Why Are You Frugal?

by Katy on March 10, 2009 · 29 comments


Trump Apartment

Frugality is all the rage right now, and I don’t pretend for one minute that it’s because people have spontaneously come to their senses about living beyond their means.

It’s because people are losing their jobs left and right.

Even those of us who are employed are feeling less secure than we ever thought possible. Add the rising cost of groceries and the frightening plunge in our retirement funds, and you’d be crazy not to reign in your unnecessary spending.

But frugality is not necessarily a reaction to economic downturn. Many of us adopted frugal practices long before we had to. We did so because it fit with our values, our philosophies, our goals.

Two names of people who have famously lived below their means are successful actor Ed Begley Jr. and multi-billionaire Warren Buffett. Both men bought regular houses in regular neighborhoods before they were rich and have continued to stay in them. To put this into perspective, Warren Buffett, the richest man in America paid less than one-fourth the amount I paid for my house. (His $31,500 in 1958 vs. my $129,000 in 1996.)

By comparison, Donald Trump lives in a $50 million gold-crusted apartment. (And here all this time I thought apartment living was cheaper!) Which billionaire, I ask is more financially stable?

When you live below your means, not only are you able to weather economic downturns, but you can achieve financial goals that would otherwise be out of reach.

Thomas Stanley’s book, “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy” is full of similar examples of people who lived modest lives and were able to accumulate great wealth. Although it’s been a number of years since I read this book, the lessons I learned have stuck in my head. 

Live below your means, live below your means, live below your means.

And we have, and will continue to do so. 

Are you coming to a place of frugality because your income has decreased or become less stable? Or perhaps you’ve been frugal all along? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan March 10, 2009 at 2:57 am

I was brought up frugal – my parents are depression-era kids. Somewhere along the way, I lost that mentality. I think when I started working, I wanted ‘things’ I didn’t/couldn’t have when I was a child. Now that I’m in cc debt for the 3rd time, and I am without a job, reality is in my face. My frugal roots have kicked back in. I can’t think about ‘should have’ and ‘could have’ because what is done is done, however, I can look forward to fixing and finally learning from my mistakes. Am I frugal now? You betcha!


Evie Abat March 10, 2009 at 3:38 am

I don’t really like the word “frugal”, to tell you the truth. Maybe “more selective” or “discriminating in my purchases” would work better for me. I guess I’ve been changing my attitude because I just have way the heck too much stuff. Plus, I’d like to begin to have a nice size emergency fund. I’m not in any kind of financial hole, thank goodness, and have the money to buy extras, but there are very few things I really need or would LOVE to have. And I mean love, like I’m gonna love my purple vintage coat from the 50’s forever and ever. If I find something cute and trendy, I try not to buy it…but it’s still really hard…

Also, I moved to Buenos Aires 4 years ago from the States, and I’ve noticed that people wear everything out before they throw their things way (not sure if they throw it out, or recycle them or whatever, but they wring every bit of usage out of their things). Maybe it’s because of the economic crisis they experienced in 2001, or maybe it’s becuase things aren’t so readily available to them. Thrift stores packed with barely used items, like we have in the States, are unheard of. It’s kind of embarrassing.

One thing, though, is that, in general, their products here in Argentina (clothes, new furniture, especially) aren’t well made and aren’t my style, but are plentiful. In the States, I see that the clothes that I usually find when I’m thrifting are in impeccable condition or just need very minor repairs. So, the combination of poorly made and generic style has made me more selective in what I choose to buy. I find that I’m trying to find something that I know will last longer, and that has carried over into my purchases when I go back home to the States for visit.


Jinger March 10, 2009 at 6:03 am

I have lived simply most of my adult life, being a single mother, raising 2 generations of children on a teacher’s salary. But, I am even more frugal now, as I don’t want to work full time at my stage of life. Living frugally allows me time to enjoy in my simple lifestyle without spending money.


MaryC March 10, 2009 at 7:17 am

I grew up in a small farming town. Raised by a single mom with the help of my Dust Bowl era Grandparents. We had no choice but be frugal.
When I first got married, we lived a little above our means and then my husband got laid off. Suddenly, we were in way over our head. It took a long time to recover. After that, we steadily paid off everything. We didn’t buy a new car until we could pay cash. Now we live debt free except our mortgage and we are ‘cheap’ compared to our friends in the same income bracket.
I actually love finding ways to save money. Plus, most frugal living is also very environmentally friendly. I do not feel cheated at all. I have everything I need and a lot of things I want. And we are not as stressed about money.


Stacey March 10, 2009 at 10:40 am

We bought our 4 BR/2 BA home in 1998 for $120k. When we moved to the “not-so-good” part of town our friends and family said, “Is it safe?” because it looked a little run-down. We love the home and the neighborhood (and $564 mortgage/mo!) and we never plan on moving. Recently I told my neighbors – who are in their 70’s and have lived in their home for over 40 years – that I am so grateful to have them as role models for raising a family while living modestly. It’s obvious they enjoy their home (now paid off for years) and their financial security – and live full, happy lives. They told me their 2 kids both lobbied hard when they were teenagers to move to the expensive neighborhoods where their friends lived, but they knew they had a good thing. Yes, we will continue to live within our means and enjoy a wonderful life. And no one is calling us cheap – we’re the only ones of our friends who host regular gatherings with plenty of good food and drink. They have made it clear that they can’t afford to entertain – either because they don’t have the money or time because they are always working.

Oh, and a post script on yesterday’s post: I called a neighbor about their outdoor play set that I hadn’t seen their children playing on for years and asked if I could buy it from them. They said I could have it for free if I’d just come and take it away. Hooray!


Kristen @TheFrugalGirl March 10, 2009 at 4:01 pm

I’m in the always-been-frugal camp. 😉 And I don’t mind the word frugal, as evidenced by the name of my blog.


Angela March 10, 2009 at 4:17 pm

I’ve been frugal for a long time- since I took out student loans over twenty years ago and couldn’t pay them back for years after I graduated.

It’s much less stressful for me to live way below my means. I work freelance and so for me if I don’t get work for awhile, it’s good to know I have plenty of money saved and that I’m good at living on very little. I also learned that from so many years in college.

I remember reading the Millionaire Next Door when it came out and wanting to live with that philosophy. I never really wanted to have a lot of money for STUFF, because I could see what a trap it would be to need to take care of it and even hire other people to take care of it. What I have always used my money for was travel- to me the experience and the memories are something that can never be taken away.

I would much more aspire to be like Begley or Buffett than Trump- but then I’ve never really understood the attraction of the sort of excess/bling bling culture.

Thanks for another great post. I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately. The lifestyle I’ve been living for years because for me it makes me feel more free, I feel in Los Angeles at least is being made a little bit fun of, like it’s just chic or trendy- a fad- when it’s the way I’ve lived my whole adult life.


Pennie March 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm

My parents divorced when I was 13; I’d lost my younger sibling to cancer three years before, and my parents were in a mess financially and emotionally.

Mom went to work FT nights at the truck stop down the road and money was something we never had. I grew up fast, hard, and with a strong sense of how to earn and save money for anything I wanted. I married young in 1977, had children young, and we worked and saved for everything we had. Our homes were used, cars used and paid for in cash, vacations were either renting a motorhome and traveling to a national park or public lake, or camping. Hobbies were low-key things such as gardening, reading, bike riding, sewing, crafts, clubs.

We raised two children, worked FT and saved, retiring in our late 40’s and living a joyful and debt-free (mortgage-free) lifestyle that the current economic conditions don’t much affect.

I never thought of our lifestyle as “frugal.” It was then, and remains so today, merely sensible and within our means.


Marj March 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Grew up in a frugal family and I thank the good lord I did. Knowing how to be careful with money is such a good thing.

Wouldn’t want it any other way. It is out of necessity most of the time. Although, I have a friend who says she wishes she knew how to handle money as I always have.

Waste is just not in my vocabulary.


marianne March 10, 2009 at 5:52 pm

my mom raised us cheap, and she and i were laughing the other day about what to call how i live now. i call it eco-friendly, she calls it old fashioned. our most recent phone calls have been about who can spend less on groceries (she’s winning).


Kristin @ klingtocash March 10, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I was forced into frugality when my husband and I first moved in together. He was supporting us while I finished college. Things were really tight, so it was my job to make our funds go as far as I could.

I loved The Millionaire Next Door. I try to live by the principles from the people interviewed.


Neighbor Nancy March 10, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Hello everyone,
My answer is simple. When you can look at the official poverty level numbers and say, “Wow! that’s x times our income. I didn’t know you could be rich and considered poverty level…”


Kat March 10, 2009 at 7:03 pm

I grew up in a fairly frugal family – in fact – my mom made most of my clothes until I was about 10 – and to put that in perspective I am now approaching 30. Those skills served me well for a number of years, however when I first had my own income I overspent – not so much that I was ever in any significant debt other than student loans. As I get older though, I see the importance of things other than money, and I want to save as much as I can so that I will have more freedom to choose *hopefully* to work part time in the future. The economic downturn has not changed my spending practices, but is has made them more cool.


Hippy Habibi March 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I’m frugal because it is better for our environment and helps keep me conscious about my spending choices.


Rebecca March 10, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I’ve been frugal all my life (which isn’t very long, but I’ve found frugality is a fairly rare trait in my fellow college students, which makes no sense, because college students are pretty much always poor and really need to be frugal). My mother brought me up to be frugal, less through preaching about good money practices and more by having us participate in it. We didn’t look at frugality as going without–it was a skill that allowed us to to allocate our limited time and reasources so we could have more of what was important to us, and less of what wasn’t.

I continue to view frugality as a skill that lets me have more of what is important to me, and less of what isn’t. I have the skills to live far below my college-student means, and I use those skills to squirrel away money for fun lessons (I’m taking bellydancing right now and it’s really fun!), fun experiences with my friends, and to participate on my school’s very fun equestrian team. It takes a little extra time to cook from stratch instead of eating out, to make a weekly menu and grocery list and stick to it instead of buying a bunch of processed food, to make my own cleaning products instead of buying them, etc., but the time I spend doing those things frees me to use my resources to broaden my experiences and spend more time doing things that interest me with people who are important to me. Skills like that are for bad times and good times alike, I think!


BohoBelle March 10, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I’ve always been frugal, ever since buying candy at the corner store as a kid. I think it’s in my make up.

I’d feel sick when I waste money (on items or experiences which didn’t give me the value I was expecting).

I get joy from reusing things, making something out of an object someone else would just throw away.

I am depressed by the wastefulness and overconsumption of society.

I am happy to live a simple life.

I feel claustrophobic with clutter and too many possessions.

I’m thrilled that my normal way of life now has a cool new name: frugalista.


tammy March 11, 2009 at 5:35 am

I’m a freelance person like Angela and I agree that being frugal is what allows me to do the work I love. I’ve always been frugal and it is fun to not hide it anymore!
My 1.00 Guess top gets compliments. It’s fun to say I GOT IT FOR A BUCK at a Thrift Store and not feel weird about it.
Katy, frugality IS in keeping with values, philosophies and goals. A great choice of words!


Diane March 11, 2009 at 5:38 am

hi, i just watched a video on yahoo with a delightful model , Carmen, who has lost all her savings in the madoff scheme. The host asked her how in the world was she going to live now and she replied that nothing will change, she has always lived below her means. I also loved it when she said “the money is gone but i am still here”. Her gracefulness was an inspiration to me.
Money is just that, but when we don’t use it all and then have to stress over it, it isn’t as hard to weather the hard times.


Ali March 11, 2009 at 6:11 am

My husband and I have been living a “frugal” lifestyle for about a year – after reading Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover”. It’s absolutely changed our lives and definitely for the better. My whole perspective on work-life balance and what is REALLY important has completely changed. It’s fun to live frugally and a lot more fulfilling 🙂


Firstborn March 11, 2009 at 6:41 am

We have always been frugal. So now that it is in style. People are finding out it really works. I only wish it had happened earlier, the country may not have some of its problems. It feels good to be frugal.


Firstborn March 11, 2009 at 6:43 am

We have always been frugal. So now that it is in style. People are finding out it really works. I only wish it had happened earlier, the country may not have some of its problems. It feels good to be frugal.


Magdalena Julie Bragdon Perks March 11, 2009 at 9:54 am

I’ve had my ups and downs frugally! I know that there were times I let someone talk me into purchases and choices that I did not want to make, thinking that it made me more sophisticated or something. Now I don’t care at all.

Out goal is to live as far off-grid as possible, both to reduce our environmental impact and to lessen the need to work for someone else. We have ministry to do outside an ordained clergyperson’s salary, and living simply is the only way we can make that possible. I sew my own clothes, buy husband’s at the thrift store, cook everything from basic ingredients, and am delving into our previous vegetarian life as well.


Mariah March 11, 2009 at 10:30 am

I worked seasonally for many years and enjoyed my 4-6 months time off to work on my own projects and do some extended traveling. A few years ago I decided to stop doing the seasonal job and settle in at home. But getting a full time regular job didn’t seem like much of an option. I want time to do art, garden, take care of my place and my health, travel. I realized if I lived frugally I could get by on a lot less money which translates to a lot less work hours and no boss telling me what to do. I love being able to decide each day what I want/neeed to do, not have it decided for me.


LeAnna March 11, 2009 at 10:41 am

I happened to read Your Money or Your Life while I was in AmeriCorps the year after graduating from college. Having very little money at that point and still figuring out how to save was very rewarding. At the end of that year, I became a single mom. So it’s a combination of going from having very minimal income to having enough to get by but little cushion if I don’t watch my money.


Angela March 12, 2009 at 11:38 am

Thanks everyone for the great tips- especially the books to put on my reading list…


mike March 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I always try to live cheap. I only buy when I really need something and always save money in savings account and bank CDs.


Cheapchick March 16, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I actually enjoy it. Practice frugality when I don’t have to. Get a sick joy from getting something for almost free or pennies on the dollar. Big Momma raised me that way. Funny how you follow in your parent’s footsteps. Even am slowly converting my hubby over (Married 3 yrs but it will take some time yet:)


Modest May 23, 2009 at 5:06 am

Once upon a time where time stood still,in a far away tropical plantation farmers dug their feet deep into earth. Pulling guiding their cow & cart full of harvest. Everyone who worked were lucky to have slippers when going to town.

Rice & fish with fresh vegetables always tasted better when I ate food with the plantation family workers. I grew up being lucky to see thru the eyes of the haves and the have nots.

In more ways than anything, we all are surrounded by diverse culture from all over the world. It is great to come together in realization of being modest again.


Be Reasonable Too August 28, 2009 at 4:36 am

I believe its critical to remember that the way to save money is not always via ‘buy the cheapest item possible”. This especially applies to cars and electronics. Sure, there are fine examples of both types of goods that are inexpensive. But be wary – I knew someone who purchased a Chevy Metro a few years back (when they were still available new). This individual drove the car lightly, and still – the transmission was shot within 40k miles. Sometimes, “you get what you pay for” is very, very true. There is never a point to buying a piece of junk.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: