Frugal Living Isn’t Always About Trade Offs

by David Ning · 14 comments

We often equate frugality with trade offs. Trading our time to save money, trading for alternatives, and trading instant satisfaction for future gratification. No wonder frugal living seems so tough.

You may wonder how great you life would be if you never had to make any financial sacrifices, but let’s imagine for a minute that you didn’t have to say no to spending. That whatever you wanted, you would just buy it. That iPhone? Already have it. What about a Gucci hand bag? Got three this month already.

How will your life be if you can’t even think of anything you wanted? Do you really think there is any fun in that? If you just bought whatever you wanted without much thought, does buying really make you happy anymore?

Now, take a trip back to memory lane to those times when you finally saved enough money to buy something you really wanted. That doll, that toy car, that video game and that first house. How excited were you? Quite a bit excited I bet.

Frugal living isn’t always a trade off. Actually, being frugal enables you to enjoy the purchase. It allows you to feel comfortable about the future, and it frees you from falsely believing that money and happiness has anything to do with each other.

My friend came to visit us for a week and just left. We had lots of fun, and I welcome him to come over any time. It was also stressful though. While he was here, we ate out almost every day. During that week, I almost bought a brand new Apple Macbook. It’s not that I will be in financial trouble if I fell into the spending trap, but it’s money spent accumulating stuff that I really didn’t need. I probably would somehow disagree with the following fact at the heat of the moment, but having two laptops just doesn’t make me more efficient.

I’m happy to be back to the simplicity of being in Emma’s arms watching a $1 movie we rented at Redbox. I’m excited seeing an email today that entitles everyone at our residence free ice cream from McDonalds. I fully enjoyed eating at home tonight with my lovely wife.

There are no trade offs. I love living frugally.

How about you? How do you enjoy being frugal?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas Ho September 7, 2009 at 7:06 am

I was probably happiest as a kid when we had very little.


DDFD @ DivorcedDadFrugalDad September 7, 2009 at 7:24 am

Nice post. Frugality is about selectivity and creativity, not about depreviation.

Reply September 7, 2009 at 7:47 am

For a long time I equated frugal with being cheap. This is simply not the case. If you look at the difference between the two definitions it is clear that being frugal is being smart with your resources while being cheap is sacrificial. I’m frugal and I am proud of it.


David@DINKS Finance September 7, 2009 at 8:34 am

Redbox. My girlfriend and I never rent from blockbuster – always Redbox or if they are older we request them from the library for free.

Ice cream from smaller shops and Dairy Queen are great, but expensive. We hit up McDonald’s and get the dollar sundaes when the urge comes.

Little Caesar’s has good pizza i.m.o. and at $5/pizza, we eat there all the time (once every two weeks, at least).


Leslie September 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Well said. I love what my frugal life enables me to do. More money, earlier retirement, more relaxed work schedule… the list goes on.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


Rick Vaughn September 7, 2009 at 5:19 pm

In my humble opinion the term “frugal” has such negativity that it gets confused with being cheap. When in fact you are being smart.

I do agree that buying all you want would get old. However, I would love to give it a try and tell you fast hand.


Jason @ One Money Design September 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm

When I think of frugal, I think of having a plan for my money. Yes, it is comforting. I can relate to your experience with your friend in town. Sometimes change in the routine can cause unexpected spending or temptations with money. And getting off course on our plan can generate the stress you mention. However, if we pay attention to that feeling, we can use it as a good indicator that the purchase may not be wise.


RB @ Financial Samurai September 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

The wife and i spent the day in the park watching “Comedy of Errors” by Shakespeare in the Park, which was free.

There are so many free things to do. The best things in life are free. I rummaged through my garage and found the cheapest, most enjoyable things are literally free, or highly affordable. I write about it in “Simple Pleasures”

Even after making multiple six figures last year, my favorite things to do are hiking, having a picnic in the park, and playing tennis.


kenyantykoon September 8, 2009 at 3:15 am

sometimes i live frugally because i dont have a choice. it would be kind of nice to have most of those things that i want but the thing is that i am scared of tying up valuable investment money in a fancy little gadget that i dont need just want. I of all people know the pain of a missed opportunity. so sometimes you do something not because you want to, but because you have to. thats my piece


Wilson Pon September 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Being frugal is not mean that we’re being selfish. My parents always taught us to be thrifty, since we’re still kids. Honestly, my life right now is better and happier than before, even though we’re living in a frugal condition.


Jim Bauer October 4, 2009 at 4:48 pm

You summed it up, in my opinion. I always have equated the art of saving money with having more. I get chastised for it all the time, get called cheap. People angrily tell me, “You’ve got to stop counting the pennies and start living, man.” To that I say, saving is exactly about that. Living. So many people are busy working for everything, not realizing how much extra work they are doing not seeing the forest for the trees in how they spend their money. I try and reduce the costs for needs so I have more for what I want. And when I have money in the bank, I try and maximize its benefit so that I get more out if it on its own than money I make on a job.


mmm March 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Saving money is like winning at gambling- its you against the house and it feels great to win! That’s what easy spenders will never understand…


mary September 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm

To be frugal is not to be cheap. Being cheap is when you save money by taking advantage of someone, whether it be financially or using other peoples resources without a thought of reciprocating. Believe me, I know some cheap people and I’m frugal. I believe frugal people are thoughtful, where as cheap people are abusive of others time and money. Huge difference!


mmm March 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Yes,(spending more money then you plan for) i went to sxsw festival this Saturday and was really irritated by the $20.00 parking fee.As the day progressed the parking fee balanced out with all the free drinks,food and gifts all the corporate companies were giving out.
Some things like parking you just can’t plan for no matter how frugal you are.


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