Does Frugality Have the Longevity of Shoulder Pads and Leg Warmers?

by Katy on January 30, 2011 · 49 comments

I awoke yesterday to the headline Frugal frenzy may be all spent: Recession-born shopping lessons are likely to be quickly forgotten by Laura Gunderson in my Oregonian newspaper. Of course I had to read the entire story. The gist of the article was that although consumers say that the recession has made lifelong changes in their spending, current studies say otherwise.

One paragraph from the article really stuck in my mind, which was:

“Consumers who lost jobs or had pay cut likely will stick with the money-saving tactics longer, Perner said. Those who simply felt the recession emotionally, are more likely to default on budget-cutting plans and be back at Starbucks sooner.”

Actually losing your job affects you more than watching others lose theirs.

I for one, felt and feel (Oregon unemployment is still over 10%) the recession more than I was actually affected by it. I’ve been in the same well paying job as an RN for almost 16 years. I have never at any point felt that my job was in jeopardy. Although my husband was laid off from his dream job in January of 2009, (they technically had him quit in order to later rehire him, which meant that he didn’t qualify for unemployment) he was able to find work again within a few months. (Don’t ask, it was complicated.)

I would like to think that the frugal living lessons brought about over the past few years are tools to be utilized through our entire lives. The difference between wants and needs; and the ability to use our creativity and community to weather financial difficulties.

Yes, American Express is reporting record spending, but I use mine for Costco purchases such as cat food, coffee, olive oil and my son’s prescription glasses. I am not using it for restaurant meals, Hawaiian vacations or designer handbags. I like that it has to be paid fully every month, and yes, I like that I get a yearly annual Costco voucher in the amount of at least a hundred bucks. (We already have our eye on a chest freezer that would allow us to stock up on great food deals and cook in bulk.)

I concede that many employ frugal tactics solely due to situations out of their control, and are happy to shed their latte-free lifestyles, but many others recognize the empowerment that comes with knowing how to control your finances. To lose the anxiety of living paycheck to paycheck. To learn how to not have life’s pleasures be tied to a fat wallet.

Researchers may disagree with my conclusions, but I truly feel that frugality once learned is a powerful tool. It may get set aside here and there, but it’s still available in a pinch.

Are you moving away from frugality in your life? Are you anxious to start up your formerly spend-happy life? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly January 30, 2011 at 10:42 am

I’m stuck with frugality in my genetic structure. I’m a little sad that the frugal trend is fading because for a while, I felt more ‘normal’….but I’m destined to be careful with my money.

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Katy January 30, 2011 at 10:45 am

I know exactly what you mean, I was normal for a bit there. Oh well . . . back to a life of freakiness. 😉

Katy

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mike crosby January 30, 2011 at 11:39 am

Katy, I think I’m frugal, but it depends on whom I compare myself to.

I know I’m moving in the right direction and I like that. More tennis instead of golf, and eating at home instead of going out.

In the last two days, my wife and I have spent $130 on three meals. She paid for her girlfriend on one, like she always does. $130 is not a lot of money, but when I feel it’s wasted, I get angry. Especially when I can be happy with a plate of rice and beans.

Or to put it another way, would you eat a plate of rice and beans if I gave you $50?

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Katy January 30, 2011 at 11:53 am

I LOVE that! I often think this way, such as when it seems to be too much trouble to save a dollar or two.

Katy

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Lindsey January 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

For unemployment benefits, when an employer forces their employee to quit, it is usually treated the same way as a discharge. In my state at least, your husband probably could have received unemployment benefits. Giving an employee the choice of whether to quit or be fired isn’t really seen as a choice…just a little public service announcement. = )

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Katy January 30, 2011 at 11:54 am

It was complicated.

Katy

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Abby January 30, 2011 at 12:14 pm

We accidentally found frugality pre-recession. We were looking for a simpler, saner life and it turned out that a lot of frugal tenets fit in nicely.

Having adopted frugality, it really helped us stay sane as we’ve faced considerable uncertainty during the recession. As we move beyond, frugality is letting us think differently about how we plan the rest of our lives.

That’s the key, I think – you have to see frugality not as deprivation but as a means to realizing possibility. And I’m guessing that’s only true for the minority.

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Heidi January 31, 2011 at 2:13 am

I agree with this, and with Chris Danner below. Frugality is not deprivation, it’s a path to a more meaningful life.

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Charlie January 30, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I was frugal before the recession, so I will continue this way even after the recession.

I expect a lot of the people who embraced the minimalist movement will reject it as soon as their paychecks get fat again. It is not the bad times that test our virtue so much as the good times.

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Charlie January 30, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I was frugal before the recession, so I will continue this way even after the recession.

I expect a lot of the people who embraced the minimalist movement will reject it as soon as their paychecks get fat again. It is not the bad times that test our virtue so much as the good times.

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Annie Jones January 30, 2011 at 12:19 pm

My husband and I were just talking about this a day or two ago. We think it’s unfortunate that, as the economy improves, some people will go right back to their spendthrift ways. We were frugal before the recession and frugal we’ll remain. I don’t know if we’re able to be any other way.

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Kristia@Family Balance Sheet January 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I’m a lifer. I was frugal before the collapse and I’ll be frugal for many decades after. It is the way I am wired.

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Kristen@TheFrugalGirl January 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I’m a lifer too! I was eeking the last bit out of a bar of soap when I was a kid and lived at home, and not because my mom told me to. It’s just in my bones. =P

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Martha January 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Do you think people are truly giving up frugality?
Could it be that business need folks to spend to keep the economy going so they ‘say’ people are spending again?? One of my friends was rationalizing her shopping spree on the notion the recession was over! But, in my community people still can’t find work, and are still being very careful with their money.

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Kate January 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm

My husband and I were also discussing this recently. He’s making far more than ever, but I’m still looking for new ways to be frugal – made The Frugal Girl’s recipe for homemade yogurt just yesterday. Very few things make me more happy than transferring money from checking to savings and watching that number climb – that’s not going to change. 🙂

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Erin January 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm

My husband made it the other day too. It is so good

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Carla January 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I think whether or not people will stick with their new frugality will be an individual issue. Some will like it and maintain their frugal ways; others won’t. People don’t behave so that a single generalization will fit all. I myself can be very frugal when the need arises and I can also spend when things loosen up. I still don’t spend like the proverbial Joneses in either case.

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Yankeegal January 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I am a “lifer” as well. I often think about an article that one of the original frugalistas (Amy Dacyzcn) wrote about people that start spending again when their economic situation improves. She agreed with many of the same points you made. I had to close my business almost two years ago, losing my income, but because of our continous frugal practices, my family has been able to weather the storm just fine.
I wanted to add that I love your blog! I am doing the compact this year ..Thanks for being such a great role model!

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Mamie January 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm

NOT EVER going back to a latte-lifestyle! We love being frugal and don;t care if we’re seen as “different.” I can also see that our modeling (not preaching or pushing) has had a positive effect on some family members’ views, and has also received positive attention from work colleagues.

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Jinger January 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

As a single Mom to 2 children from the 70’s to through the 80’s and then Mom to my granddaughter and teacher by profession, I have always lived thriftly. But, when all was lost in 2005, I had to re evaluate and decided to work only part time and live even closer to the bone. And yes, I still have spending desires…but don’t act on them because being able to pay my rent and bills each month and put food on the table is more important to me.

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grandma January 30, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I just started Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University – so I guess I was slow on the uptake there. 🙂 When the economy tanked I read blog after blog and the thing that jarred me was a new (to me) way of looking at purchases: How many hours of my life do I have to work to buy such and such – and is it worth it? Usually the answer is no. I can’t see that changing. Is that frugal thinking – or just priority based thinking? I don’t know.

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sandy January 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I earned my frugal stripes back when shoulder pads and leg warmers were in style. I never changed even when financially things did get easier. I like beating the system. I don’t see it as freaky to buy 2 or 3 turkeys at Thanksgiving and 2 or three hams at : I was amazed how meaty they were). Most of my produce comes from the reduced rack or my CSA in the summer (which I consider a splurge). I cook everything from scratch including breads, bagels, english muffins, tahini, hummus, etc. My point, because of this my husband and I have been able to save for a retirement that can include the traveling we so love. And, as an aside, people have traditionally been frugal. It wasn’t until after WWII that things changed. Our economy did just fine with the frugality of old and it helped our grandparents survive the depression. I don’t believe we need to spend our way out of the recession. That doesn’t make sense to me.

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sandy January 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I just noticed that part of my comment got lost. The sentence should read 2 or 3 hams at Easter. This weekend I found smoked turkey necks at 69 cents a pound. They made a great pot of bean soup and ham salad for sandwitches. (I was amazed at how meaty they were)
I never pay more than $2 for meat and I aim for $1/pound. When I find it I stock up. I keep track and I can feed my husband and I for about $5 a day.

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Jean January 30, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Obviously a large part of your following is made up of those of us who have always been frugal and keep looking for ways and ideas to refine it. My parents were frugal and the example stuck…I do need to be a little less judgemental of those who have (to my way of thinking) spendthrift ways…the SO keeps reminding me that it’s none of our business how other people spend their money, but it feels like it is when we are constantly helping out family members who earn lots more than we do but have gotten themselves into a bind. We attended a birthday party today for a 3 year old that I’m sure cost more than we spend on 2 weeks groceries, and yet I know this family is struggling financially. There’s no polite or diplomatic way to say anything but it bothers me.

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sandy January 31, 2011 at 8:51 am

I know what you mean. I have a sibling who is always in debt and asking for money and I know their income is larger than ours. When I tried to make suggestions years ago I got no where because “I just couldn’t live like that” so for the sake of family I keep my mouth shut and help when absolutely necessary. Frustrating.

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Mrs. B. January 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I told my husband the same thing about 2 or so years ago. As soon as the “economy” picked up again people will forget all about the recession and go about their spending habits. There will be some that have lost their jobs and done without for to long of a time to think about spending freely but I do believe the majority will go right back into large mortgage debt right along with the credit cards. We will not be going back to spending. Our kids are both in college and then my husband will be able to retire a year or two after that. We want to get out of the work place as soon as we can. Spending will not get us where we want to go.

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Chris Danner January 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm

My husband lost a job 8 years ago (we live in Michigan and the economy here has been bad for years). It was a very scary time for us – not that we were super extravagant, but we did tend to fritter a lot of money away on little things. Anyway, I *finally* read a book that had been sitting in the bookcase for years – Janet Luhrs “The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living” What a life-altering book! Have been on the voluntary simplicity/frugality path ever since. We were much better equipped to handle another job loss 2 years ago and 6 months of unemployment. Once you recognize and unplug from the consumerist mentality, you realize that VS/frugality isn’t about deprivation, it’s about building a more meaninful life – why would I ever want to go back to old spending habits!?

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Heather January 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I am frugal by nature. I will continue. It is distressing to think we will be moving back to consumerist living on the whole. When will people learn that it is not a truly sustainable lifestyle?

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lynda January 31, 2011 at 1:35 am

I was thinking along the same lines as Martha: time to persuade those that can to spend to drive up demand…

As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have space to create rather than space to store, so I’m buying less and moving stuff on. I have what some crafters term SABLE (stash above and beyond life expectancy) and I’d like to clear the decks to use my talents.

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Darcidoodle January 31, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I’m doing the same thing, Lynda. The Stash has gotten out of control. I’m working on being satisfied with what I’ve got vs. always wanting more, more, MORE! That needy little fabric monster sure is greedy!

And, of course, Katy, your mantra runs through my head almost daily. I think I’m hooked on frugality! Who gives a rat’s behind what others do? I can only control myself, and my own spending.

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Ron Ratliff January 31, 2011 at 4:38 am

Frugality shouldn’t be the goal since it implies a lifestyle of deprivation. As Dave Ramsey teaches, “financial peace” isn’t about going without nor is it a short-term exercise just to “balance the budget”…if you truly want to transform your relationship with money, it has to become a lifestyle of spending wisely.

One of the most frustrating things I see in my practice are people who either will not even attempt to change – because of mistakes they’ve made in the past – or give up after a couple of weeks – because they “deserve” to be able to spend money like everyone else.

The “big lesson” that many families have learned (and a lesson that Washington hasn’t) is that living on less than you make is the only fiscally responsible lifestyle that makes sense. If some consider that to be “frugal”, then so be it…I’d rather be frugal than saddled with debt!

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Shelley January 31, 2011 at 4:57 am

Amy Dacyzycn (sp?) grabbed me when I was desperate back in the early 90s and I’ve never let her go. I am not frugal about some things (travel) but I spend money very consciously. Frugality is a life skill; without it we’re vulnerable.

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Katy January 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I <3 Amy!

Katy

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Elaine January 31, 2011 at 5:30 am

I moved 700 miles away 6 years to find a job. I’ve been steadily employed this whole time, but a couple of months ago my company laid off 30 people (just under 10%, and their last layoff was 15 years ago). I didn’t lose my job *this time*, but I have lost a few jobs in the past. I’ve been unemployed for long stretches of time, but able to just keep my head above water. I’m pretty good at not spending on extras, but my mortgage and 2 dogs are draining me a bit. Because of the large vet bills, I finally got pet insurance ($450/year for both dogs) and of course, had unforeseen car repairs. They didn’t drain my savings completely, just low enough to make me uneasy. So I went “extra frugal” for a couple of months to put some money back into the savings. What a relief that is! Hopefully, I’ll get enough in there for the next emergency.

Another thing I did recently is set up a second savings account for a new (used) car in about 2 years. I refinanced my mortgage and have $86 dollars a month more, which goes into that account along with whatever I’ve saved in coupons or rebates. I won’t be able to actually buy a car with what I save, but it *will* be money that I won’t have to finance.

I plan to keep up my frugal ways for the rest of my life. I’m 62 years old and my retirement account tanked, so I’ll be working until I drop (not a bad plan, actually). I do talk about thrifting with people, when the subject of stretching our money comes up. I’m not into cooking and baking everything from scratch, but I am doing more than before.

I remind myself of my grandparents.

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Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire February 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Oh, gosh, I hear you on the pets draining the funds! Our cat is super sick, and we’re constantly at the vet’s office, it seems. *sigh* But we don’t have kids to clothe or put through college…

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Molly On Money January 31, 2011 at 5:47 am

I wish there was a different name for ‘frugality’. It just doesn’t sound fun.
The changes I made last year are making a huge impact in my life and the payoff is too amazing to walk away from. My husband will be laid off in March. I work part-time. Years ago this would have put us into a panic. Now it’s just another change to take note of. We are living on so little that we can live off his unemployment and my part-time salary and still cover our expenses. We won’t be adding to our savings or retirement so I am thinking of going to full time to make it happen.

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Susan January 31, 2011 at 7:00 am

Frugality has enabled us to have an early retirement when many people are still dependent on a paycheck. I wish we had gotten more thrifty even sooner. It gives you more control over your life.

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Jude January 31, 2011 at 8:14 am

I like the whole concept of frugality and just not spending money. How much could I save in a year if I didn’t spend anything? But the reality is that I like to spend on the little pleasures. For me it’s a constant battle, but it’s one I’ll continue to wage.

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Diane January 31, 2011 at 8:41 am

For the past six or seven years, I have gone on a Cash Diet during the month of February. I spend NO money on anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. (I chose February because it’s the shortest month 😉
– I eat from the pantry, the freezer and the back of the refrigerator.
– I look for new clothes combinations in the back of my closet.
– I use up any gift cards hanging around from the year before last.
I do not stockpile and I don’t ask for gift cards to get me through, I just make sure I use up any cards or passes I have from 2009 and prior.
Last year, I was out of the country for the whole month of February, so I decided to try a two-month Cash Diet this year. Today marks the end of month one, and my account balances show healthy improvement. Just last night I thought of something I could do to save another $40 in February. It’s a great way to re-examine where your money goes.
Obviously, I started this before the recession hit, and I’ll continue it as things get better.
I’m grateful to be doing this because I WANT to, not because I HAVE to. That’s me, man, frugal to the bone, but a casual observer couldn’t tell by looking at me, my car or my home(s).

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fairy dust January 31, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Interestingly, my husband was laid off temporarily summer of ’09, so that *should* have been when we upped our frugality, and we did a little bit of belt tightening. However, it really didn’t happen in earnest until we split up last March, and DH moved into his own place. It looked like I was going to stay in our house with just my salary, which is half of DH’s. To be able to afford to live there and keep the house, I knew I’d have to get a lot more frugal, so I finally got around to doing the other things we’d just talked about – I nixed the land line for $35/mo, I slashed our HD fancy-arse cable selection down to the minimum plan just to keep Internet access, I got a lot stingier (since it was just me and the cats) with the thermostat and turning off lights, power strips, using water, etc. I actually received letters of concern from the water company because I was using so much less than when my husband was living there with me – LOL!

Anyway, we’ve patched things up and he’s moved back in (along with his salary), so the urgency is off, but we have not brought back the cable TV stuff, the land line, and I continue to turn off everything much to my husband’s constant frustration – he apparently grew up thinking anything that comes out of the wall or a faucet is magickal and free. 🙂 So I personally don’t see frugality ending for us because I love seeing more money left in the bank at the end of each month to stash away.

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Practical Parsimony January 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Katy, the incongruous title certainly caught my attention, making me laugh aloud.

I like the game of saving bits here and there. I renegotiate my ATT bill all the time, to the point I now pay $82 for homephone, cell phone and high speed DSL. “How low can you go” and get the same service or comparable is my goal. Most of my food is almost free; some is free.

The lessons learned from parsimony are not lessons I will discard. That is how I paid off my house and car. Lessons learned are like diamonds paid for, health,etc. Why would anyone throw out lessons in order to maintain a debt?

Molly, I like parsimony or parsimonious better than frugality or frugal. But, that’s just me.

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snowsage January 31, 2011 at 4:24 pm

It’s wishful thinking on the part of retailers that people will allow themselves to be seduced by marketing and return to their old plastic habits. Some may, but many people seem to enjoy this new frugality. We need to keep reminding each other that life is to short to drag around all that stuff.

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Melissa January 31, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I started being frugal the second I had my first kid and realized I was not contributing to the family income. I think it originated from guilt (like I was spending my husband’s money), but now it’s just a way of life. I know it was a ridiculous way to think (my husband especially thought so), but I think being a thirty-something who had always had a job and paid her bills, and then being “unemployed” (or at least not being paid a salary for all the work I was doing), threw me for a loop.

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Dmarie January 31, 2011 at 5:52 pm

the more worried I get about our planet’s resources, the more frugal I get…regardless of finances. But Hubby retired early and I don’t work outside the home, so being frugal for whatever the reason also helps our bottom line. Thanks for your blog, you and the others show me I’m in good company being frugal!

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Jen February 1, 2011 at 4:22 am

I have always been kinda frugal, but I think this recession has caused me to ramp it up way more. In the past two years I saved so much money I was able to quit a job that had a 2+ hour daily commute and was able to weather a husband’s major health crisis. If we hadn’t saved this would not have been possible. I am definitely permanently converted! Having money is power to me now and a lot more important to me than a houseful of cheap toys and electronics.

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Kate in NY February 1, 2011 at 5:09 am

For me, frugality and sustainability are inextricably tied. Even when (if) the recession truly ends, I do not believe our society will ever be able to return fully to its “old plastic habits” (quoting a poster above) – and I mean “plastic” in the literal as well as the figurative sense! At some point in the not-too-distant future, we might all be worried about how to get or grow our food – forget plasma TV’s and lattes. I am not traditionally religious, but I almost feel as if this recession was a wake-up call from above: stop all the buying, stop wrecking the planet, live simply.

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Linda February 1, 2011 at 9:29 am

I became frugal when I got married. Prior to that, I was a student paying my own way and just scrapped by, borrowed (took) money from my boyfriend (now husband) and lived at home with my parents (who didn’t have extra money either).

My in-laws are frugal. They saved to buy cars and boats with cash, paid off their mortgage and only went on “big” vacations when they got older. They bought food on sale and stocked up, grew a big garden, fished and froze the excess, hanged out the clothes on the line, etc. My mother-in-law taught me how to do all of this.

My parents taught me how to work for what I wanted and that I needed an education. I stayed home while I went to a local state university. They also taught me how to cook from scratch. I know how to bake bread, bake goodies, cook low cost, good food.

Between both my parents and my in-laws, my husband and I have a good, frugal life. Hard work and frugality is with us for life. We enjoy what we do for work, we do take vacations, go out to eat but we it on a budget.

Most of my friends make more money than us and they complain/fight about money. My husband and I don’t fight about money nor worry about how to pay the bills. I would much rather live the thrifty life!

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ellie February 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Hey, Katy – we just finished 6 straight days of below freezing weather on our side of the mountain, so my leg warmers got daily use! Probably I can keep up the frugality as long as I have kept the leg warmers!

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Rachel February 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I’ve become an adult during the recession, so it’s hard for me to work out what has been a natural progression in spending habits and what is a result of the recession.

I dabbled a little in spending more freely as I visited my family (the younger generations of which turn their nose up at frugality) this holiday season. It made me cringe to hear my sister speak with disdain of someone who eats out less because it’s too expensive, and called her cheap.

After venturing back to the dark side a little bit, I feel comfortable saying I don’t think I’ll return to that life. I much prefer a life of simplicity and quality over quantity, and the stress of carrying a credit card balance for the first time ever isn’t a feeling I want to have again.

I’m a broken record at this point, but I agree with what many of the posters above me have pointed out: it’s all about the attitude. If frugality is robbing someone of what they love, they won’t continue those habits if they don’t have to. If frugality is a path to less stress and more enjoyment, it can be entrenched for a lifetime. I count myself lucky that I’ve gotten into these habits so early in life!

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