Frugal People Focus Too Much On The Outgo

On an average day I read about a dozen blogs that have little to nothing to do with frugality.  Several of them discuss saving money occasionally, but most of them are all about making more money, or entrepreneurship, or small business issues, etc.  In fact, many of the books I read are on these same subjects.  You might be surprised to learn I even read a couple blogs that don’t like the idea of living frugal at all.  Blasphemous, I know!

The reason I read these books and blogs is because I believe the path to ultimate success is a combination of improving your income while watching your expenses. It is increasing the gap between what you earn each month and what you spend each month that leads to debt reduction and increased savings. For too much of my life those two amount have been equal (and some of that time the expenditures ran even higher!).

While I am known as the “frugal dad,” I also like to think of myself as the “side hustle dad” because I love the idea of finding creative ways to improve my income.  Some of them are related to my 8-5 job; most are not.

One of my daily reads is written by Ramit Sethi of IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com.  Ramit is an admitted frugal-hater, writing in one post, “I hate frugality and all the frugality sites that waste my time focusing on saving money on frozen orange juice and rice cakes so I can save $1 per week.”  Fortunately, I don’t think Ramit hates me because I’ve never written about saving money on rice cakes.  But if I did, I would point out that generic rice cakes sold in bulk quantities through wholesale clubs…I digress.

Ramit does have a point.  The risk many of us frugal living followers take is that we get too caught up in the small stuff. Yes, I know we are supposed to sweat it, but perhaps we could make bigger strides towards improving our finances if we thought bigger.  Instead of spending our life energy saving a few dollars on homemade laundry detergent (yes, I’m going there again), maybe we should spend that time finding creative ways to make an extra $100 per month, which could add $1,200 a year to our bottom line.

Instead of driving all over town to find the cheapest price on gasoline, or shopping at three different stores to save $7 using coupons, perhaps we should value our time and look for ways to spend it more wisely.  After all, we could use the two or three hours a week spent hunting bargains, rinsing plastic bags, and making homemade cleaners to attend a class at a local college to improve our job skills, or to acquire a skill that we could use to start a side hustle.

Of course, many of us do these things because we are frugal by nature.  We simply do not like to waste things, and we refuse to pay more for something when there is a quality alternative available.  I get that, because I am the same way.  However, I am becoming more and more mindful of how I am spending my time, and making sure I spend it in just as frugal a manner as I spend my money.

Comments

  1. I’m with Ron on this one. It’s about value — not necessarily exactly what you are spending. Making wise decisions that work for you and give you the most bang for your buck. And sometimes saving a couple of dollars just means a product with lower value.

  2. Well put article, I agree with Frugal Dad on this. Driving 10 miles out of your way to save a nickel on laundry detergent, really doesn’t make sense and it is not frugal at all.

  3. I measure all my ‘frugal’ activities according to three things: 1. How will this affect my quality of life? 2. How much is my time worth to me? 3. Can I spend the time doing something more productive?

    I won’t turn my thermostat lower than 68 because it makes me uncomfortable (I already wear a sweater and hat around the house.) I don’t can my own vegetables because I can still get them quite cheap by shopping intelligently and it’s a time sink for me. On the other hand, doing freelance web design allows me to afford my slightly higher gas/food bill and sock away some cash with minimum loss to my quality of life.

    I refuse to get caught up in the frugal pissing match over who’s saving more with coupons or whose got their thermostat the lowest. I’d rather be expanding my business or finding frugal activities that have a big payoff for the time spent.

  4. Good on you for making a little fun of yourself (for lack of a better term). I’ve been working on some anti-frugal writing myself so it’s good to know I’m not alone, with Ramit, and that at least one frugal writer admits it’s not all about saving money.

    You proved that for yourself with side hustle, which I’m enjoying.

  5. I think we tend to go to extremes on too many things when “balance” is where it’s at!

    The key is value. Frugal to me means getting the most value for your hard earned dollar, not saving 31 cents on a loaf of 3 day old bread.

  6. I agree with you completely on this post. I think it’s all about trying to be frugal where we can while finding ways to increase our income at the same time. It does make sense to focus more on increasing income, because there are really no limits there. The reverse is true with frugality. At some point, we will all reach a point at which we can’t reduce expenses any further. Hopefully, we’ll never reach a point at which we can’t earn any more money. I don’t mean to suggest that frugality isn’t important, but like Ron suggested above, balance is “where it’s at!”

  7. I agree with Ron@TheWisdomJournal … just like you with the laundry detergent ;-) Sometimes my time/money will be better spent elsewhere. Living frugal is an all-encompassing lifestyle for me, just choosing to be less wasteful of my resources, time, family, etc. Thanks!

  8. I beg to differ. It seems you are relying on Ben Franklin’s “a penny saved is a penny earned.” But in reality, a penny saved is a quarter earned. If I spend 5 minutes comparing unit prices to save a dollar that means that not only do I have an extra dollar in the bank, I will need 25 dollars less to retire (based on needing 25X your yearly expenditures to retire). So unless my side hustle is earning $300 an hour, comparing the unit prices is a better use of my time. However, one my side hustle is making more than that, by all means, screw the unit prices, but until then I will concentrate more on my Outgo because of the 25X leverage.

  9. Not to nitpick *too* much, but…It takes me about 20 minutes to make an 8-9 month supply of homemade laundry detergent. If I could find a way to use that 20 minutes to make $1200 per year, of course I’d do it. I haven’t found and can’t imagine any way of doing that however.

    The larger rebuttal I would make though is that many people practice frugality because they’re happy with the amount of paid work they do and they don’t want to do any more. Frugality is a means of letting them live with that as a fixed point in their lives. Not saying this should be the way it is for everyone. But it is a legitimate choice for many.

  10. @Kate: I like your “fixed point” theory–sort of reminds me of the “line in the sand” thoughts I’ve shared in the past. No matter how much your income increases, try to continue living at the same “fixed point” by being frugal. I’ve relaxed that just a little to find the balance that Ron refers to above. After all, if we grow to resent our frugal ways the plan will ultimately backfire.

  11. I am concentrating my “frugalness” on the bigger fish. How much time does it take to shop for different car insurance once/year vs. clipping coupons every week. By concentrating on the bigger savings I can save both time and money.

  12. I think frugality is more powerful and sustainable, because any type of extra income comes at a risk. Although it’s great to be income diversified, if one or more of those income streams collapses, then you are back to square one. The magic of frugality is that it gives you the power to do anything, anywhere. If you can figure out how to live on $500/month, you have opened up humongous opportunities for yourself in terms of freedom, and will never be in a situation where need to stress yourself out over finding a job. In fact, “frugality” IS about the outgo by definition, so one would think should be the focus of someone who is “frugal” would be the outgo.

    If all you are doing is spending that extra money, and living on a $200K/year lifestyle you are just consuming just as much, have more stresses, and haven’t accomplished any simplicity or sustainability in your life.

    My focus on frugality is not washing out ziploc bags but on maintaining a life where I am free of life’s three biggest expenses and burdens (namely – house, children, & wife), so I can instead save money and use it on what a want in a sustainable manner.

  13. I have more than one income source each month. I feel more secure as the chances of me loosing all four are slim. Plus I have the potential to pick up others.
    I do childcare (in my home and there homes.) It works great as I bring my kids (or they are home with me) and if I go to there homes sometimes we all get dinner too. Plus I happen to love kids.
    I also do organizing in an office. I also do some of there claims and paperwork. It is nice as I make my own schedule and can work 10-20 hours a week, depending on jobs needed that week and my schedule.
    Plus I do waitressing in a Temple on Fri. nights. No tips just a flat $50 for 3-4 hours work, so it is worth it. This is my spending/birthday/gifts money anyway.
    I am able to pay all my own bills this way (except health insuarnce, which I am still working on.) I usually do not need childcare (but when I do I barter for it.) I get to spend lots of time with my kids as well (the most important part for me.) I have a small emergency fund and we even take about trips ecah each (4 day trips, usually camping.) Plus we have no debt!
    But the point is we live frugally (yes we do make our own laundry soap-lol) but we enjoy our life, pay all our bills, and spend time together. And as long as I stay healthy I can always add another night waitressing or another day/night of childcare if needed.

  14. Ah, yes, the fine line between frugality and capitalism. :) I used to think of myself as a hypocrite, telling people how to live frugally, when I was actively making more and more money online, with various ventures. I realized they don’t have to be exclusive of one another. Living frugally is just the prudent thing to do, no matter how much money you make. (Heck, I even read that Oprah saves her left over toast, and re-toasts it the following day. Waste not, want not.)

  15. Hello. :-)

    Thank you for making me think. I have to admit, I’m more in the “save a buck” camp than in the “make more money” camp. The reason is because I would much rather enjoy my downtime than feel like I constantly have to work at making more money. The “saving” money is much more fun and relaxing to me, so I view it as choosing a more balanced life than trying to get that gap between spending and earning bigger and bigger.

  16. For me being frugal means not wasting resources. I don’t want to get another job to afford more paper towels or paper plates, I’d rather spend the time washing rags and dishes. It takes a few moments to scrape the last bit of peanut butter out of the container. Maybe economically it’s not worth it, but I don’t feel good about throwing away good food. Cost vs. time is not the only consideration. Wasting gas to find bargains–there I agree with you, as would most.

  17. Yep, balance, balance, balance.

    We’re in a strange situation where we may need to hire a house-cleaner to help us out. My wife’s home business is really taking off and it is becoming too difficult to find the time to do all the things we need to do in order to keep a nice clean home. We can do the dishes, make the bed, etc but any more than that and it cuts into the time she could be using to work for her clients. Since she will soon be making more than even I bring home every month, I am all on board for this plan. It’s great to have her working hard and more than doubling our income.

    Is it a frugal thing to do? Not really. Is it smart? Yea, I think so. I’d gladly pay someone to keep our house clean all while dumping money into our savings/retirement accounts while her and I work.

  18. I think the attitude in your post is misguided. While I agree that you should spend your time where it is most worth your while, I think it a bit naive to pooh-pooh frugal tendencies that will get you “caught up in the small stuff”. Having a dismissive attitude fosters the assumption that these tendencies won’t save you money, and so people won’t even attempt them. I think the key to frugality is to test out these task and then perform an analysis of how much you’re actually saving versus time spent, at which point you can then determine what is worth your while. Some things work, other things don’t. Sometimes you can figure out a way to cut corners or apply an idea differently and make an activity worth your while. (For example, making a price book may seem silly when the items you’re looking for seem to only vary from store to store by a couple of cents, but surprisingly often you will find that one or two stores have the same item for significantly less than the others. Using this information, you can stock up on certain items from different stores and end up with a significant savings. Meanwhile, driving across town to save $.20 on a jar of peanut butter would be kind of a silly way to apply the same frugal principle.) My point is that it is often how you apply a frugal principle that determines how much you can save, not the principle itself. I doubt I would ever make liquid laundry detergent (like you say, too time consuming), but making the powdered stuff by just mixing washing soda, baking soda, store-bought soap flakes and borax together would take significantly less time (and would look much more appealing) than the goopy detergent “slime” while saving the same amount, if not more, money.

  19. I feel one of the paradoxes to frugal living for many people is that they look at saving money as a way to quit working harder, so many hours, etc. Problem is, sure, you live a less expensive lifestyle, but then your income shrinks because you don’t work as much. Sooner or later, you are back to where you started, no matter how frugally you live: more expenses than income.

  20. Great writeup, and thanks for linking to my article about frugality. There are definitely different approaches to achieving financial goals, but I don’t think I can out-frugal my way to being rich.

    True, we could all benefit from saving money. But after cutting out 80% of the unnecessary spending, I’d rather look at ways to systematically increase income and focus on entrepreneurial ways to reach goals…rather than just cutting and cutting spending.

    Thanks for the post!

  21. I am with you on the idea of watching how you spend your TIME as well as your money and that it isn’t always worth it to spend hours saving money on your groceries. To tell you the truth I have a blog that does just that at iamfrugal.blogspot.com but I am doing it as more of a hobby. I finished my bachelors degree 2 years ago and at the moment have 2 small kids and my husband is going to school and working still. We made the choice to have me stay at home with the kids until my husband finishes and my kids are in school and then I will go outside of the home to work. So my duty right now is to learn ways to cut back on our money spending so our limited part time job money can go further.

    But, I totally agree with looking at the bigger picture and using your own intelligence and looking outside of the box for better ways of earning money. I have my degree but I’m not using it right now. But, I did take some cake decorating classes that cost me a total of about $70 for all of them and now I can make wedding cakes on the side every once in a while for $250 or more so I make a profit of about $150 for about 8 hours of my time to make it. It is something I can do in my own home with my kids around me. I think people need to invest in themselves more often instead of trying to always save a dollar here or there.

    It is all just about finding Balance!

  22. I think you need to look closely at income and outgo. I try to do that. Just making more money is not a success strategy. In my case I work part time right now and my husband works full time. I have a job I enjoy and if the opportunity comes up I’ll consider going full time–but in the meantime I save an awful lot of money by being frugal and that is money that we managed to put toward our house which we paid for from savings and a little borrowed from a 401k–no mortgage.
    I think frugal means thinking outside the box and looking your life and figuring out what you can do both to bring in more and save more. I have to say though–if you aren’t frugal– you will never have enough $.

  23. IMHO the key to frugality is to find the small stuff that works and isn’t a time sink. In my country – Australia – there aren’t any grocery coupons. Instead the two main supermarket chains have weekly specials. I always take the time – no more than 20 minutes a week – to see what items are on special and stockpile when it’s cost effective.

    Frugality isn’t a one size fits all proposition. Everyone’s situation is different.

    As far as Ramit goes – his recent series about “Saving $1,000 in 30 days” challenge, the majority of tips he gave I have read in slightly different forms on other sites that cover frugality.

    Another thing to be mindful of is that being frugal doesn’t mean one has to be miserable and have no pleasure in life. For example if one enjoys eating out, create a budget category and allow for eating out once a week. Don’t go from from eating out 3 of 4 times a week to never eating out – psychologically it’s not sustainable in the long term and sets one up for relapsing.

  24. My Time is more precious than my Money.
    Therefore, I refuse to work the 5th day a week the boss is always offering me, altho I don’t refuse an hour extra on a regular work day. Being frugal is not a hardship to me, nor do I feel deprived of anything that I really want. And my W-2 reflects this – $17,500 this year, and happy about it :) Frugalness becomes a habit, and wears well after all these years, like an old fav sweatshirt that one just can’t bear to part with :)

    To me, the extra money is just not work giving up my time for it. Maybe this is just an ‘older’ mind-set, but money no longer has the pull it once had… or maybe it’s just that I’m already debt free and have retirement savings saved up.

    I find that doing things for myself means I don’t need all that extra money – from painting my house, sheetrocking, cutting firewood, sewing, gardening, cutting my own lawn,clamming, fishing, hunting, etc. All those things both save money and give me a tangible asset in return. (Plus needed exercise!)

    I differ with you on making the extra $100/month is $1200/yr… actually, remember to minus the taxes out of that :(

  25. DavidK, would you mind sharing what kind of home business your wife has? I am always looking for ideas to work from home. It is great that hers is expanding in tough economic times. Thanks. :)

  26. How do you make laundry detergent for so cheap. I am from the US and the cost of living is off the chart. Our sales tax is 17.5%. Gas is about $7.00 a gallon, etc…..

    Can anyone point me to good sites on being frugal?

    Tim

  27. @Cory, almost ironically in this time of recession she is a business consultant, internet marketer and project manager. She has gotten several independent and online entrepeneurs as clients and they are so greatful for her help, they keep referring some of their other business contacts to her. It does help that she works about 9-11 hours a day almost every day of the week these days, that she is really good at what she does and she absolutely loves doing it. Strange that the small, independent business market is growing while big businesses can’t seem to keep their books in order. Yep, I don’t get it either.

  28. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it. I believe it is true that too often we focus on how to spend less instead of earning more. As you said, the best idea is a balance of both- pinch the pennies you have and earn some more to pinch!

  29. I love how lowering expenses and increasing income work together so well. Once you’ve cut your baseline expenditures to a healthy level, every boost in income goes so much further. Besides, a side hustle is just pure fun and good for the ol’ ego. :)

  30. I love the way ‘Tightwad’ Amy works out how much an hour her frugal behaviour saves her.

    I also love the Yorkshire (frugal folk) saying ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’. Not original, but earning lots of money is not always a guarantee of being debt free with cash in the bank!

  31. Thanks for the reminder that it’s really about “minding the gap” – the difference between income and expense. I have been busy attending to the expense side over the past few weeks, time to turn back to the income side!

  32. @ Tim Wright — Okay, I admit it: I’m a laundry detergent maker. There are lots of homemade laundry detergent recipes out there, but this is the one I use:
    1 bar Fels Naptha soap (grated — I use my food processor to grind it up)
    1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda — NOT baking soda (it’s usually in the laundry aisle)
    1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

    That’s it. Mix it together. Keep in an airtight container. Use 1-2 Tablespoons per load. I’ve been using this for over a year and my clothes have never been cleaner. It takes me 15 minutes every few months (I multiply the recipe) and I’m good to go.
    Fels Naptha can be purchased at http://www.soapsgonebuy.com for $1.75/bar. The other two items can be purchased there as well, but I’ve found them cheaper at Target and Kroger.

  33. That almost sounds like the cup half empty/half full argument. Would you rather save $5, or make an extra $5? Guess it depends on who you are and your situation. Lot of factors involved, interesting way to look at it.

  34. Ah yes, that is a good way to look at it Craig. Many people are discussing the merits of saving versus earning and which is “better”.

    Taking Craig’s $5 example, some people would rather cut the $5 down to $1-$2 and save the remainder. Others would rather cut $2.50 out of spending and earn an additional $2.50 thereby giving a net gain of $5 without the stress of trying to earn $5. Still others would rather cut only $1 and try to earn the $5 making a net gain of $6. Most Americans would rather earn the $5 and just spend their new overall budget of $10! The amount of net gain is where the line of frugality is. It is different for everyone except that almost no one can cut their expenses so low that they spend nothing at all. It is probably best for most to cut as much from the budget as possible while maintaining their mental and emotional health as well as to earn a little money in a “side hustle” to boost their net gain. The real question is, “What is your side hustle?”

  35. Thanks David for going more into detail about the opportunity costs of the situation. You did a great job explaining it and it really depends on the persons mentality.

  36. I think some people do go overboard with regards to being frugal.
    I like to ‘watch my expenses’ but it’s all about time management with me – is the time spent being frugal worth the return, sometimes?

  37. I have always believed in side hustles and have adapted a work ethic of creating them. One of the most fun side hustles I have is selling books on half.com. I love books and I love to go to the thrift mart and pick them up for pennies. Then i sell on half.com. Last week, I found a uses textbook for fifty cents. I sold it for $28 dollars and that was MUCH cheaper than the local college book store sold for. I sell on craigslist.org and in the summer I sell plants from my garden.
    I forget who wrote this, but I think it is one of the most profound statements:
    “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time.”
    Time=money=life energy
    FD- always enjoy your posts!

  38. Great reminder! For some people extreme frugality works and makes them happy… but sometimes you do need to evaluate what your doing with your time. Do I want to spend all my free time trying to figure out how to get everything at the best cost, or would I rather have a little more free time for other activities? Or, maybe I could spend an extra hour or so per week working and make more money than I would be saving by spending 1 hour to make my own detergent.

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