When Being Frugal Isn't the Solution


Here at Wise Bread, we have a lot of articles on how you can become more frugal and still enjoy a great lifestyle. All of these articles are very useful, but sometimes being frugal isn't the solution to improving your life. Here are some instances when frugality isn't the whole answer, and some additional solutions for achieving a happy balance. (See also: 12 Frugal Compromises)

When Your Savings Are Limited by Your Income

If you are trying to achieve financial goals simply by spending as little as possible, then you are ultimately limited by how much income you have. Some readers have written to me and said that it is impossible for them to save just because their fixed expenses eat up most, if not all, of their income. Most of them are not lavish spenders, but are just making so little that they're surviving paycheck to paycheck. In that situation, it's better to focus more on increasing income than saving nickels and dimes. If you think about it, an extra $25 earned a day equates to $500 a month, and that side income will definitely help pay down debts faster.

When Being Frugal Is Wasteful

I have seen those extreme couponing shows, and it actually scares me that some people buy so many boxes of processed foods. I'm not sure if all that stuff actually gets consumed, but I have seen many instances where people bought so many of something just because they got a good deal, and then a lot of it went to the trash. With the rise of deal sites like Groupon, I've also heard of stories of many paid coupons that aren't redeemed. I am a fan of looking for coupons for the things I need immediately and buying just enough, and I really like Phillip Brewer's article on shopping European style. I think more people can actually save money by buying what they need on demand instead of buying too much of something on sale.

When Frugality Makes You Unhappy

A phrase that has been popping up lately is "frugal fatigue." Basically, it means many people became frugal due to the recession, but now they are sick of pinching pennies and out to spend again. I've heard stories of people giving up their coffee or changing the grocery store where they shop, and it's the mentality of sacrifice that makes people unhappy. I think as long as you can comfortably afford something, then there is nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while. Sometimes happiness costs very little, and you don't have to feel guilty about spending.

Ultimately, I think that a combination of living below your means and generating extra income will help you reach your financial goals faster. You can't just concentrate on looking for deals and clipping coupons to improve your financial situation. Just like a well-balanced diet is good for your physical health, a well balanced set of financial actions will improve your financial health.

What do you think? Are you too fixated on saving money and not on earning money?

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Guest's picture

I think frugality is a must especially in this economic time, but being miserable is not an option for me. I like saving money on things so that I can spend my money on what makes me happy. Frugality is not about being cheap, it's about investing in things that matter most for you. This is different for everyone.

Guest's picture

Some very good thoughts here. For people who do end up buying too much of some food(s), whether through coupons or warehouse store shopping, please remember that often the extra can be donated to a food bank or soup kitchen.

Guest's picture

What a great article.

I don't get the extreme coupon "movement," but I also feel guilty from time to time when I don't think I'm using enough of those little buggers - until I remember that most are for foods that aren't real healthy (as you point out). The thought of trying to save every last penny I can is, well, stressful.

It saves my family time, gas, (and yes, money), for us to pick up groceries when we're out, or for my husband to pick them up on his way home from work - even if the coupons and ads are on the desk back at the house.

Guest's picture

The best idea for when not to be frugal is when you have the money saved up to splurge! We love to go on vacation, but only when we have saved up the money necessary to have a great time without worrying about pinching pennies while we are away. Our favorite trip? A week at Disney World. We saved for 3 years, went and had a blast (other than the weather being FREEZING cold for 4 days! But the unlimited hot chocolate at our hotel was a blessing.) without worrying if we could afford this when we got home. We had so much fun we're saving up again right now!! :)

Guest's picture
Kayla K

I get a latte every Friday and really look forward to it. It is easy to get burned out from scrimping and saving.

Guest's picture

I agree! I too like to think of myself as frugal. But when it gets to making one self unhappy, I have to pull the plug sometimes. I recently took an old friend out to dinner and he just wanted to drink water and eat a cheap item off the menu. He is more frugal than me yet his frugality actually made taking him out to eat less enjoyable. I'm all for saving money on those things that don't really make us happy, cheaper garbage bags, bargain brand salt, and things that are relatively benign, but when it comes to enjoying simple pleasures once in a while, c'mon, just order beer when your buddy is paying! Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it!

Guest's picture

Being frugal can be fun! I'm a student and therefore on a very tight budget. I always thought I had to deny myself of everything until I started swapping. I walk my neighbor's dog and got an iPhone in exchange (and don't have to pay for a gym membership on top). Check out barterquest.com and you'll learn that you can barter almost anything.