There's a Lot to Like About Frugal Living


I don't make my own soap, do extreme couponing, cut my own hair, or live in a tent.

When it comes to being frugal, I'm less of a do-it-yourself kind of guy looking to save pennies, and more into saving bigger amounts of money through methods that take much less work than clipping coupons. (See also: 12 Frugal Compromises)

As I wrote about in April on Wise Bread, kick-starting frugality with a few simple actions — direct deposit, tracking spending, skipping meals out — can lead to savings that add up over time. By cutting cable TV, my family has saved hundreds of dollars in the past year without missing many shows we enjoy. We haven't put the extra savings into a separate account and kept track of the specific dollars saved — although that would have been a great idea — but we have seen our cable bill disappear.

The reasons why I became frugal may differ from yours, but I think they can offer insight into the importance of exploring the real reasons for being frugal before jumping in and doing everything you can to save money. There are different forms of satisfaction, I've learned, and some are worth the time and savings, and others just don't seem to be worthwhile.

Here are some of the main reasons why I became frugal.

I Like My Time

By saving more money, I can work less. As Ben Franklin realized about 300 years ago, a penny saved is a penny earned. That's a motto I follow daily, figuring that if I save money by not spending it, I'll have fewer bills to pay and thus won't need to work as much to pay the bills I do have.

I work as a freelance journalist, meaning I set my own hours and can decide if I want to take on extra work. Like a squirrel harvesting acorns for the winter, I try to keep busy when I can, but with summer arriving and my daughter being out of school soon, I plan on working less this summer, so I can take care of her.

Not everyone can be in this situation, I realize. Having a full-time job with benefits, and a family and a mortgage to take care of, requires commitment of at least 40 hours per week at work. But if you stop buying new books, for example, and go to the library and take that $50 a month that you would have spent each month aside, that's a few less hours you need to work in a month. So when the boss asks you to work overtime, you'll know that you don't have to rely on that overtime pay and can instead go home and spend the time with your family and maybe teach your kids how to cook dinner.

I Don't Like Throwing Money Away

Money is meant to be enjoyed and provide the freedom to do what you want to do. I'd like to be a millionaire, as anyone would, but even if I was, I don't think I'd spend it on things I enjoy doing myself. I don't like cooking every night, but even if I could afford it, I wouldn't want to go out to eat every night or hire a personal chef. I enjoy cooking and do it not only because it's healthier and cheaper than eating at a restaurant, but because it's fun.

The same logic goes for buying books — or at least hardcover books. I can't see the point in spending almost $30 on a hardcover book when they're either free at the library, or I can find other books to read in paperback. It may not sound like a big frugal step, and I don't put aside the hundreds of dollars I save each year by doing this, but there's some satisfaction in knowing I'm not spending as much money as I used to on something that I can easily save money on by going to the library every few weeks. I still buy books, and I'm happy for authors to make money, but I usually only buy paperbacks or ebooks when I travel.

I Like Being Prepared for a Rainy Day

Ever since I had my first paper route as a kid, I've saved for something: new bike, comic books, college, car, retirement, wedding, home, home improvement project, child, vacation, and potential job loss, among other things I'm sure I've forgotten. After all of the monthly expenses are paid, it's difficult to have enough money left over to put aside in savings. If it's an important enough life event, such as retirement or my child's college fund, the money is automatically transferred to such an account each month.

Saving money through frugality — such as not buying coffee and having that extra $25 a month automatically moved from a checking account to a savings account that's set aside for a Hawaiian vacation, for example — is an easy way to find that extra money for the rainy day fund, or something more fun.

I Like Being Prepared for a Thunderstorm

When I was laid off at a newspaper five years ago, I wasn't a lavish spender and had good saving habits to help me get through some time when I didn't have a steady paycheck coming in. Already being frugal (and knowing how to find other ways to save money) helped me reconsider my spending habits and not go into credit card debt. Partly out of necessity, frugality has become a life-long habit that is teaching me more ways to save money.

I Like Leaving a Smaller Environmental Footprint

Buying fewer things and using what you have until it dies means less things to throw in the landfill, and ultimately, fewer things being produced because you're not buying them. I try to use the things I own for as long as they work. I've had the same clock radio that wakes me up every morning since 1986, I've used personal computers until they're dead, I don't get a new phone every year, my bike is more than 20 years old, and I drive a 1991 Acura Integra.

We recently started leasing a solar power system on our roof to generate electricity. Since it's a lease and not a purchase, we pay for it by buying the electricity we produce each month. The idea is that with locked-in rates over the term of the solar lease, we'll save a little money if our regular electric provider raises rates. I don't expect to save much money, but one advantage is that the solar power we use isn't polluting the environment like the electricity we previously got was. In the scheme of things it's a small step, but it's a start in our family polluting less.

Of all of these reasons for becoming frugal, buying time by saving money is my favorite. Time is limited, and while I enjoy my work, there are many more things I'd rather be doing than working so I can pay bills I don't need to have.

Why have you embraced the frugal lifestyle?

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Guest's picture

"Peace of Mind" pretty much sums it up. We have what we need, are able to pay our bills and can set money aside for things important to us. For every new thing that comes in to our home 2 things must go out. We'll be moving from a 7 bedroom to a 2 bedroom home, so only our absolutely favorite things will come with us; the rest will go to Goodwill or sold at a moving sale. Less is more!

Aaron Crowe's picture

I love the idea of two things going out for every new thing that comes in. With a young daughter, it's difficult to do that, but something I strive for. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Guest's picture
Someone's Mom

I don't eat out, get mani-pedis, buy expensive clothing (or any if there's nothing I need) or even use a smart phone (Why should I pay to connect my phone to the internet when I have a computer to do that?). I do, however have cable since without it, we get 2 channels.

Aaron Crowe's picture

There are ways to get around cable TV, though depending on where you live two channels may be all that can come in without it. Have you tried getting a better antenna? Or a Roku to stream shows? We have one and have lived without cable TV for a year without missing cable.

Guest's picture

I have embraced frugality because it has brought me closer to contentment. I am learning to be happy with what I have as opposed to always wanting the bigger and better item. It is a happier feeling then "longing." In addition, I find that more money flows to me as I grow more content. Maybe it's because I am managing it much better than I use to.

Aaron Crowe's picture

That's great news, Robert. Managing your money better is a key to being successful at being frugal, I think.

Guest's picture

I enjoyed this article. We have embraced frugality for a lot of reasons but mostly to be good stewards and not be wasteful. It's nice to have a little extra to pass on to someone else. We shop at lot at Goodwill and thrift stores and when we do shop at an outlet store or buy retail on sale, it's a treat. Perhaps its age but things don't matter quite as much. Financial security creates calm. Thanks for your honest sharing.

Aaron Crowe's picture

You make a great point that I think can be taught to children: That buying something retail is a treat. Getting what you want immediately shouldn't be the norm, and paying retail price for something you really want should be seen as a rare occurrence.

Guest's picture

Great article!

Frugality grew out of our distancing ourselves culturally and philosophically as we aged. We started our journey way out of step with the kind of capitalistic materialism so prevalent in the US and learned over time how to express (and fund) our "different drummer" values, especially in relation to the whole picture.

You cite the very best reason for being wise with money --- time. It is irreplaceable for finite beings. As hippies, we cultivated simple living long ago (including being kind to the planet) because of the personal responsibility and freedom it supported, yet we ended up with more than enough of everything, including time.

Those who are materialistic and mishandling more than just their finances can sometimes look trapped in an addiction to us. They look like they forgot (or perhaps never knew) that one cannot buy happiness.

At the risk making an esoteric description here.... we can easily see looking back now how the wanting-getting-having was so insignificant and considerably less fulfilling than the noticing-giving-being.

Aaron Crowe's picture

Great comments! Thanks for sharing. I'd rather work less and spend the time relaxing and enjoying life, than working more to buy more things.

Guest's picture

I like frugal living because it frees up money to use on the things I enjoy. I love to cook so coming home and making a meal is fun, relaxing and creative. We need cable but don't purchase anything premium. There's no need to with a Redbox within 2 miles of our house.

There's no car that makes me feel better than retiring at 60 will feel. And, that's exactly how I look at all my purchases. I ask "Would I rather retire at 60 or buy this?" Vacations/travel rarely gets vetoed for retirement.

Aaron Crowe's picture

Excellent points. I consider travel/vacations worth the cost, and almost consider it part of an early retirement. That's a great question to ask before buying something: Is this worth the cost of delaying my retirement? Unlikely.

Guest's picture

Cutting costs, whenever we can, is just as important to our bottom line as making more money is. It is so easy, and common, for us to start to collect a lot of small fees for things that we don't really need. It's extremely hard to get ahead when we do things like that. The nicest thing I found about cutting things out of my life is that I actually became happier. Without so much going on I had more peace of mind, and that is what is most important of all.

Aaron Crowe's picture

I couldn't agree more. It sounds like something one of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau, would say. Fewer possessions should lead to fewer things to worry about in life.

Guest's picture

Frugality to me is about maximizing the utility of your money--putting it where it brings you the most pleasure or usefulness.

Aaron Crowe's picture


I agree. However, I should point out that one of my main points was that people might get more pleasure from working less, which would require less money to be spent. So being frugal and finding ways to save money can in the long term lead to more pleasure by working fewer hours.

Guest's picture

Aaron, love the blog, frugality is my way of life too. I'm so glad I picked up the habit when I was actually making good money. I used to be a retirement specialist for school districts, I left that great job to pursue a life in the arts as an actor, making less $25k a year. The money I had in savings from the good old days has helped me so much. I actually took a portion of it and invested it into cameras, which I now rent to other filmmakers. You can say, my frugality has paid for itself.

Aaron Crowe's picture

That sounds like the perfect way to be frugal: Save money to do the work you love. Congraulations!

Guest's picture

I couldn't agree more! My husband and I just started living the "frugal lifestyle" a few months ago, and we definitely wish that we had gotten into it sooner. It's amazing how much stress we've managed to get rid of, while saving tons of money. A simpler life definitely equals happier people!