Being frugal isn't bad
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Since when did being frugal become such a negative term? You can be frugal and still live a very comfortable and amazing life. Being frugal isn't bad and it shouldn't carry a negative stigma.
If you are reading this article you are either frugal right now or thinking about becoming more frugal and don't want people to look at you with an undesirable side-eye. I'm here to tell you that being frugal is a great way to be mindful of the money you are spending and prepare your finances for a successful future.
What does being frugal mean?
According to dictionary.com frugal is an adjective that means you are economical in use (think, don't spend a lot of money) or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.
I love that last line "not wasteful". When I think of being frugal that is the key thing I focus upon and if you do too, then all of a sudden "being frugal" has a positive connotation.
You don't have to stop buying a latte on the way to work. You just need to be mindful of whether or not that latte fits within your budget. If not, then skip the latte, put a little extra into some type of savings, and in a few years take yourself someplace nice. Or better yet, buy yourself a latte machine, still have your latte, and save even more money over the course of time!
Why would I want to be frugal?
There are many reasons for wanting to adopt a more frugal lifestyle:
Knocking out annoying debt
Saving for a trip
Saving for the future
Trying to become more financially independent
FIRE (financial independence retire early)
Being frugal can help you come closer to living the lifestyle you want, for the long term. Ultimately only you can define what that lifestyle looks like. If you are able to redefine parts of your lifestyle today, save some extra money, invest that money, then at some point in the future you will have expendable income that you can truly appreciate.
What this article on being frugal will do is, hopefully, show you ways to save a little extra money in one place so you can save it or spend it in another place as you see fit. The goal is simple, help you save money (being frugal!) and crush the stigma around the term "being frugal" so more people can live a lifestyle that makes them happy while keeping their finances healthy.
Adopting a frugal mindset
Being frugal is ensuring you are spending money on the things that will bring you maximum happiness for your money. For me, I can sit next to a stream or pond, soak up the sun, watch the wildlife, and do it all over again the next day. An experience like that costs me nearly nothing and brings me a ton of joy!
For others being happy comes at the cost of traveling to some exotic location or buying an expensive meal. I personally cannot afford that type of lifestyle, but there are plenty of folks out there that can and do. The difference between the two, when defined under the lens of frugality, could mean both people are equally frugal. If someone who travels and buys expensive meals has the means to do so, then why fault them.
Again, the most important thing to remember about being frugal and saving money is that it needs to fit within your means (income). Your own personal awareness of how you are spending your money, and how that spending fits within your income level is the most important part of being frugal. Circling back to the definition of frugal "not wasteful" can mean very different things for each and every one of us.
So this article isn't about pointing the finger at someone who is eating lobster at a table next to you. They very well may have the means to afford that lobster, while you may not. The point is to bring further awareness to YOUR definition of being frugal, defining what that means for you, and ensuring you are living toward it.
How to become more frugal
1. Embrace being frugal (not wasting)
Stop believing others when they say you are cheap. Saving a little money here and there doesn't mean you don't tip your waiter, that is what most people would call cheap. It means you call 5 lenders and get the best rate on your mortgage. It means you call your trash collector and ask for a better rate. It means you look for opportunities to save a little money while retaining your current lifestyle.
You don't need to live beyond your means. You don't need a house or car you can't afford. Be realistic with where you are with your earnings, expenses, and budget. If you have financial goals make certain you are living a lifestyle that is compatible with those goals. All of those things, simple, everyday lifestyle choices make a person frugal. I believe there are many more frugal people out there just making good financial choices, that don't realize they are living a frugal life. If there wasn't such a stigma, then maybe they would boast a little more about the money they saved on their last vacation because they used airline miles, or bought a cool package from Groupon.
There are a ton of money-saving opportunities throughout your life that you should absolutely take advantage of and feel zero shame about. In fact, many of us should post more about the things they saved money off vs the things they spent money on. It is the savers that can later buy nicer homes, nicer cars, go on better trips, and the like. The choice to be frugal can be powerful and provide a sense of financial freedom that many others don't get the opportunity to feel.
2, Save money on the big purchases in life.
I've spoken about the top 5 ways to impact your net worth and all of those focus on saving money on your largest life purchases.
When you think about this from a "being frugal" perspective you will see that the money you save by "being frugal" in those 5 situations will allow you to save money every month that can then be applied to other parts of your life. You can use that money to save for a nice vacation, or early retirement, or a remodeling project in your current home. For the super frugal that money can be applied to a Roth IRA or rental property. You can even save that money for something never mentioned on The Saving Dude.
Again, what matters most here is being frugal on your largest life purchases, saving a ton of money, and applying that money to something you really want. If you want to reinvest and keep chugging down that frugal train line then more power to you. If you want to take that money and buy a trip to Africa, then go for that too. Many outcomes can work for your particular situation, but always keep in mind that the term "being frugal" means spending within your means, however that is defined for your income level.
Warren Buffet has famously lived in the same home for the past 49 years. If that isn't the ultimate frugal hack then I don't know what is. All of us can use that as an example of someone who has the ability to buy many houses but chooses to retain his modest home and reinvest his money to grow it larger over time. This decision making allows Warren to do the things he prefers to do in life. He just happens to prefer to be the CEO of his company well into his 80's and now 90's.
3. Stop negotiating with yourself
This is something I learned not too long ago. Every time I negotiate with myself I lose. In terms of being frugal and respecting my finances that means telling myself its okay to spend money now because I'll make more later. That mindset will not get me nor my family to the financial stability we need to feel safe if something catastrophic should happen (and we are 100% committed to preparing for the catastrophic).
In the past these negotiations went something like this:
Me: I just got my bonus, let's celebrate
Me: But you have these student loans you should knock out
Me: Dude those will be there tomorrow, go have some fun, you earned it
Me: But if I pay off these loans now I'll have them paid off in a few years and no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck
Me: Seriously, forget about that and just go have some fun
Me: Okay, let's spend this money!
That mindset only perpetuated my debt and to this day I'm still paying off loans that should have been cleared long ago. The difference today is when I get a bonus now I take that money and apply, most of it, directly to debt to clear that. I know that eventually, the debt will clear and each paycheck after that will be slightly bigger. Those slightly bigger paychecks will add up over time and I'll be able to go someplace fun with my family or retire early or just have more money to spend on my kids during their formative years.
4. Appreciate what you have and don't expect more
Being comfortable where you are is one of the hardest things for human beings to do. It is in our nature to want and need more out of this life. Developing your ability to enjoy what you have and put off wanting more is by far one of the more important parts of being frugal.
In my eyes, this is another level of frugal hacking, but one for many of us to strive for. This will require some sacrifices to preferred and desired lifestyle choices, but the longer-term benefits are pretty outstanding.
The ability to be happy with what you have, live within or below your means, and not buying a nicer car, or buying a bigger home, or buying more expensive clothes will allow you to save more money and have financial freedom earlier in your life than others.
These are hard human behaviors to control, but just like the ability to control your appetite, or workout 5 days a week, or ensure you get 8 hours of sleep a night, this thought process can be ingrained and trained.
5. Get used to spending less, for now
Finding a lifestyle that fits within your current means can set you up for future frugal success. Think about this, you get a decent job, settle into a lifestyle, have kids, and find a way to fit them within your current paycheck as well. You have more kids and again find a way to stretch your paycheck to supply your growing family with everything that they need.
All of a sudden you are being a frugal hacker! You have found a way to fit your new lifestyle within your paycheck and not use a credit card to fund your changing lifestyle. Next, you get a pay raise, you get a new job title and the pay raise that comes along with that and yet you are still leading the same lifestyle.
The result? You find yourself with a ton of extra savings because you have maintained your spending while growing your family and eventually increasing your paycheck. This is the very definition of being frugal and a spending habit that many more of us should adopt. Early in your career settle into a level of spending that makes sense for your pay and then never change that level of spending no matter how your life changes. Eventually, you will be making more and spending the same. This will give you the ability to save more money. Again, I would call this frugal hacking and a lifestyle choice that makes a ton of sense.
6. Hurry up and cut the unnecessary
Cable, the gym, a car, these are all things that you could potentially cut from your expenses and absolutely are considered being frugal. Between the three of these, you could save more than $1000 per month.
As an alternative to cable you can buy an antenna, which we did. And it saved us $50/month early in our relationship. Every month that money went back into repairing our fixer-upper and eventually we sold that house and made over $50k.
Saving $50-$100/month on the gym can do the same thing. After a few months, you will have plenty of money to buy some home gym equipment and/or a bike to get exercise on and/or get yourself to work on.
Speaking of riding a bike to work, that eliminates the need for a car! A car is so expensive and a terrible investment. If you can live a lifestyle without a car then you are on a great path toward financial freedom that many of us would be envious of.
Again, if these are all within your means and you have no desire to cut any of these things then don't! Being frugal is about living within your means. What we are doing here is pointing out places where others might be living beyond their means and suggesting things they could negotiate or cut to get back in balance.
7. Eliminate wants and realize needs
Today's society presents us with a lot of things that we think are needs, but in reality, are wants. Making the distinction between the two and being comfortable with your wants is a key frugal hack.
I'll admit that this is a very tough time to live with all the places people are showing you how your life can be "better". More ads are surrounding human beings now than at any time in history. These ads are based on powerful science that has a clear history of success. Finding a frugal way through this mess is tough, but the positive results if you can make your way through are outstanding.
Some of the people I admire most in this world don't have a Facebook page. Nor do they look at Instagram or Snap, or the like. They simply live the life they want to live and don't set aside time to get caught up in those types of advertising black-holes. For that, they are powerful people who have taught themselves how to eliminate opportunities to view "wants" and potentially confuse them with needs.
I'm not asking you to delete your Facebook or Instagram profile. Those are still good ways to keep in touch with your friends and society, I'm just saying that for some it is their way of eliminating wants and ensuring their true needs are front of mind.
This is the key point of Item #7 of our list. Find a mechanism that works for you to identify and define your wants vs needs and ensure your money is being applied to the former and not the latter.
8. Ensure those closest to you are on the same page
Have you ever been on a date and someone broke out a coupon to cut the cost of dinner? Was that embarrassing or was it expected? If you are setting yourself up to be a frugal hacker then it was 100% planned and everyone was on board. If not, then you are creating a reputation that you might want to get in front of.
That type of behavior may take some people off guard and it may be totally cool with others. Ensure you are preparing those around you for the type of lifestyle you are planning to live if that lifestyle includes coupons at your favorite restaurant during dinners with a potential/current significant other.
I want to reiterate that being frugal isn't something to be ashamed of, but as of 2020 it comes with a stigma and that stigma can be avoided with a forthcoming sense of communication. How impressive would it be if you told your future wife on your first date that you care about saving money to create a comfortable and secure financial future for yourselves? I don't know about you, but I think my wife would have found that to be really attractive. If she didn't, I totally would have still married her because she was 100% the one from the moment I saw her, but on the flip side at least she would have been prepared and known where I was coming from. That type of honesty about finances isn't talked about more in relationships and really should be.
More ways to be frugal
1. Figure out what frugal things bring you joy and focus on doing that more
If you really like to shoot hoops (I love it that's why I mention it!), then do that more. If you really like to walk through your neighborhood then do that more. If you really like to spend time at the park, a beach, on your deck, or porch lean into those types of activities. The more time you can spend doing activities that don't cost much and bring you a ton of joy the better your financial life will be all around. First, you will spend time doing things you really like. Second, you will be saving money, at least not spending it, which is the main reason you are reading this article.
2. Find a deal
This can be made easy. There are a ton of sites out there solely dedicated to helping you find a deal on something you want to buy, a trip you want to take, you name it and there is probably a site that will help you save money and find a deal. Check out my recommendations page for some deals sites I like to frequent.
3. Gift cards at a discount
Every year around the holidays a local pizza joint offers a $10 bonus gift card with the purchase of a $50 gift card. I know at some point during the calendar year I'm going to buy $60 in pizza from this local place so it just makes good saving sense to spend $50 and get $60. The same can be said for the gift cards you can find at Sam's Club or Costco. They offer gift cards at a discount and if you know that you most likely will use that gift card in the next 365 days it just makes sense to buy it. Now, don't go buying that gift card just to convince yourself that you are going to save money. Only buy cards to places you know you frequent.
If you are a regular reader you know How to make big money with a little paint, but keep in mind that there are a ton of other DiY projects you can tackle to save a little cash. Over the course of my 7 years as a home owner, I have done a number of projects; painting, drywall, electrical, plumbing, landscaping, siding, demolition, kitchen countertop replacement, cabinet painting, furniture repair, and the list goes on. Taking on these projects has allowed me to add value to my home and the things within it. These projects have also saved me a ton of money and speak to the frugal nature of myself and my family.
While I shouldn't have been doing some of these projects for safety and ability reason (you should have seen my terrible drywall work) I took them on and learned from the experience. So don't be afraid to Youtube a project and give it a shot yourself.
5. Buy used or refurbished
If you really want to take being frugal to the next level you can shop for used goods or shop refurbished goods. Most of us know what used goods are, stuff that others have used and are selling to me after that use. Just as many of us have no clue what a refurbished product is. A refurbished product is something that has been returned to a retailer, shipped to a professional refurbishing company, and put back together to look and function like new. Many refurbished products even come with a warranty, though the warranty might be shortened then if you bought new, at least the company selling is backing the product and its quality. Check it out and see if you can save 10%-20% off the new product price. In many cases, it is totally worth the savings.
Being thoughtful about how your money is being spent shouldn't be a bad thing. Being frugal isn't bad! Saving money, finding frugal hacks, and ensuring your financial future are things that should be admired in a person and I hope The Saving Dude community can help break that stigma.