Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Frugal: Battling My Anti-Frugal Personality

The following post may read as sort of an admission. In a way, it is. A couple weeks ago we took a short family vacation, and for once, I had some time to slow down and do some thinking. Naturally, I thought a lot about my past, specifically where we have come from, financially. After all, it was just a couple years ago that we were skipping vacations to get out of debt.

I acknowledged to myself during one early morning sunrise viewing that even though I had persevered through those tough couple years, in many ways, I am the same person, with many of the same tendencies (good and bad) as I was in my spendthrift days.

The aforementioned brilliant sunrise that inspired my reflective mood, and ultimately, this post

Sure, I had successfully managed to suppress that side of my personality, but it was still there, waiting to rise up like a dormant virus looking for a weakened immune system.

After getting out of debt, my immediate mission was clear – building emergency savings. However, over time I’ve given into more frivolous spending than I care to admit. We have not accumulated new debt, but the opportunity cost of higher spending has been a slower savings rate the first half of this year than I would like.

Living Frugal is a Way of Life, Not a Short-term Diet Plan

All this brought me to a realization – I need more frugal outlets, more ways to spend my time that don’t cost a lot of money (or in fact, save money). On the surface, I enjoy frugal activities as much as the next person. The problem is, I don’t make them a regular part of my daily routine.

For instance,

  • I’ll get on a reading “kick,” check out a small pile of books from the library, and never finish them.
  • I’ll build a coupon binder and start collecting the weekly coupon booklets, but never use them.
  • I planted a square foot garden this year, but have neglected it.

It’s not that I necessarily dislike doing any of these frugal activities (well, I do admit, I don’t enjoy organizing the coupons – there, I said it!), it’s just that I can’t seem to find a groove and engage in these types of things day in and day out.

Instead, I often resort to watching mindless television, or browsing Amazon.com for “deals” on things I don’t really need, or wanting just to grab lunch out rather than brown-bagging it.

It’s almost as if I have two personalities – frugal and anti-frugal. Remember the old cartoons with the angel on one side and the devil on the other, tempting someone to do something wrong? That’s me. Only the devil is holding a credit card instead of a pitchfork!

So, I’ve decided that some people are just born frugal, while others have to acquire a taste for it. Much like some people are “born leaders,” but others develop leadership skills over the years.

Our upbringing, and a variety of external factors mold us into who we are today. I’ve had great role models, but they spanned the frugal scale. It seems I inherited much of the good, and some of the bad.

New Beginnings: Finding Contentment in Frugal Hobbies

Certain frugal activities just seem to come easy to certain people. Quite often, the common thread running through these naturally-frugal folks is contentment – they are just plain happy with what they have.

That isn’t to say the less frugal are necessarily ungrateful, but we often struggle to find balance between being content with what we have while giving into the temptations for newer shiny toys.

I plan to start adding in new frugal activities that I find enjoyable, and making them part of my routine. For instance, I need to get back to walking 10,000 steps a day, for the many health benefits, and because I generally like being outside. Other than a good pair of shoes, I need no fancy equipment to walk.

I’d like to start reading again, but maybe I’ll try a new genre and avoid the heavy, non-fiction material I’ve tried to work through in the past. Anyone read a good book lately?

My coupon strategy has to adapt, too. I’ll still look through the paper for coupons, and will use them when available for something I already planned to buy, but I won’t plan our entire meals around only items for which I have a coupon. That often requires us to eat things we don’t particularly like, or aren’t the healthiest choice.

Now, I have to run – time to clean up that garden!


  1. Sometimes I feel the exact same way. It’s like there’s the frugal rational person inside me then there’s the spend crazy person inside me. Keeping the latter under submission can be a real challenge sometimes.

  2. Excellent tips – Moderation is key for any successful plan to achieve results. Taking babysteps and staying on track helped me to meet my own budget goals. Lisa @MoneySavingMums

  3. I find this is EXACTLY what happens to me when I start thinking. πŸ™‚ I’m not being a smart butt. Truly I am a feeling person. When I don’t allow myself to FEEL I fail. Intellectually I can make all the choices and goals I want but if they don’t originate in my innermost-self then its too much work to honor them and I go catatonic.

    So instead I’ve started honoring exactly what I feel. I feel I’d REALLY REALLY love a Kindle. It would be *snaps* THAT easy to put one on the card and just be done with it. So I feel it, then I visualize the end result of acting on my feelings (having the kindle), then I compare that to another time I went for gratification (instant or not – unncessary) over the long-term (short-termed happiness/contentment is very different than long-term).

    Then all I’ve got to do is make sure my “long-term” FEELINGS trump all other feelings. Caring. I’ve named it. Caring about waste, caring about non-consumerism, caring about quality time with family, caring about reconnecting with what IS not what is cyber or fiction (my loves) and caring about BEING (for me its being present, being connected to nature, etc).

    Sometimes it works. About 90% of the time it works. Its working big when I have been able to resist the pervasive Kindle marketing tactics πŸ™‚

    • I have a Kindle, and while I love it, it just leads you down the path of spending more money. It is so easy to buy books on the kindle, or on amazon.com and have them immediately delivered to your kindle.

      What it *doesn’t* do is let you participate in libraries e-book lending programs. Many of the other devices (nook, etc) will let you “lend” and “borrow” books, so libraries use this to lend e-books. But the Kindle? Of course not!

      • I purchased a Sony eBook reader last November and at the time, it was twice the cost of Kindle. The reason I purchased the Sony was their ongoing initiative (now adopted by Barnes to lend out eBooks for free. Being avid readers, this has saved us a ton of money.

        Perhaps you can sell you Kindle on Ebay and get a different reader?

  4. I can so relate to your ‘dual personality’. I seem to become anti-frugal when I have deprived myself… the bottom pretty much falls out and I get into financial mischief. I am currently trying to find balance so that I do not feel deprived as we work at paying off debt and building savings. Because I want to live a little too.

  5. Put one of your kids on a bike and walk along – it’s a good time for both that way. Put some music or a book on tape out in the garden – book on tape also works with walking πŸ™‚ Search out free parks for picnics and strolling, frisbee throwing, ball tossing, etc. Grab a tree or bird ID book for a forest walk. Try incorporating two things, instead of one – it keeps your mind too busy to think about spending money!

    Yes – and maybe some of us are just more content with the basics – I know I am… altho sometimes I do like to spend… πŸ™‚ Like a riding lawn mower, a new roof, a patio sunroof extension… lol… all things to make staying at home even more enjoyable than it already is πŸ™‚

    I told the Grandkids I was going to put in a swimming pool this summer as soon as the patio roof is done… they were excited til I told them it would be one of those little blue wading pools πŸ™‚ lol… just so I can sit in my chair and stick my feet in the cool water on a hot day! They can still don their swim suits and stretch out – so it will be “enough.”

    “Enough” is a good word πŸ™‚

  6. Frugal hobbies are a great way to go. I used to be a total car guy – I couldn’t imagine driving around in anything that wasn’t from 1960 and didn’t have a massive V-8 engine and rear wheel drive. These days a car like that will cost a fortune to operate. Doing pretty much anything on a car costs a minimum of $500 too unless we’re just talking about changing the oil.

    A couple of years ago I decided to bite the bullet and downsize my vehicle. I ended up getting a used Jetta first off, and then a couple years later trading it for a mid ’90s diesel Jetta instead. I get my automotive tinkering satisfaction, but my operating costs are super low. I can drive about 600km in the city on about $60. Get out on the highway and that can get up to 800km. That’s Canadian, with our much higher gas prices than the US.

    I still had a taste for old American metal though, and I needed to find a way to fill that. I ended up moving in to cruiser bikes – 1930’s to 1950’s Schwinns and things like that. A “starter” vintage bike is less than $200 and costs absolutely nothing to ride, plus it’s exercise!! I ride purely for pleasure – there is no commuting involved. People always want to talk about my bikes and ask questions so it’s a fun way to get out and be social. Best of all, I can ride as often as I want and it doesn’t cost me a penny!

  7. My SO and I both enjoyed Farley Mowat’s The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float recently. Non-fiction (sort of), but very light and funny. I read another of his books, Never Cry Wolf, many years ago and remember enjoying that as well.

    As for frugal being in your genes, I’d have to disagree. I think frugality is based on deep-seated habits that take a lot of practice to put into place and can be very easy to break. What’s motivating the devil on your shoulder? Do you feel deprived?

    • I think I felt deprived while we were getting out of debt, and had pent-up spending in my system. The pendulum swung too far, and I’m not finding balance again.

      • Maybe you need a better plan to go from ‘getting out of debt’ mode to balanced mode? Maybe a waiting list of items you or the family want to buy, and then at the end of the month evaluate how much $$ is leftover and decide if any are still worth getting.

        I’ve found that this helps because you still get to buy some extras, but you also spend a little more time thinking about it by making yourself wait.

  8. I’ve read lots of great books lately. Of course I have slightly unusual taste in that I read mostly fiction books about “the end of the world as we know it.”
    Heavy non-fiction has a tendency to kill my reading pace.

      • I freaking loved The Road, made me want to run out and get “no country for old men”… i’m reading catch 22 at the moment. I totally get the whole heavy non fiction thing as well I spent 12 months reading wealth of nations, not really sure it was worth it. I could have down without Adam Smiths treaties on the price of corn

  9. Thank you for this post. It’s nice to see than even PF bloggers can stumble sometimes if they aren’t paying attention. Makes me feel like I can get back up when I stumble too. πŸ™‚

  10. I think there is a huge difference between frugal by nature and frugal because you have to be. I am definitely frugal by nature, and it was probably due to the way I was raised as a farm girl.
    People that choose to become frugal probably have a harder time “staying frugal” once they are out of debt. I can imagine it would be hard to maintain that lifestyle, since it can seem so restricted. For me its our lifestyle.
    I think Living within a budget is a lot like trying to loose weight and live healthier. Both are lifestyle changes. It’s easier for someone to see weight loss as a lifestyle change, but not debt reduction, but they should.

  11. This is definitely me. I’ll be at work, thinking of eating healthier and eating less meat, and by the time I get home, all I want is a spicy chicken sammich from Wendy’s. Or I’ll think of paring down my closet more, but then I see a super cute dress online. Sigh

    It’s hard. We get tired. We lose our steam. I’ve learned that by allowing myself some room for fun things that cost money, it helps me focus on the free things, too. After all, one of my favorite things to do is hike through the park with my dog. I just have to make sure that I don’t run for a SPC at Wendy’s afterward.

  12. I started really getting into group fitness at the gym. Yes it cost me $30 a month for the membership, but it keeps me active, entertained most evenings and makes me avoid eating out due to how unhealthy it usually is.

    In effect it keeps me from spending money on a lot of other stuff.

  13. We are working on adopting a child. We are just waiting to be chosen by someone who has decided to make an adoption plan for their child.

    We know there will be significant cost to complete the adoption, so we have saved up for that. Now that we have that money set aside, it has been hard to keep on track with the savings. Since we don’t know when an adoption will be finalized, it has been a challenge to decide if we should keep saving to have a larger emergency fund or pay off debt.

  14. Nice article. I’m not frugal by nature and it took me a few years to adapt to a living with less lifestyle, all the while feeling an acute sense of urgency. I took it in baby steps, rather than crash diet mode, and this made the transition easier. I view living simply and frugally as a challenge rather than an albatross around my neck and look for all the positives in each endeavor. Like that gardening. Sure, it’s hard work initially, but the rewards are many. Good exercise, a sense of pride that I can actually grow my own stuff, a chance to experiment(a holdover from my labatory days), a chance to connect with my neighbors and a sense of peace and tranquility.

    I only read fiction, usually thriller.

  15. Great post, I especially like the title.

    Also the sub-title “Living Frugal is a Way of Life, Not a Short-term Diet Plan” goes well with many other things in life besides saving. Education, fitness, healthy lifestyle, all are on going through out life, no shortcuts. They don’t work in the long run.

  16. Anything by James Lee Burke, Robert Crais or Nick Stone is worth a look – libraries are a treasure source of entertainment and there are always new gems to discover once you become familiar with books. If anyone had ever told me I would enjoy mystery thrillers I would have laughed at them years ago. Yet, here I am putting new releases on hold as soon as the library orders them hoping to be the first to crack a new book ! It’s fun and free. You quickly learn which authors merit a following. It keeps your imagination working – unlike TV.

  17. Bookpage and bookpage.com

    My library puts out a 32 page or so magazine every month with book reviews, upcoming books, bios on authors, children’s books, special interest books, and question and answer pages. In itself, it is great to read thru. It can also be found online – but I prefer the paper.

    As I’m reading, I cut out the info on books that sound interesting to me, and set them in a little box for later. Then when I need books again, I pull some out of the box, go online at my library site, and put a hold on the books that are available thru my local library and it’s 4 county free lending system. When the books are in, the library sends me an email, and I trot down there and pick them up.

    Also my library has a “new books in the last 30 days” search button, and an ability to search by subject and genre or author or keyword, all of which help me out a lot in selections. Happy reading!

    Lisa Gardner, David Baldacci, Jeffery Deaver, Diane Gabaldon, to add to those already mentioned. Also you might try some of the classics again – I found that rereading them after 40 years has been interesting πŸ™‚

  18. Books on tape /CD are a great help in doing tasks like gardening, cleaning, driving and even walking. I enjoy authors like Vince Flynn, Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton, and John Grishom. Recently many of the new releases are avaiable for free download. Also, you can download
    lectures, stories etc. from the internet from universities. My problem is figuring out how to download onto a portable player instead of using CDs.

  19. Interesting!

    Apart from the mortgage we are debt-free; but still running the 9-5 rat-race, with just a modest saving plan. I want to float the idea past the missus that if we really pull in our horns and adopt a frugal lifestyle, we can save her entire monthly paycheck. Over 5 to 6 years that would kill the mortgage stone dead, then open up a whole new set of possibilities – like Β£900/$1450 less a month for me to find!!

    Problem is, she’s a bit of a spender, won’t go near second hand or charity shops. Might be a reaction to her childhood, who knows? Me, I was brought up in the same way (the UK in the 70’s) as one of three kids. I find out now we didn’t have much money, my folks worked 4 jobs between them at one stage, but I don’t remember feeling ‘poor’. Maybe our friends and neighbours were all in the same boat and our quality of life was just like everyone else’s. Because of that I guess that’s why I hate shopping – period, and still only go on sufferance or because I actually need something specific. Then I’m in and out the store like a Special Forces commando….

    Guess I’m gonna have to man up and have ‘The Talk’ with her, see if she fancies not working after her 53rd birthday…

    Wish me luck!!

    • I would have avoided second hand shops for clothes too, except at the first office I worked at after university, the women I worked with there were like professional second-hand shoppers. They were very into fashion (dressing well more than labels), but without the pay checks to support it, so they spent their free time combing all of the second hand shops and discount clothing stores. Now I buy all my work clothes from goodwill – they are really easy to find almost-new in second hand shops – and no one knows the difference.

    • I think what you said is the key:

      “Maybe our friends and neighbours were all in the same boat and our quality of life was just like everyone else’s.”

      This may be why most of us, right now, struggle with the spending/ frugality way of life. Most of us need to be frugal, but see our neighbors with nice new things all the time.

      It’s like we need constant reassurance that being frugal is just as valuable as their way of life.

    • I recently stopped at a thrift shop to donate a garbage bag of clothing my kids had outgrown, and while I was there I checked out what was available for sale. For under $40 I picked up 6 summer items for my daughter and all the items she’ll need for back to school (I know it’s early, but now is when you have the best selection before everyone else gets the same idea). Financially I don’t “have” to shop second hand, but I choose to because it’s an easy way to save on essentials. We cover our basic living costs on 55% of our take home pay. That’s all the stuff you’d cover if you had a sudden reduction in income and cut out everything fun, optional, nice to have, or that you ought to do but could temporarily stop or delay if necessary (eg savings). My 45% of the household income goes to retirement savings, extra mortgage payments, vehicle replacements and the occasional vacation or any other nonessential/bare minimum spending. Until my DH was laid off 4 yrs ago and we did the math we had no idea we could actually live on so little. That naturally lead us to ask where the heck the rest was going. I began tracking every penny and figured out the was was mostly lunches out at work (easily $100/wk for the two of us), lack of planning on groceries (both on buying and not wasting what was bought, another $100/wk), and the rest on assorted forgettable crap.

      We forced ourselves to start brown bagging it and I can count on my hands the number of lunches we now buy in a year. I reassessed our wardrobes, donated massive amounts to clear out everything not being used and discovered that still left each of us with plenty. For a while we didn’t even replace when things wore out, until we got down to a reasonable amount. We now borrow or trade books rather than buy, we set up a DVD lending list amoung our neighbors and another at each of our offices.

      Most days we feel absolutely no temptation to spend on the areas many people include in their budgets as basic (entertainment, clothing, etc). In fact we spend so little and so seldom we don’t even budget for those items. They just come out of the “excess” income we have every week. Most weeks there is no spending beyond the planned basics (mortgage, insurance, groceries, gas, utilities). If I do spend that $40 at the thrift store one week, I simply have my entire paycheck less $40 to transfer over to our retirement account or an extra mortgage payment. Planning monthly for spending on things we do so seldom would just make a lot of work in my record keeping, having to delete the unspend clothing amount, or move it to the next month. The less you spend the less you have to track and the faster you say goodbye to your mortgage and hello to early retirement.

  20. My husband enjoyed the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin which was recently turned into an HBO series. The book series isn’t finished yet, so you’ll have some waiting if you like semi-politically complicated medieval fantasy. He’s not afraid to kill characters or write them into corners, so I’m told.

    Personally I tend towards medieval fantasy – I enjoyed Robin Hobb’s the Farseer trillogy starting with the Assassin’s Apprentice and the Tawny Man trilogy starting with Fool’s Errand. I skipped the Liveship Traders. All deal with the same characters/world. They’re easy reads and have some magical elements, but nothing like wizards per se.

    We also enjoyed Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Pillars of the Earth was turned into a mini series of sorts. It was decent. Also medieval, but more like historical fiction with characters to connect you to the time. No fantasy elements to speak of. Lots of research went into these books, and there’s a lot about cathedral building, church corruption, and the fictional town of Kingsbridge in Britain.

    In a completely different genre, there are the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books by Stieg Larsson (Swedish). I loved these! It’s kind of in the mystery genre – there’s a reporter and big business corruption tied in with women trafficking, but the highlight is really Lisbeth. She’s a very interesting character – but some scenes in the book are very violent and abusive. The original title of the swedish movie was “Men who Hate Women”. Despite that, they were really great reads.

    • I think I have met my “reading doppelganger”! I love being able to read a book that also provides painless and enjoyable learning.

  21. I totally understand about trying to read non-fiction killing your desire to read. You know you *should* read it, but it’s not good entertainment. From what I understand, you want frugal entertainment, not necessarily frugal education (which is what non-fiction would be for me.)

    Sometimes you’ve just gotta let yourself read the cheap fiction that you know you like πŸ˜‰

  22. Jason,
    I think we all have that battle within us… to do the right ting, but to also do the things we enjoy.
    Finding a balance is key.
    Read – But, don’t make yourself read a pile of books. Better to read one or two great books than a pile of average ones.
    Cut Coupons – But, focus on the biggest savings and only for things you need/use.
    Garden – But, plant just the items that grow the best and that you use the most. Potatoes? Tomatoes?

    Trying to be too good at too many things is a losing battle.

    Also, examine the theory of comparative advantage. If there are things that you like to do (and do well) you could find a way to trade those for the things you don’t.

  23. I certainly have a hard time with this as well. Some months I do much better than others. It seems now that summer is in full swing I have been spending a lot more. More than I certainly want to spend. You are right though I should find a cheap hobby that can keep me entertained. Currently it is golf, but that is a expensive hobby.

    As far as books to read. I always like the John Grisham books. They always keep me entertained. I don’t know if he anything new, but if you aren’t an active reader then there should be a few Grisham books that you haven’t read. Good luck.

    Average Joe

  24. “Hershey” by Michael D’Antonio. (Checked it out from the public library.) This book goes into great detail about Hershey’s business endeavors, including his many unsuccessful ventures. What is most impressive is that he leaves his fortune to a trust that pays for a school for orphaned boys he founded. The book also colored in some areas of American History that my primary education missed.

  25. Jason,
    I remember my mom spending hours filing coupons and so I myself never used them. But recently I’ve reinvestigated ways to save and it turns out that couponing is completely different now! With all the match-ups posted online, there is very little time spent clipping or sorting. I’m a newbie but my system is so simple. I grab the free local newspaper at the library to get the coupon circulars. I write the date on the front of each in marker and toss it in a file folder with those from past weeks. On Sunday I spend about 15 min looking online at match-ups for the week’s sales. (I use Money Saving Mom mostly.) This points me to the coupon I need. For example, it will say to look in the 7/10 Red Plum flyer for Bic razor coupon and combine it with a sale at CVS. I just clip what I’ll actually use that week and move those to my wallet–maybe 6-8 coupons in all– and I’m done. I think I might be hooked on this.

  26. I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I was born with frugal genes. That said, I still pick and choose where and when I want to be frugal.

    One bit of advice is to find frugal activities that you really truly enjoy. If couponing is not your thing (it is not mine), find some other way to save money. The same thing applies to hiking, biking, camping and other outdoor activities that are typically low cost or even free. If you have to convince yourself you are having fun, bag it and find something you truly enjoy.

    That is my opinion, at least.

  27. thanks for this. i’ll just say i’m really glad i’m not the only one who feels this way. i’m totally the spender of the two of us. (my husband and i). thank you.

  28. Jason, I loved this article. You are so real.

    I am fortunate to be retired and healthy (early 60s). I am grateful my employer, the Federal Government, forced me to put 7-8 percent of every paycheck (after taxes) into a pension program and then also to pay extra into Medicare. The Feds did also put into my pension plan but, how many 23 year olds at the beginning of their careers save 7 percent of their income for retirement?. I was forced to and am very glad. I am made to feel guilty about my Federal pension but I realize the forced savings were so important to me at a time I did not think I would work for the Federal government for very long. I did leave twice.

    Some nonfiction is very good. I mix “good” fiction with crime thrillers (Flynn, Clancy, Grishom.) and classics (David Copperfield). Just read All the King’s Men–awesome. Steig Larrson’s books are excellent but so is Hanna’s Daughters by another deceased Swedish author. I loved the first two nonfiction “Story of Civilization” books then bogged down on the third about Italy. “Three Cups of Tea” evidently has some bad press about dates but the basic book is real and is great nonfiction. There is good nonfiction out there.

  29. I read a great quote the other day – Do not exchange what you want most for what you want in the moment. Sorry I don’t know to whom to attribute it but I thought it was great and a wonderful question to ask myself before buying something.

  30. Often, unless you’re a true bookworm, it’s easy to become overwhelmed at the library, with so many books, and (quite often) so little time to make your selections.

    Our local library now has an excellent website, which allows me to browse, add books to a reading list, & even request books, which will then be at the circulation desk, awaiting my arrival.

    Prior to this, however, I had already discovered an excellent (and free!) online tool. Quite simply, I used Amazon.com, not to shop, but to browse, review, and narrow down book selections.

    I would then save them, not to the Amazon shopping cart, but instead, to “Wish Lists” which I had created for each member of my family. Armed with this list, I could then browse the online catalog of our local library to determine their availability. An easy way to save time, money, and frustration, especially in the hot summer time, with six grandchildren! Hope this helps…