Conscious Frugality

by Katy on February 6, 2009 · 25 comments



clearance sale


I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of frugality. Is frugality buying a lot of clearance items, loading up the shopping cart at Goodwill, pinching pennies and then holding onto as much of your income as possible?

It’s kind of all of that, but pretty much none of that.

For me, frugality is about being wise, thoughtful and deliberate with my money. 

This is something that’s taken me a long time to get to. I’ve certainly had my years of filling my cart at Goodwill and scooping up piles of clearance items. But mostly, these purchases have led to nothing more than a house full of clutter, and a mysteriously empty bank account.

Why am I broke, when I save so much money on everything I buy?

Joining The Compact (buy-nothing-new) in January of 2007 completely changed my mindset. I no longer have the compulsion to buy things just because they’re “too cheap to pass up.

My compulsion now is to get rid of stuff instead of accumulating it.

I spent much of 2007 decluttering my house. I donated to Goodwill 19 times, a few of which were minivan-filling trips. I could probably donate another 10 van loads before the house would develop anything close to an echo. (Which, now that I think about it might be taking things a tad too far.) 

Which brings me to the term conscious frugality. To be mindful with one’s money without being miserly or blowing it on poorly made stuff that’s was never manufactured with longevity in mind.

To be willing to pay more sometimes from a locally owned business, to support businesses that you want to keep in your neighborhood, and to continue to give to charity even when your own budget is aching.

To me the concept of conscious frugality, (which I though I made up, but there’s a few references on google.) is about buying smart, buying used, buying local and sometimes just not buying at all.

What does conscious frugality mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jinger February 7, 2009 at 6:21 am

I totally agree. I was just thinking about the life span of household items that are manufactured today. 3 years ago I bought a small Mr. Coffee maker, a Dirt Devil vacuum, a TV and a DVD player. Within the last month, the coffee maker stopped heating, the vacuum lost its wheels, the DVD player won’t play and the TV is gasping for breath.
I have decided to buy an old fashioned stove top percolator for coffee, and a carpet sweeper. Not sure what to do about the electronics though.


Meg from FruWiki February 7, 2009 at 6:54 am

I recently watched the video here ( about the Economides family. They’re going by the title “America’s Cheapest Family” which I think is ridiculous see how many families live on a lot less than they do.

What really struck me, though, is how the article and video focus so much — indeed, almost entirely — on shopping! Sure, thrifting is great when you need to buy stuff, but filling up carts of stuff because it’s cheap isn’t always that frugal.

While I do love bargains and things like nice clothes, the more I’ve gotten into frugality the less and less I’ve gone shopping. And when I do go shopping, I find myself spending more on fewer pieces because I look for value — real value that comes from quality and usefulness to me, not just the difference between the MSRP and sale price.


mindfulmama February 7, 2009 at 7:21 am

Meg- I took a look at the video clip and the website for the Economides (America’s Cheapest Family) and you are right – it’s mostly about shopping, I suppose since it is a holiday-time segment. Anyhow, I was disappointed to see their website all about earning them money – selling their approach. We all have to make a buck somewhere, but in order to look into how they live on so little, to learn from their experience, you have to pay. Conscious Frugality is more than getting a cheap purchase – yes that’s part of it, but it’s more about what’s behind the purchase. I also find that I shop less since being inspired by your blog, Katy. My occasional purchases are more thought out, prioritized and justified. We are still struggling with old patterns of spending, but we’re on the right track.


Daphne February 7, 2009 at 8:29 am

Katy, your blog has been a tremendous help to me in my long quest to cultivate contentment. It’s a process and not an event! At Christmas, I gifted several people with a musical CD; proceeds from the sales exclusively benefit a local arboretum. Others received gift cards to a local restaurant that isn’t part of a national franchise. Recently, I wanted to read a specific book and was aghast to find that it wasn’t at any branch of my library system. I had almost resigned myself to spending the money to buy this book, but decided to ask around. Sure enough, a friend had a copy she was happy to loan to me. A year ago, I would have made an internet purchase and waited for the book to arrive on my front porch…an entirely anomymous interaction. Now, I have the far greater satisfaction of interacting with people and building relationships, instead of spending money and accumulating more *stuff*. It’s not about deprivation; it’s about making choices that matter!


Pennie February 7, 2009 at 9:04 am

The message that always comes across (ad nauseum) in the media is that we, as “consumers,”are mandated to fulfill our pre-determined destinies by rabidly buying “products,” in order to somehow reach our whole.

What bothers me the most is how the solution for EVERY problem in our society is sold as a simple need to “buy” more.

If you want to lose weight, buy these nutrition bars. If you want to save money on car expenses, buy a new car. If you want to save money on groceries, buy your groceries at their store. In order to save more money, buy this financial program for your computer. Yikes!

It’s why I love the Non-Consumer Advocate site so much. 😀

Like so many other readers, my purchases are saved for, are always done very thoughtfully, never made in haste, and then enjoyed for many years. Partly for the challenge and creativity, I try to find a way to re-purpose anything and everything that enters my home.

Our children lovingly poke fun at me sometimes because I use up or wear out nearly everything–I still have the laundry basket that I bought after my son was first born (he’s now 6’6″ tall and 28 years old!) and still regularly use a nifty set of four folding tray tables that my daughter would use in combination with a blanket to make a play fort out of (she’s now 30 and the mother of my sweet granddaughter that loves playing Barbies on them!).

The way I look at it, making careful acquisition decisions in the first place and then taking care of what you have pays you back many times over in both freedom from debt and the unsatisfying gerbil wheel of consumerism.

What the money I’ve saved over the years has “bought” for me is time–with my family, for myself, and for others. Because I only had to work part-time to support my lifestyle, and ultimately was able to retire at 47, I have been able to volunteer, travel, grow some of my own food, kindle and maintain meaningful friendships, take better care of my health, learn new skills, and know peace.


marianne February 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

Boy, is this one hard to explain. Perhaps it is giving yourself the time to discover what is really important to you, and you realize how little material goods satisfy the soul. Perhaps it is being overly cynical about what society is trying to sell you. (I often think this is the case in my situation…) Perhaps it comes from realizing that your children need true stability and this is part of how you give it to them. For us, frugality is just a small part of the picture. We are highly aggressive about what enters our home (this extends to people, phone calls, & not just things), we do not allow any member of our family to be “available” 24 hours per day. (My husband is a foreman, the one that the buck stops at, and even his work knows that he leaves his cell phone in the truck when he gets home. If there is an emergency, the control room knows our home number. Otherwise, he would be receiving calls from people all evening wanting to do business.) Home is sanctuary to our family, a place to keep the world at bay. Home is where you are always loved, even if there is trouble. If it doesn’t add to the functioning and wellbeing of “home”, it doesn’t come in. We find that in sticking to this mandate, a lot of our money is spent on experiences rather than shopping. While these experiences may not be cheap, we would rather that than something sitting on the mantle collecting dust…


Alison February 7, 2009 at 12:18 pm

What an insightful post! Well done!

My thoughts on conscious frugality are very closely aligned with yours. I’ve recently begun doing more reading about simple living and frugality, and have committed myself to the following, which I think are examples of conscious frugality:

1. Only buying things that I think will truly improve my quality of life.
2. Only buying things that are of good quality, so they will last a long time.
3. Buying things used, when possible.
4. Buying from local shops, when possible. (Yesterday I had a double-whammy – I bought a dozen used-but-in-excellent-condition cloth diapers from a locally-owned consignment shop in my neighbourhood. They are too small for my daughter, but I am putting them aside for baby #2 when the time comes.)
5. Trying to buy things that are made in Canada.
6. Trying to buy things with appropriate packaging.

I also need to share a related anecdote: Last night my husband and I were watching a movie with friends that we had recorded from TV using our PVR. As we started to fast-forward through the commercials, one of our friends mockingly pleaded/whined, “But wait! How will we know what we need?” 🙂 So true… I can think of many things I own for which I never would have perceived a need if it weren’t for advertising.


thenonconsumeradvocate February 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I agree about the Economides. I checked their book our from the library and tried to glean something, anything that I could work into my family’s life.

I guess their message would be insightful if the reader were a complete “keeping up with the Joneses” type. But for me, there was not much to take.

I have been to their website a number of times to see if there was anything of value for me, but there’s really nothing except money making ventures for them.

In their defense though, the book is better than their site. If for nothing less than inspiration.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Meg from FruWiki February 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

“I guess their message would be insightful if the reader were a complete “keeping up with the Joneses” type. But for me, there was not much to take.”

I think you hit the nail on the head! Especially when they start talking about what brands they wear! And it makes for great t.v. when people think that they can still keep their same lifestyle but have more money in the bank — which is a big reason why I think they have been such a media hit.

When I had cable, I was always nauseated by the “how to save money” segments because they were always selling stuff! I thought that was what ads between shows were for, but even cable news sounds a lot like QVC!

Anyhow, can you imagine what the reaction would be like if they showed the real cheapest family in America! You’d probably find a large extended family of immigrants huddled in a tiny run-down shack eating rice and beans. And they wouldn’t be wearing Nike shoes.


Red Icculus February 7, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I prefer “unconscious frugality”. It’s that inflation is rising, so things I buy are worth less and less. Eventually I have less things because they are used up.


thenonconsumeradvocate February 7, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Okay. I just watched the “Today Show” Economides segment, and I feel better about them. Yes, they’re followed on a Xmas shopping trip, but it’s to show mainstream America that living frugally is not about deprivation.

And the mom, (sorry, but I forgot her name) does talk about how life is not about consumerism.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Sandy S February 8, 2009 at 3:07 am

Conscious frugality involves being wise to the ideas that the advertising and marketing guys are selling: mainly the idea that buying whatever it is they are selling will bring us instant happiness, success and acceptance by others. If you keep in mind that advertising is insidious in our society, you can feel better about being frugal with your purchases (beating the system). Though in the long run, the thing I battle with most often because of this is cynicism.


Jessica February 8, 2009 at 6:20 am

There is an interesting book called Awareness that mimics a lot of what is said here. The author says that we are all just walking around sleeping and that the key to happiness is less not more. It made me think of some of the comments here. I think all of you are very awake. It’s easy in our society to become defined by things, and so hard to get in the habit of buying less or thinking you need less. What a weird mentality!

I highly recommend book above, and if anyone has book recommendations (that I can check out of the library, not buy!) I would love it. Thanks for a great blog!


Mariah February 8, 2009 at 9:03 am

When I decided to change my lifestyle to pursue my passions instead of just doing jobs, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the word “frugal.” When I looked it up in several dictionaries the definition that fit best for me was “not wasteful.” So to me it doesn’t mean never buying anything or living in poverty. I look first at “not wasting” my money, which means I don’t have to earn as much and can spend more time painting. If I really need or want something can I get the same item on sale or used, so I waste less of my time paying for it?

If I do decide to use some money to buy something I look at what might have been “wasted” in the production of that item. The environment? The health of the workers that made it? The fuel to ship it from around the world? If I can agree with the thing on those terms I try to see how it will work in my life. Will I really use it? Will it waste the limited amount of storage space in my life? Will it waste my time that I’d rather use in my garden or with friends? How will it affect my health?

It isn’t just things that I’ll keep in my house that get questioned. I used to eat fast food too frequently. I pass them up now and go home and make my own locally grown meal because of the answers I get when I ask the waste questions about my car idling at the drive thru, those burgers grown in feedlots, processed inhumanely and shipped thousands of miles etc.


Magdalena February 8, 2009 at 11:44 am

Katy, I love echoey rooms! We are just at the beginning stages of planning our first real, built by us house, and I keep thinking about ways to make the space look “spacious” – in a house planned to be 12 x 20. I want that echo, meaning I don’t have much stuff in it. So far, the plans include recycling old buildings for their real-wood materials, off-grid heating and lighting and plumbing, and built-in furniture. Is that Conscious Frugality? We are certainly planning this to be as frugal as possible – with very little waste in building, and almost no waste in utilizing the house.


Andre Sammartino February 8, 2009 at 7:13 pm

One of the transitions we can making is breaking the nexus between use and own. Surely we can benefit from the utility of an item without needing it cluttering up our lives (and exhausting resources). Borrowing a book from a library or friend is one example. So too would be learning a recipe or a song.

Renting items to and from each other would reduce our footprint (and our closet requirements) considerably. That’s the logic between this site:

I discussed this further here:



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