Frugal Living Is Not A Competition

What a difference a few decades makes!  In the 1980’s capitalism was on the march as many technological advances were made.  An entrepreneurial spirit spread across the country.  That carried over into the 1990’s, and went into overdrive in the mid-to-late 90’s, where there were plenty of examples of on-paper employee millionaires thanks to hot IPOs, and “irrational exuberance” in the technology sector, particularly biotech companies.

Throughout this period the idea of frugal living was but an after thought, and those who practiced it were made fun of mercilessly.  We were labeled tightwads, cheapskates, and other not-so-polite terms of fiscal endearment.  After all, people were too busy comparing their net worth to try to save a buck.

Enter the recession of 2008.  Suddenly, frugal living made a comeback.  It seemed the cover story of every major media publication featured some variation of “ways to save money” or “ways to survive the recession,” or proclaimed the reemergence of frugality.  Now (some of) those same people scrambling for bigger houses, fancier cars and higher capital gains are trying to out-do one another again by scrimping, sacrificing, and poking fun at people’s purchases.  Nothing is ever frugal enough.

Sometimes the act of scaling back is traumatic enough to a family’s finances–cutting things altogether would send them over the edge.  Take my family for instance.  Last year we decided to go one year without expanded cable television service.  I wanted to cancel completely.  My wife and kids pointed out the number of educational shows we could watch on PBS, and the poor signal reception we would get from an antennae.  We compromised, and decided to drop back to basic cable, reducing our cable bill from $46 a month to $12 a month.  We made similar compromises in other areas of our budget.  At the end of the year, we decided to resume expanded cable and cut other subscriptions and forms of entertainment.

Here lately, I’ve noticed a shift in public sentiment towards frugality, and I suspect it may be a form of frugal burnout.  When people get burned out with a trend in their own lives, they tend to resent others who they perceive to be sacrificing less than them.  Many people are made to feel guilty if they are not practicing a frugal lifestyle.  Others are so condemned for spending money that they are literally ashamed to be seen with bags from high-end stores.  Give me a break.  Have we really come to that?

First of all, frugality is not a competition.  People have different levels of tolerance for all things frugal.  Some people like air conditioning, others enjoy working on classic cars.  They choose to spend their money on things that others perceive to be frivolous.  But that is simply a personal opinion, and how you choose to spend your money says more about your personal values than your level of commitment to the frugal living movement.

Of course, many of us practice frugality for reasons besides monetary gain.  We enjoy simple living, and believe in being wise stewards of resources (natural, economic, etc.).  But what you choose to do with your money is up to you.  Bottom line:  Please don’t become a self-righteous frugalist!


  1. I actually see quite a bit of hostility online when people perceive a blogger as ‘not being frugal enough’ and it always gives me a little spike of anger when I see people dumping on someone else’s decision to enjoy life. I actually don’t blog about my actual finances because I don’t feel like submitting myself to that kind of scrutiny.

    (Although I do kinda enjoy watching people on forums have a virtual pissing contest on who turns their thermostat down the lowest in the winter.)

  2. I would just like to point out that you would probably get lots better reception over the air with an antenna. I work at a tv station, and I know that stations compress their signal going to the cable companies and then the cable companies compress the signal again to cram as many stations on their lines as they can. You are not getting true HD even on digital cable. Cable companies really are ripping people off because they take our money and then don’t improve their infrastructure. I have been trying to get us off cable for some time but my husband is proving to be quite a challenge. Over the air signal is WAY better in terms of quality.

  3. Queen of the Road…great post and website. You are really good! I would buy your book because I’d love to read it, but I am having to cut back and live a very frugal livestyle! So…no more books for me! Or much of anything else for that matter. Just wanted to tell me how much I admire your ‘spunk’!

  4. I’ve noticed this trend, too. A few years ago, people were trying to best one another on cars, houses, vacations… Now I feel a little anxious admitting when I’ve purchased something in a less-than-frugal way.

    Everyone’s in a slightly different position. For us, we’ve cut back on bigger items like trips and expensive meals, and we’ve taken on more work when it’s been offered. We haven’t eliminated smaller things like the occasional coffee from Starbucks or bagels on Saturday morning. I see our savings increasing and our debt decreasing, though, so I think we’re on the right track. We’re adopting a level of frugality that works for us.

  5. Awesome post, and I think it needed to be said! For us, it’s that we LOVE to eat out. We enjoy the good food (neither of is a great cook) and the experience of going out to eat and just enjoying each other without having to worry about dishes or clean up. Of course we’d cut it out if we had to, but for now, we’d rather scrimp in other areas so that we can continue to enjoy that treat, whether others view it as a waste or not!

  6. Hey! Great Post!

    What people forget is saving money isn’t only about “frugal living” it’s about living within your means…and if that means no cable because you can’t afford cable on top of rent, food and clothes…then you shouldn’t have cable. BUT, when you’re on the plus side, everyone has decisions to make for yourself about how much you need to have saved, how much you can spend on cable etc, and what brings enjoyment and value to your life!

    Having said that, I think cutting back on luxuries once in a while (like eating out, cable, pedicures etc) makes us re-evaluate if we really need them, and also makes us enjoy them more!

    Thanks for your Blog, Frugal Dad!

  7. Great post! I agree being frugal is not a competition. The funny thing is that once you stop competing with others to own things, you are already on the right road.

  8. What really gets me is when people post comments on my Suddenly Frugal blog and accuse me of being a hypocrite or wishing they could live as “frugally” as I do, since I enjoy some nice things in my life.

    What I think these folks are missing is the fact that frugal isn’t just about living cheaply to me. I see living frugally as living wisely within one’s own means. That may mean spending a little bit more for a quality product, but it’s a product I know will last longer and therefore give me a better return on my investment (i.e. what I spent for it).

    I once did a blog posting on the difference between frugals, tightwads and spendthrifts. It was eye-opening researching it. Maybe you’ll check it out.


  9. I don’t know that frugal living is just about living within one’s means, but to me it is more about living at a simpler level I am personally comfortable with, and living closer to nature… Meaning, I could still live within my means and spend a lot more money doing so, but I chose to “Not spend more”, because I see no reason to spend just for the sake of spending.

    Like how much money was spent this weekend?
    I’ve got about $7 in my totally fun filled weekend. My weekend was sunshiny great, thoroughly enjoyable, and put free food on the table besides! Went clam digging all 3 mornings, stopped to pump sand shrimp for bait, and went perch fishing (and catching!) Cleaned clams and fish and worked in the gardens, sun bathed in the back yard, enjoyed company over, and ate clams and fish all weekend long. Doesn’t get any better than that! And the total cost was gas money – 15 miles round trip each day – so 3 gallons of gas. That to me is enjoying nature to it’s fullest, and living life simply, yet extremely enjoyable for very very little money! That’s my take on frugal fun!

    OK – for those who say what about the fishing/clamming licenses – that cost is about $40 for the year, divided by 12 months of usage. Still cheap 🙂