10 Truths About Frugal Living Revealed By 5,000 Reader Comments

Photo courtesy of Michel Filion

At least a couple times a week I get asked some version of the following question, “Have your thoughts on frugal living changed since you started your blog?”  The direct answer is a resounding, “Yes and No”.  Yes, writing about frugal living has helped make me more accountable to a more simple way of life.  No, interacting with thousands of readers has not changed my own personal opinions on frugal living, but it has opened my eyes a bit to how society as a whole views the practice of frugality.

In just over eight months I’ve received over 5,000 comments from readers here at Frugal Dad.  That does not count the dreaded spam comments, but it does include links from others who referenced pieces here at Frugal Dad.  I didn’t take the time to filter out those for purposes of this article.  I have attempted to summarize the comments into ten “truths” about frugal living–some for, and some against, the lifestyle of simple living.

  1. Living frugal is not for everyone.  To the self-righteous frugalist this news is disappointing.  After all, if they can live frugal and be happy, then so should everyone else!  That is just not the case.  Turns out everyone is different (shocking, I know).  Personalities, life experiences, and personal situations often drive how people choose to spend money, or not spend money.
  2. Everyone has a different level of tolerance for practicing frugality.  Not everyone is as gung-ho about rinsing out Ziploc bags, making homemade detergent, or line-drying their clothes.  Some people pick and choose frugal tips to implement, but don’t go all out.  Others try to save as much as possible in all areas of their lives.
  3. Frugal living is not just about saving money.  The most obvious benefit of frugal living is reduced expenses, but there is another benefit that motivates many to live frugally.  Those who make a conscious effort to reduce waste are making an impact in the environment around them.  Actually, a better way to say that is they are making less  impact on the environment around them.
  4. There is a difference in being frugal, and being cheap.  I dedicated an entire post to this idea a couple months ago, because I saw a lot of comparisons to the two types around the web, and I fielded questions on the subject as someone who wrote about being frugal.  Cheap people are often consumed with deals–finding the cheapest bottom line price available.  Those following a frugal lifestyle will invest more up front to get a quality product that will last longer, and require less repair/maintenance costs over time.  Frugal people will often pass on buying something they don’t need, even if it is a deal.
  5. Frugal types are spiritual types.  I am a Christian.  I suspect not everyone who reads Frugal Dad shares my same beliefs, and that is perfectly fine.  However, I do believe most of the people who follow a life of frugality are “spiritual” people, whether that means they are Christians, Buddhists, or a non-denominational believer in some form of higher power.  Most frugal followers I’ve interacted with receive as much comfort from their spirituality as their frugality.
  6. Frugality is about being good stewards of resources.  There is a connection between frugal followers and the environment, and not just because we are into square foot gardening.  The connection goes deeper, and is centered in the idea that we should be good stewards of our resources, natural and otherwise.  Frugal people tend to be less wasteful, and more concerned with environmental issues, but not overly critical of those who don’t follow these ideas.  In other words, your average frugalist isn’t out beating people up for not setting the recycling bin by the curb on Friday morning!  They simply live this way because it lines up with their own personal beliefs.
  7. Frugality and debt don’t mix.  It is hard to live a simple existence when you are struggling to keep up with credit cards and car payments.  Debt forces us to stay in bad jobs.  It drains our mental resources, zapping creativity and inspiration.  It cheapens future earnings thanks to interest.  It adds unnecessary risk to our lives.  One of the very best things you can do for yourself is become debt free.
  8. Frugal people don’t watch a lot of television.  Strange, but true.  We just aren’t big television viewers.  Don’t ask us who won American Idol last season, or who got kicked off the island, because we don’t have a clue.  Most television shows today are overly sensationalized dramas depicting people living lives free of any responsibilities.  The shows are full of plugs for things we don’t really need and have a way of making us more materialistic that we would be without seeing everyone else doing so well.
  9. When someone sends frugal people $10, they keep it.  Coupons are your friend.  If your Sunday paper came each week with a $10 attached, would you simply throw it away?   That’s what most people do with coupons.  Sure, it takes some time to sit down and clip them, organize them, and plan for their use, but if it knocks several dollars off your ever-increasing food bill it might just be worth the effort.
  10. Most frugal people can afford not to be.  Sounds odd, doesn’t it?  It’s true.  Most frugal people can afford to live much more extravagant lives, however they choose to live well below their means.  This does not mean that all frugal people are wealthy, or all spenders are poor, but I have noticed a general trend that frugal people live “rich” lives, regardless of their income.


  1. Nice list FD, but I have to take issue with two of those: #5 and #8. I don’t see the connection there between frugality and spirituality. I for one am pretty frugal in both my finances and my spiritual life — I just don’t believe in any higher power and I don’t see how the two could be linked or why.

    As for TV, I think most frugal people would tell you watching a lot of TV is a bad idea, but I don’t know that they can help themselves (like me). We (frugal types) probably watch less than the average person, I agree, but why? It’s an interesting connection.

  2. @Writer’s Coin: What I was reporting was simply anecdotal evidence from reading comments and interacting with readers. I wasn’t necessarily inferring a spiritual connection between a higher power and frugality, just reporting that most (not all) frugal people were believers in some way.

    The television watching is an interesting phenomenon. I suspect we frugal types watch less television than the average person because we have more valuable things to do with our time.

    I plan on expounding on these a bit more in a future post, but wanted to toss these out as “food for thought”–my general observations.

  3. Thanks for this list. I’ve recently been a bit down about my spending but this is a good reminder that personal finance is just that: personal.

  4. A great reflective post FrugalDad. It’s nice to know that I’ve contributed a little to that 5000 comments number. 🙂

  5. I discovered frugal dad a few months ago. I’ve learned a lot from reading you and your commentors(also some of the folks on the blog roll). Agree with most of what you’ve said totday.

    #5 – I’m not very spiritual, but I may be the exception. But, part of being frugal for me is learning to be content, so maybe that is spiritual.

    #6 – using our resources wisely is both frugal and good for our world.

    #8 – probably watch less tv than I used to. There are better things to do. Now it is more old movies and things on science and history. Not sure if it is related to this, but I find myself less and less interested in political blowhards(both right and left).

    #10 – seems obvious to those of us practicing LBYM. But others may think we just can’t afford the ‘finer things in life’.

  6. Huh, I didn’t think I had anything in common with Christians. Aside from some of the Mennonites and Hutterites I’ve met, most of the Christians I know aren’t particularly frugal.

    It just goes to show me I learn something new every day and it isn’t even 9 AM yet…

  7. Great list Frugal Dad! I especially like #4: frugal is different than cheap. Cheap is buying the lowest priced item at the time regardless of future costs. Frugal is buying the item that produces the expected least amount of lifetime costs.

    Another part of being frugal is that a frugalite will at times purchase something “unfrugal.” I bought a plasma TV a few years ago that I had saved up for. That would typically not fall under “frugalness.” But I sacrificed in other areas in order to save the money up to pay cash for it. I don’t know how that fits in to your list, but there is a part of frugality that looks to the future… whether that be sunny day funds, retirement, etc. It’s not just about spending the least amount of money. It’s about spending money on things that you actually value… and can pay for!

    Even though I own a plamsa TV, I still fall under #8 – except during NFL season then I watch a lot of TV on Sunday.

  8. I wonder why people almost brag about their “lack of watching television” as if this imbues it with some sort of moral superiority. There is a guy I work with who does the same thing. I don’t really care if you take pride in not watching any television at all.

    I watch television. And, I enjoy it. So there.

    Now, what I will define about it is that I do NOT watch the latest popular suck-fest on prime-time channels. I have a DVR box so that the TV schedule does not rule my life. I watch what I want when I want to. AND I can fast-forward through useless commercials and credit scrolls that would otherwise take up my time. I have paid for the science/news package with my cable service and I watch it. A lot. I prefer shows like Modern Marvels, Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs, Survivorman (not Man vs Wild, cheap knockoff crap), How It’s Made, Big Spender (excellent Larry Winget show), etc. I love to watch science/factual-reality shows as it gives me great information to make informed opinions and decisions about how the world around me works and the way things should be. HGTV and The Food Network are known for their frugal-oriented shows along with the great ideas you can get from other shows on their networks. My wife and I love watching television or having it on while we work. Though many use TV as “chewing gum for the eyes” I don’t subscribe to general demonization of it. More often than not, it is really a great source of information — you just have to approach it the right way.

    • Frugal people watch TV. I am proof of that.
      However, I am very selective about what I watch. Lots of PBS, Discovery Channels, Ovation, Smithsonian Channel, Nat Geo., TLC, BBC America, etc.
      I may go to see a movie once a year and there have been times where several years go by without going to see a movie.
      I do not get newspapers. CNN, HLN, Local channels give me all the info I need and I don’t have to cart the newspapers to the recycling center.
      I only get two magazines, Whole Living and Smithsonian. My dad gives me his Nat Geos. after he reads them.

      I watch TV and Yes, I am very frugal!

  9. @ David; I couldn’t agree with you more. There are some shows that are actually worth watching, unlike all those “reality” shows on network TV that are so far from reality that it’s painful to watch.

    Also, with regard to #10. You know, I’ve never actually given much thought to that, FD. I guess the Wife and I fall into that category. I needed a new pair of Dickie’s pants for work the other day and bought a pair from Wal-Mart for ~$20. I knew I could get them cheaper at Savers (and I did, $6 and you can’t tell the difference!) and I had to take the Wal-Mart pants back. But I could have afforded to keep them…

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I haven’t had cable (rabbit ears only) for nearly 6 years. But I love cable shows and try to find them on the internet or watch them when I can at someone’s house who pays for cable. I just can’t stomach $50/mth for television.

  10. I think the connection between frugality and spirituality probably has a lot to do with maintaining a traditional outlook on life.

    I’ve been watching a lot of Dave Ramsey lately, and it’s clear that many of his callers are religous/spiritual people. While I know this doesn’t necessarily hold true for all frugal people, I would imagine that a certain amount of traditionalism leads to the development of the characteristics of both frugality and spirituality.

  11. Great post!

    My inner Letterman fan is attracted to top ten lists.

    I really liked #2 & #4:

    #2- I just dove back into a frugal lifestyle and this time I’m sharing it online over at The Happy Rock. I’ve been getting a ton of great tips and suggestions, but when I share them with my wife, I’ll often get “Are these people crazy?”

    #4 – My wife’s mother thinks she’s the #1 bargain hunter in the land. When in reality she just buys everything that is on sale…everything! Being cheap can end up costing you more in the long run, and doesn’t necessarily jive with a frugal lifestyle.

  12. Interesting. I would change #5 though. I don’t think it’s as narrow as spirituality, but maybe more to do with believing in or being a part of something bigger than oneself. For me, that is part of my spirituality but not necessarily all of it. But I don’t think frugal people live in a vaccuum – they think about things beyond themselves.
    So I guess actually that #5 and #6 say the same thing.

    Also, I watch a lot of crap on TV. Though I’m sure my overall TV watching is lower than most people. Not because I’m frugal but because I’ve got a lot going on at work and school. And I think I’ve used a coupon once in my life. 🙂

  13. I think you find a lot of people who are frugal are also spiritual because they have moved beyond the satisfaction that some material things provide. We have moved on from trying to keep up with anybody because we are content with who we are and what we have is enough to us.

  14. Great post, I stumbled it.

    Unlike some of the other commenters, I agree with #5. Any frugality I enact (I’m new to this lifestyle) basically all comes back to me wanting to be a good steward of what God has given me and leave a good legacy for my children.

    #8: I’m afraid I don’t quite fit this one… we watch a lot of TV in our house, but it’s probably 80% sports (mostly baseball) and 20% HGTV/Food network & The Office (although we usually watch that on DVD or online). I’m hoping in the future we can save up for a DVR because my biggest complaint is commercials. I basically tune them out, but would love them to be altogether gone. We do watch movies too (when there’s not a ball game on). 🙂

  15. I should add that I am frugal (wife and I just had our first CC free vacation oh what a feeling) but not as frugal as some are.

  16. Excellent post. Interesting list.

    On #1, some people see the time it takes to research things – be it sales, specials, free events, etc.; clipping coupons or making a trip to a different store to take advantage of savings to be a waste of their time. Saving 50cents on one item doesn’t sound like much until you realize how quickly it adds up.

    On #2, I think it is only natural that everyone pursues to their own level of interest. Again, as for #1, some people see somethings to be more beneficial/a better use of time than others. I think this is true of most things in life, everyone has a different level of interest/participation.

    On #4, I agree that there is a difference between cheap and frugal. I think a large difference is that frugal people are more concerned about the value and if you don’t need something it is not of value to you and cheap people are just looking for the deal or plain old won’t spend.

    On #8, since I have started doing more with stretching resources, I find that I spend a lot more time clipping coupons, surfing the web, studying ads, etc., which just doesn’t leave time for watching TV. But perhaps this also ties into the family values of frugal people – it is important to many to spend their time interacting with their family and spending time together, which isn’t always facilitated by TV watching.

    On #10, I have read somewhere that the average family income of coupon users is $50 – 75K. An interesting statistic. On top of that, I have read on some sites about how some consider it frustrating that those that are on government assistance don’t use coupons to stretch their dollar (or as the case may be, the tax dollars that we are paying). I was discussing this with a friend, and their theory here is that those on govt. aid might not spend their money on a newspaper, a common source of coupons (especially in my area where one major retailer won’t take IP).

  17. #4 is, for my family, one of the most important lessons we learned early as we began following the path of frugality. With durable goods and certain services, we found that paying more gave us a better product that had more value. Locally made all wood furniture lasts substantially longer than the pressed board facsimile available from the big box discount store. Verizon really does have the best coverage in our area, which is important with how quickly we can lose power, phone lines, cable.

    But each person must evaluate their own criteria for what value they need from a product to know what a good price is for them.

  18. Great Post! I am working on being more frugal myself. 🙂 I try to practice everything in moderation (or less
    ) 🙂 but I especially loath paying interest and fees. #10 is my favorite.

  19. I really like #5
    “Most frugal followers I’ve interacted with receive as much comfort from their spirituality as their frugality.”

    I think we all long for simplicity and simplicity is aligned with gratitude, gratitude is in keeping with spirituality, spirituality is rooted in a recognition of The Universe’s great gift of nature. No matter what you call your belief, if you love and respect nature, you want to care for it. That means putting less stress on our Mother Earth. And less stress means simple living.

    I like #8 too. I read much more than watch tv BUT I plan tv/movie time a couple times a week. I figure if you can sit at home and have a theatre experience, aren’t you saving money? Boyfriend, right this second, is playing an interactive video game on the plasma. Tomorrow I’ll have movie night with popcorn and soda. Affordable extravagances!
    Another fantastic post Frugal Dad. You continue to educate and impress!

  20. #8: TV is very frugal entertainment. It is way, way cheaper than various other leisure alternatives, e.g. going out to the theater, spending a night out clubbing, going out of town for the weekend, going on a cruise, etc. Honestly TV has saved me personally oodles of thousands of dollars. Staying at home watching TV is extremely inexpensive.

    #10: Maybe in America and a few other extremely wealthy countries. 80% of our friendly neighbors who share our planet EARN less than what anybody reading this post SPENDS per year. If you can’t afford to put running water in your house, you are forced to conserve water. Our neighbors excel at frugal virtues, because they have no money and no choice.

    #5: LOL.

  21. The wife and I are TVaholics and proud of it.

    Never have quite understood why TV watching and frugal living are incapable (spelling please)? Nothing beats spending all Saturday watch TV.

    Frugal living means many things to different people but the underlying theme is to live well below your means.

  22. Right on 🙂
    Because I am frugal, I don’t have to be frugal – but I still am because that’s my personal belief.
    I am also frugal with my time – therefore I don’t spend money on the cable, and don’t waste my time on regular TV watching. I will however, watch a free kid’s movie, borrowed from the library, when the Grandkids are over, for something special to do all snuggled up in front of the fireplace 🙂 To me, the time with my grandkids is precious and could be short, so sharing time with them is the top of my priority list.

  23. I loved this post…up until number 8. Sooooo not true! I know many frugal cronies of mine who also watch TV. Even though I do pick and choose the programs we watch, we do watch television and allow for that “luxury” in our budget. Just because we do watch television and (gasp!) pay for cable doesn’t make us any less frugal than someone who makes their own laundry detergent. I still get our detergent FREE with coupons, still cook all of our meals with the groceries at get at discounted prices and hubby still takes in his lunch and take the train(free for him) into work everyday. So to say that frugal folks and TV don’t mix is quite incorrect.

  24. This is a really fun post, FD! Here’s my 2-cents:

    #4, my in-laws are the masters of frugal and king and queen of cheap. I’ve always said, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. They once commented about how much I spent on blueberries to make a triple berry pie for my husband’s first father’s day. TBP is his favorite, so the value was very high for me, and the blueberries weren’t that expensive.

    #5, if frugality becomes the next religion, then sign me up! Otherwise, it’s all about the bottom line for me.

    #8, I wish I had a lot of time to watch tv, because then I could choose not to watch it and do something really enjoyable with that time! However, I must say, it is a nice breather when you’re thoroughly exhausted. Even then, I’m turning more and more to the Internet.

  25. Thought it was worth adding to the comments here to remind everyone that the post above is merely the results of surveying reader comments, and engaging in the frugal living community. These are not “commandments” on frugality. I’m not saying you have to not watch television to be frugal. Similar to polls and survey results, I’ve found that these ten items are true for most frugal people, but certainly not all.

  26. Aww, of course David up there in the comments is married. David, you don’t have a brother in the midwest do you?

    “I watch television. And, I enjoy it. So there.”

    I have wanted to scream that so many times, it is such a common theme. I read, I listen to music, I’m a passable cook, but I live alone and I happen to like the background noise. Watching TV doesn’t cause me to NOT do anything but it has in the past and I think that might be important. I also used to watch a lot of “appointment television” and HAD to watch the new episode of XY & Z in a given week. I stopped watching TV for a while and now find myself really resenting that kind of TV. Maybe I’ve gotten “over the hump”?

    Now all I watch is cooking, decorating, science, and “lifestyle” (don’t know how else to categorize “The Thirsty Traveler”). And they’re mostly background noise. The best part, because I’m never really paying attention I can watch the same Mythbusters 4 times before I’ve actually “seen” the whole episode.

  27. I am not religious. I’m an atheist. As such, I feel like I should do good things in this life. This world matters more to me than anything.

    That said, I’m relatively frugal in eco-concsious ways. I am also a selectively frugal person. I skimp and save in some areas so that I have the resources to splurge in others.

    For example, clothing means very little to me. I have a casual workplace most of the time. I spend very little (if any) money on clothing. But I LOOOOOVE good food. I spend the money others might use for expensive clothing, on expensive dinners out.

    It’s useful to know how to be frugal, and having the ability to say no to things leaves me with the ability to choose where I put my resources. This in itself is a great thing. Being frugal has given me much better self-control and willpower over the years.

    It’s not just a spiritual thing.

  28. all true. Specially the last one. My husband used to look at me as if I was carzy because we can afford not being frugal. Fortunately he now understands the meaning of living below your means 🙂
    I hope your mom is better now.

  29. Re: #5 — it could be that most of the people you encounter that are frugal are also religious is because most people in general say they are religious. depending on the source, ‘they’ say 5-10% of people in the U.S. are non-religious; thus, 90-95% of people are religious to at least some degree. So, 90-95% of frugal people will also be religious.

  30. Nice post with some interesting points of discussion. I don’t agree with all of them though. For instance #10 – how do you know this? You don’t, it is not a fact, you don’t have data to support it, you are just assuming most frugal people don’t need to be frugal. I agree it is the case with perhaps many many frugal people, myself included. However if you read the PF blogs and had to make a bet I would be more comfortable betting that most frugal people DO have to be frugal (unless they want to wind up in debt). Reading the blogs I see that many many readers, perhaps the majority, have fairly low incomes and post about the troubles of meeting rising costs. The typical PF blog reader is not an upper-middle class or wealthy high income earner. I think making an assumption (disguised as a fact) like #10 is simply done to make frugal people feel better about themselves. However you shouldn’t have to, be comfortable with your own situation but try not to spin things just to make yourself more comfortable.

  31. To BigRed, FrugalDad doesn’t claim this list as facts, he claims them as ” “truths” ” based on comments he’s received on his blog. He never claimed this to be a scientific study of human behavior. I also disagree with some of the items because *I* may not fit that “truth”. But it doesn’t really diminish what FD has done: give us a fun read on his perspective of living frugally (which, btw, is what he alludes to his blog is about in his about page).

  32. I should post a video of me nodding all the way through this post. It was a bit freaky actually, so have you describe me so well.

    Cutting back and living more frugally has really been a natural path to wasting less and becoming more conscious of the environment. The two are so intertwined.

    TV and coupons are topics that I have posted about. I love the grocery game and have cut down to basic cable. I also think the upfront investing is right up my alley – I am open to spending money and looking at a break even point for saving on expenses, for sure.

    I guess I can afford not to be, but depends what you consider “afford.” I could not contribute to my 401K or savings, and go on a wild spending spree, but to me that isn’t really living within your means 🙂

  33. I like your list and great feedback on your blog for only 8 months. We reuse baggies but I dont wash them out. I have never categorized us as frugal. My saying has been feast or famine

  34. #5 in your 10 Frugal Truths is true and unfortunately out of hand. I swear not a single hour goes by on Christian Radio without a mention of how to save money. I think that Christians (myself being one) have allowed money to become our God. There is just SO much obsession about how to save money. I would say to these folks, ‘Quit worrying about having money for your food and clothes. Will not your father in heaven provide for you?’

  35. I am probably the most frugal person on this site. But I don’t have to be. I don’t have to be because I am the most frugal person on this site. LOL

    Buy local veggies and don’t top off your gas tank!

  36. I think one of the biggest parts of saving money has to do with your tolerance. It’s almost like a sport. You push yourself and it’s hard in the beginning, as you continue to practice you get better and better. Once you master it, it becomes second nature and you can focus on other ways to save and make money.

  37. Thanks for the post, great information. People forget that changing a few small things can make a huge difference in their over all financial status.