and deliciously expensive extravagance once a year. Price be damned and frugality banished!


Sometimes it’s just easier to pay someone to mow our lawn, wash our car, clean our house, or make our dinner. We’ve all been there — after a 10 or 12 hour work day, the thought of coming home only to cook and clean for another 3 seems like cruel and unusual punishment. At these moments, simple exhaustion dictates our financial decisions and frugality goes out the window.


Sometimes life throws us a curve-ball, and we need an item or service immediately. Maybe the family car finally dies, or you forgot about class pictures tomorrow, and your son needs a new white shirt. There’s no financial planning to do, no research to mull over, and no time to bargain-hunt. Immediacy typically means more cash.


Living a frugal life takes no small amount of commitment and daily rededication. Not only do friends, family, and work colleagues often not understand simplicity and frugality, they can be openly antagonistic about it. Truly embracing the path we’re on in the face of our “culture of more” is the key to long-term success.


If financial wisdom and rationality were a clear pool of water, advertising would be Baby Ruth bar floating by (a reference not lost on all you Caddyshack lovers out there). Advertising creates unrest, encourages fear, and often muddies the water of our financial minds. An uneducated consumer easily manipulated by suggestion is an advertiser’s best-friend and frugality’s worst enemy.

Reviewing this list, it seems like many of these "enemies" are new to the scene. With the exception of number two, doesn’t it seem like stress, exhaustion, convenience, immediacy, and the prevalence of advertising are relatively modern phenomena — at least at their current (epidemic) levels? What’s lost in the bargain we make between our time, energy, and our money? Is the exchange a fair one, or one that simply keeps us on the treadmill to run another day?

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Andrea Karim's picture

Convenience is totally my issue, because I am lazy. And hungry a lot.

Guest's picture


Great job on the article. Very accurate!

Keep up the good work,