Frugality as a Tool For Happiness

by Katy on September 19, 2013 · 28 comments

Frugality weaves itself in and out of my days, imprinting its essence into everything I do. It sneaks its influential self into what I do and how I approach life’s challenges. Like Peter Pan’s shadow, I’d be lost without it.

From the time I emerge from my cocoon of thrifted bedding until I crash back into bed, frugality is both my friend and my trusty tool; giving me both the companionship and necessary equipment to live richly in the absence of a trust fund.

Some see frugality as synonymous with deprivation, and to those I say “try to reframe your mindset.” Of course, the difference between choosing frugality and having frugality thrust upon are worlds apart. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find a middle ground.

I started my obsession with extreme frugality when I was gifted with a copy of Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette in 1998. I was on maternity leave with my son, and had just come off of a couple years of higher income that had loosened my wallet without anything to show for it. (Going from broke student to big-paycheck-RN should have come with a manual!) I needed this book. I needed frugality.

But just because I needed frugality didn’t mean it couldn’t also be fun.

My frugality has changed through the years, shifting away from snapping up great deals to simply just staying away from most purchases.

I choose to see my frugality as a tool for happiness. An enjoyable challenge to live well, be generous and fully participate in life while still holding tight to our hard earned dollars. I find joy in scoring a lovely $1 West Elm vase, which I can fill with home grown flowers for a friend, serving a 91¢ roasted chicken (yesterday’s Fred Meyer anniversary sale deal) and creating a lovely home based on freebies and rearranging what I already own.

The hours I’m able to work waxes and wanes, which means that I’ve recently gone months without a decent paycheck. And as easy as it would be to panic and hyperventilate, instead I simply hang my laundry, borrow from the library and cook my simple meals.

Frugality gives me freedom from most financial worries, and even though it would sure be fun to book a week in Hawaii for the family, I find my contentness right here. In the folds of my frugality.

Have you found that frugality and happiness go hand in hand? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeana September 19, 2013 at 9:22 am

I came to frugality through The Tightwad Gazette, too. I had my first son in December of 1990, and stopped working. When I heard about Amy, I thought I had found my people. I was always frugal, but more for environmental reasons than to save money. I genuinely find happiness in being creative within a very small budget.

I love to challenge myself to live a high quality life without spending money. Anyone can spend tons of money to get the things they want. It takes a creative person to make their life beautiful and interesting without spending money. It’s a game for me, and I delight in my everyday victories.


Carol September 19, 2013 at 11:34 am

Beautifully put Jeana. I could not agree more.


Stacy S September 20, 2013 at 2:17 am

I also embraced frugality after reading The Tightwad Gazette (in 2004 while on mat leave with my 1st daughter). I still thumb through it every few months – that book really changes your perspective on things…


Leah Bradley September 19, 2013 at 9:25 am

Absolutely! I find it especially fun when I make a game of it. How creative can I be with what’s in my pantry to avoid going to the grocery for as long as possible? What can I do without or find a replacement for at home? Even the little things – borrowing a DVD from the library for free vs. renting one from Redbox for $1.27 – if I put that $1.27 in a jar and add to it every time I avoid a small expense how much can I collect?

I swear by the saying: happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want.


tna September 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

Frugality to me is a skill and like most skills, once you learn them you don’t really think about them you just do them. I like that simplicity.


AnnDenee September 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

Being frugal and having frugal successes does make me feel happy. I take pride in my frugality.



Markie September 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

I had my first child and saw Amy D. on Phil Donahue while in the hospital. Signed up for her newsletter and she taught me everything I needed to know on how to be frugal and be a stay at home mom, especially in an time where everyone was told they had to have a 2 incomes coming in.

Twenty one years later I’m amazed at all that was accomplished with my frugality. The only thing I regret is we didn’t save for college for the kids but I had no idea that tuition would spiral out of control.

I’m happy to be frugal. I have few wants. I compare my life to my spend thrift siblings and feel that I am much happier than they are.


cathy September 19, 2013 at 10:42 am

I was already pretty frugal when I read an article about Amy Dacyczn that led me to The Tightwad Gazette. As she predicted, not every article was for every person; there were some things I was already doing, and others that were new ideas. One of the most useful tips I gained was to pay attention to how or why we do certain things. Sometimes it’s just because the person who taught us that skill did it a particular way, even though maybe it’s not the best way for us.

Our income has gone up and down over the years, but we’ve always prided ourselves on being able to live a comfortable life–and to do most of what we want to do. That’s a direct result of our frugality, and the mindset that goes with it.


megyn September 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

I find a lot of pride in frugality when people compliment on things like clothes or house stuff. I usually say things like, “This outfit cost me less than $20 at Savers/Goodwill!” I hope this encourages people that they don’t need to buy new 🙂


NMPatricia September 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I actually came to frugal living via the “green movement”. Doing certain activities (less garbage, planting a garden, canning/freezing, sewing our own clothes, making yogurt, bread, cooking at home) came about caring about the earth and doing for ourselves. But then I began to lean toward the frugality thing. I have been fortunate that I have never experienced the necessity of being frugal. But I have derived great happiness and satisfaction with serving a gourmet dinner for pennies at home, creating gifts from stuff at home and scoring inexpensive clothes from thrift shops.


dusty September 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm

My frugality started when we sold our house, put everything in storage and lived in an RV for 4-1/2 years. We did this so we could travel the US which we did for 1 year without working. I wanted to do this while we were young and could hike, etc. It was the best time of my life and I will never regret it. It was then that I discovered how little we actually need to survive and have a good life. I rented a table at a local flea market and sold almost everything we owned and was shocked on what I spent on items over the years and what they were actually worth. It was then and there that my life became even more frugal and in turn, clutter-free. Now that I’m going through a divorce and about to downsize from a huge house (ex is keeping that, he can have it) to a small apt, I actually feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoudlers. I will live in a smaller place that won’t require much to keep it clean, no maintenance (I’m renting) and no yardwork, (a little porch where I can grow some veggies in pots). I will then be able to travel more and do the things I want to do, like volunteer or get involved in other activities. I have one friend in particular who makes quite a bit of money and all she does is spend, spend, spend. Everytime we get together it’s a trip to the mall or some type of store. I never buy anything and of course I’m there to spend time with her, with that being said, her house is so cluttered full of stuff, she does not even know what she has. In my life, I use everything I have (if I don’t it’s a memento that I cannot part with and those are very few) and if I have no use for it, it goes to charity. I feel it’s a wonderful life when you can spend time with the people you love doing things you love to do rather than looking at a house full of stuff or a closet full of clothes. I also love Katie’s suggestion on buying a vase in the thrift store and putting fresh flowers in it for a friend. I never would have thought of that, would buy the arrangement in the grocery store, this is so much more personal then a clear glass vase. I will do this from now on.


Trish September 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm

that sounds like quite a story in itself Dusty -selling everything and traveling. And discovering how little you really need. Please write a book!! I would love to read your story.


dusty September 20, 2013 at 3:49 am

Thanks Trish, I’ve been thinking about writing a book.


patti September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette books and newsletters were the highlight of my life when I became a stay-at-home Mom in 1993. I have a degree in Home Economics so I have always had a passion for doing things to make my home life better using my resources of time, money, and energy in a good way but when I had to go without my “professional” salary, she really showed me it could be done. When she stopped writing those, I felt lost … until the internet came along. Wow! How it has changed my life! I especially like the connection that we frugalites can make on The Non-Consumer Advocate web site and Facebook page. It brings me into a community of like thinkers with great ideas to share. Even though I have been frugal a long time, I am still learning every day!


Amanda September 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Oh goodness yes frugality and happiness go hand in hand for me! I’ve always been frugal. I showed up to college with a bag of clothes and the pillow and blanket off my childhood bed and was shocked that others actually bought stuff for college. Frugality to me today means that my family and I can choose the lives we want to lead instead of having it dictated to us by a need for a level of income or standard of living. It means that I sleep soundly knowing if something bad happens to us we will still have a home and food to eat, that my kids won’t have to drop out college for lack of tuition money and that my husband and I will be able to comfortably retire. Simplicity and security is happiness to me.


Betsey September 19, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I read a book called The Millionaire Next Door and was amazed that a lady interviewed had the same sofa for thirty years! She bought the best and recovered it when she needed to. My mother was very fond of telling me that if you take care of things they will take care of you.
My first husband was on the fast track and we had boats, new cars, jewelry,new furniture and lived in the better part of town. When I left that lifestyle, I was oh! so happy. I now live in a 102 year old farmhouse on 4 acres of land, live simply, and I am more at peace than I ever have been. No more keeping up with the Joneses, no more wishing for stuff.
I think it has more to do with inner peace than happiness, although I guess you could say they go hand in gardening glove.


chris September 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

i’ve been working on a simple life and frugality for probably 20 years, but it’s always been a struggle because my husband is not with me on this journey; between the books i’ve read, blogs like yours and the environmental movement, i can’t help but receive help daily on my path; i believe that through example all of us can have a huge impact on everyone we come into contact with


J. Pario September 19, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I agree that happiness and frugality are connected.
Frugality demands
— (usually) talking with your spouse/loved ones/family about what you value.
— being creative.
— recognizing what you really want and why you are buying a thing or experience (i.e. knowing thyself).
–having clear goals.
–developing virtues like patience and self-control

So frugality leads to happiness because it invites us to become better, healthier people.

It’s also a fun game in part because we need balance. We can’t become too frugal because that causes problems just like becoming too spendy does. So when is a good time to splurge? Figuring that out comes down to values again, and I think people who know what they value have a better chance of happiness.

Thanks for the great blog, Katy–keep up the good work!


Katy September 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Aww, thanks!



Susan September 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Being frugal makes me happy, but I think that lots of times when you share your happiness with non-frugal people, it comes off as smugness. Have you ever encountered this before?
For example, I am totally happy with my choice to live simply for a few years so that I can be a stay at home mom while my kids are young. But most women I know aren’t choosing that path, and it feels like bragging when I talk with satisfaction about my frugal lifestyle. Any thoughts?


Katy September 19, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I have no idea whether I come across as smug in person. I hope not, but am not sure how I would even know.



Vivian September 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Thank you Katy and all of the fellow NC posters. I have learned so much since joining the facebook group and yet we still struggle because I still fall back into some of my old not so thrifty ways. I can say honestly there was always a frugal side to me but as I grew older as a single person I managed to forget or put aside those habits. Once I married and had my son I started to go down the road to being frugal again but it was not until I started reading this blog and the fb group did I see all the waste and useless consumption. I have a long way to go but also have come along way. Thank you everyone!


AFS September 19, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I am living proof that a person can have a trust fund and still live a frugal lifestyle. I firmly believe in “live simply so that others can simply live”.


Shelley September 19, 2013 at 11:34 pm

I started reading this post and wondered if I’d written it for you at some point!? Amy has blessed many of us with the tightwad tools she shared with us and I especially loved her editorials that helped me re-shape my thinking. My mom had always been good at squeezing a dollar but my dad was a spend-thrift. I was neither at the time I discovered Amy’s newsletters (which I still keep and cherish), but looking back I think having both sides to watch the results was educative in itself.


Amanda September 20, 2013 at 10:28 am

I am also an RN and couldn’t agree more about the manual needed when transitioning from college to hefty paychecks. One thing I find really helps me keep a positive attitude about a frugal lifestyle is reading blogs like yours and having some friends with the same thrifty attitudes. It’s great to be surrounded by people who also enjoy bragging about incredible resale finds. And it is truly amazing how freeing and less stressful life becomes when you become debt-free. Thank you for your blog…it’s inspirational!


marie September 20, 2013 at 11:25 am

I thank you, also. I can’t remember how I came across your blog, but am glad I did. I learn something new all the time.


Tonya September 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I love this post!


Ann Y. September 22, 2013 at 7:48 am

Born frugal with a mom who was the champion …and while I am not quite as frugal as I could be, my husband and I are the most frugal of our family and friends. Doing the usual frugal stuff ( making lunches, repairing things, driving an older car, shopping Goodwill, using things we already have ( not just to be frugal but to not be so cluttered), shopping the sales..) has made us happy in that as we approach retirement in a few years we will have enough to enjoy that time in our lives…and we won’t have to “cut back” to a frugal lifestyle because we are already living it ! Keep up the wonderful work on your blog….love reading and getting great ideas !


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