Frugal Shame To Frugal Pride, And Back Again

As the recession drags on I have seen a very subtle shift in the types of web searches that result in visits to Frugal Dad. I’ve always thought watching search trends is a great way to gauge popular opinion – Google must have a field day watching trends considering the data they have available to them.

When the economy started to head south I noticed many people became quite proud of their frugality. Those who were once quietly going about their simple lives were suddenly very happy to share how they saved money, reduced their utilities, rejected new cars and new clothes, etc. Frugal people were suddenly very popular. Just months before, they were laughed at and mocked by those who thought frugal people were alarmists, or too conservative, or somehow less intelligent or sophisticated than wealthy people.

On the opposite extreme there were plenty of people still doing quite well, and living in a bit of denial that we were headed towards a recession. To prove their solvency to the world they continued to spend shamelessly buying fancy cars, high-end clothing and big homes. And in an instant, the roles were reversed.

Stories began appearing about people being ashamed of their affluent spending habits. Designer stores were putting purchases in non-descript bags so patrons wouldn’t stand out. No longer was it “cool” to show off a designer label, or a high-end store bag, in public. Sales at most retailers plummeted, except those stores offering extreme discounts to customers such as Wal-mart and Dollar General.

A few months into the recession the media started to slowly turn on us frugalists. Were we responsible for the lack of recovery? Were we to blame for the lack of sales, and the avoidance of debt? Many of us, myself included, refused to accept that excessive spending and running household deficits was a reflection of our patriotism. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We felt it was time for everyone to reign in the wild spending of the last several years.

As a result, some started to feel ashamed over their frugality. And that trend continues today, as many land here at Frugal Dad while searching terms related to “ashamed to be frugal.” Funny how two extremes with the same line of thinking can take vastly different approaches. At least half the “extremely frugal” people I meet proudly proclaim their thrift, eager to tell how much they paid for everything, and how much you could have saved if you asked them before buying. The other half seem almost afraid to admit they shop at the thrift store, or drive a beat up car.

I believe the struggle is compounded by the media, who often go to great lengths to project people leading a simple life as weird, or extremists, while building up the idea that everyone is rich, no one has to work, and 16 year-olds deserve $10,000 birthday parties and new cars. That is simply not reality, but it is certainly the perception of some who believe everything they see on television. And it is this perception that causes people to reject a natural tendency towards simplicity, and instead pile on as many goodies and gadgets they can while accumulating more and more debt.

So do not be ashamed to be frugal. Wear your frugality as a badge. Be proud of driving a clunker, and wearing everyday clothing, and living in a modest home.


  1. Yeah, Frugality is great, but when we are talking multi-billions of dollars in companies, how will frugality influence them? Take Google, who you were talking about earlier in your post. They are a huge company, who until recently had ties with Apple, a major MAJOR player in the computer game. So, while frugality may work for us, and believe me if there is one thing my dad taught me it was how to save money, how much would it work for those companies? I don’t think it would be very great. Apple recently took down about 900 of their applications for their iPhones, some may say to save money, but I am thinking its cause CEO Eric Schmidt of Google stepped down from Apple’s board, and now Apple doesn’t want ANYTHING to do with Google. There is an interesting video that talks about the Google step down, and what it would mean to consumers. Who ironically will benefit from the step down cause it will mean we wont have to pay as much because there is more competition on the field. (YAY FOR MONEY SAVINGS, RIGHT?!) The video is at under Google Vs. Apple.

  2. Good post. Just like the stupid cash for clunkers. Why would I trade my 94 buick regal with 67,000 miles on it, that is paid off, to get into debt? Why would I pay money on a down payment that is already been taxed, pay interest with money that has been taxed, pay more in taxes per year with my money that has already been taxed, then make monthly payment with money that has already been taxed? I laugh, more people in debt.

  3. The main upside to “cash for clunkers” is getting hi-polluting vehicles off the road. One requirement is a significant increase in MPG in the new purchase. That’s good for everyone.

    But I agree. The instance where a super-frug would trade in a clunker, and have the cash saved to buy a new car, maybe a hybrid, outright…well, maybe 2 people in the country.

    I am lucky that we do not have the leigh-way to take on additional overhead, or my husband would have wanted to trade in his 95 escort wagon with the peeling paint, that is a source of embarrassment to him.

  4. um yeah lets take the “re-bait” of a 4,500 and the 25 grand to go into debt. IMHO it was guise to “stimulate” more spending and more debt not to improve air quality if that where the main reason the stipulation would have been for hybrid cars.The last I checked GM does not have a really fantastic hybrid or great gas saver cars. Spend spend spend, spend the money you don’t have mindset…The very thing that has us in such a pickle as a nation and as a people financially in the first place.

    Am I ashamed of my frugality? Nope! because I can sleep in peace at night. Blame us for this economy? Nice try, and ya’ll see how that flew like a lead balloon. Not a leg to stand on in that argument…..not even close.

  5. I never hear the proponents of cash for clunkers mention the resources needed to MAKE new cars and how that is offset by the minimal MPG difference needed to be included in the program. I heard a man yesterday say that technically, his 2008 Honda Odyssey qualifies if he wanted to buy a 2009 Honda Odyssey because it meets the 2MPG increase for SUVs. Of course he is not doing this but it illustrated the weakness of the program.

    CFC aside, I have not always been careful with my money but now am. I have two children to take care of and need to be financially prepared for what life brings us while setting a good example for them. I now have only a mortgage, a recovering 403B, start of education funds, and a healthy emergency fund in my posession to thank for my frugality.

    Ashamed, not a chance.

  6. If I am to maintain my committment to a debt-free life (other than mortgage) then I have no choice but to be frugal. A bigger house, newer car or other items are not in my budget. I have two choices – I can be “ashamed” of my situation, or I can be proud of it. I’ve chose to be proud – of my committment, my determination and my progress. I sleep better at night too. Once we begin to live by our own rules, stay true to our own values and stop comparing ourselves to others, being frugal comes a lot easier and it feels really good.