The art of being frugal?


I’ve been scouring the PF blogging hemasphere of late, trying to summon up a bit of extra motivation. It’s interesting what’s out there. So many different opinions. Save More! Spend more! Earn more! One theme that I’ve noticed frequently popping up relates to how far you can go with being frugal before you’ve gone too far. Obviously the definition of ‘too far’ is going to be a subjective thing, but it’s something I’ve often contemplated (and blogged about) along the way. This question can present itself in a host of ways but tends to revolve around how realistic/unrealistic it is to live on a bare bones budget long term. Frugal Trenches recently wrote a post over at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op titled ‘Realistic Budgets’ which acknowledges that certain ‘extras’ just have to be budgeted for. Move To Portugal included a post about how she has found it more important to enjoy life (and not be made miserable by a job) by pursuing her goals at a slightly slower pace than try to reach them faster at the expense of everything else. Then I read a post over at Voluntary Simplicity called ‘Don’t Confuse Playing at Frugality with Living Frugally’ which compares frugal extremes with being on a crash diet (ie a quick fix that won’t work in the long term). There were lots of other posts from other blogs that seemed to be saying similar things.

Why is it quite so tempting to try to live on a bare bones budget in the first place? Since starting this blog I’ve often been tempted to try not to spend anything at all. But why? Perhaps because when I made the big shift from spending unconsciously and not saving anything to doing the exact opposite it felt so good. Seeing savings building up and being on top of my finances instead of having them spiral out of control did, in fact, feel great. Maybe I’m trying to recreate the honeymoon period of my altered relationship with money. The thing is, it is hard to recreate that sense when you’ve made the big change and are now plodding along quite happily. Maybe it is simply that you can see how much money you could save or use to pay off debt if you literally only had to shell out for the bare essentails each month. This is incredibly tantalising if you’ve got a financial goal of some kind.

There is also the fact that when you’ve been spending a lot and then stop, you tend to be quite well stocked up on ‘stuff’. Shoes, for example. You’d probably have a good supply of shoes when you stop spending so you can go for quite a long time before any of them actually need replacing. Or bathroom products – most of us have bucket loads of the stuff. It took me a year after starting this blog just to get through the supply of soaps that I had collected from gift sets over the years. Unread books. Lots of music to listen to. Clothes. Sports equipment. Whatever it might be that you do/ used to like spending money on. It is easy not to spend on this kind of thing when you have plenty of it already. It is also easy to skip going on holiday when you’ve been once or twice a year for more years than you can remember. It is relatively easy to stop spending on everything but the bare bones for a while and, when you do, you tend to have a lot more money to decide what you want to do with.

But what happens when your supplies start to run out? Your shoes get scuffed and broken. Your make-up runs out or goes off. You’ve read all of your books and the library has a long waiting list for a new title. You’ve listened to every album you own and want to listen to something new. You want to try out a new recipe but don’t see how you can justify the cost of some of the ingredients when your food budget is so low. Your clothes are bagging out of shape. The strings break on your tennis racket and the chlorine finally eats a hole in your swimming costume. A new restaurant has opened in town and you really want a night out. That holiday the year before last suddenly starts feeling like a very long time ago.

As I said, it is easy to go without for a while. It isn’t too difficult to push yourself to earn more or stick out a miserable job or live on next to nothing in the short term when it frees up so much income to solve a problem like debt or lack of an emergency fund or to make a start on a big goal of some kind (like a deposit for a house or a move abroad). In the long term, however, going without everything is pretty hard going. Obviously some people manage – ar actively want – to live a lifestyle that would seem extremely frugal to a lot of us. However, I think we need room for a bit of spending in our budgets, whether it be for holidays or haircuts or whatever the thing might be that puts a spring in our step and makes it worth getting up in the morning.

While living on a bare bones budget for a while is challenging, I think the really tricky part – the real art to frugal living, is learning how to be moderate. We all know that you can lose weight by eating better and exercising and yet very few of us find it as simple as that. Which compromises are you happy to make, which things do you know you can do without and which things are a step too far? Perhaps the art of being frugal in the long term is being able to answer these questions and striving to get the balance right.

What do you think?

Categories: Frugal ideas | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “The art of being frugal?

  1. Laura

    Hi Shoestring and thanks for the link 🙂

    I’m sure by some standards my frugality would be considered very extreme; I don’t really spend [any] money week to week, but feel no need to; I’ve reached a level I’m happy with, but if there’s a chance of lunch with my daughter, who lives away, or I see a picture I really love, then I’ll spend the money happily.

    The real problem with extreme frugality would come if you didn’t meet your daughter for lunch because you don’t want to spend the money.

    PS. Obviously this is all after getting free of debt, I have no problem with any level of bare bones budgets to get out of debt lol…

    • shoestringalley

      Yes. I do think that things like catching up with friends or family over lunch or coffee and a cake is important to budget for. Yes, you could go without or go for a walk with flasks etc but it isn’t always practical and, in the scheme of things, not really that expensive, particularly if it isn’t every day. Also, small spends can be very rewarding. I blogged about a year ago about a mug I bought for £5 in Habitat. I didn’t need a mug and, if I had, I could have bought a much cheaper one. But I still enjoy using that mug (particularly for hot chocolate 🙂 ) so that £5 has worked pretty hard for me!

  2. I agree with you, Shoestring. A permanent bare bones budget wouldn’t be sustainable for me – I think I’d be more likely to binge when I was at a low ebb or something.

    I also agree with Laura – I think it’s possibly different if you’re in a lot of debt and your bare-bones budget has a clear goal with end date. But still, I think there needs to be some treat money – be it that lunch with the daughter or the bus fare to go to a park with her and walk around in the sunshine. Some things are more important than paying off debt super quickly.

    • shoestringalley

      Yes! I think I’d probably end up on a binge too. It’s just learning how to be more moderate…I can be a bit all or nothing when I’m in a certain frame of mind. It’s a work in progress. And I totally agree about it being different with debt when there is a clear end date. I think the bare bones thing can work every now and then for a short while but isn’t really sustainable.

  3. Interesting post, and you’ve made many good points. I think you’re right in saying that it’s a very subjective thing – one person’s idea of frugal may be another’s idea of reckless spending of course!

  4. Like you say, some people love living on the basics, for me I just like to get value for money. I’d rather spend a little bit more on something that will last longer, give better results or that just makes me happy. I like the crash diet analogy too, very true!

  5. Alison B43

    Hi Shoesrting,
    I have been reading blogs for a few months now and had noticed that some people do seem to be going to extremes to save money. I agree with other comments above about being too frugal, I don’t think it suits many people, and definitely not me. Whilst we do not actually have to watch every penny, we earn average wages, but I think it is important to have some controls with money. I have a fixed (cash) budget for food each week/month, and make a point of saving a realistic amount of money each month which comes out of our bank account just after we have been paid, so we do not get used to seeing ‘spare’ money in the bank – I don’t think we would save so much if we waited until the end of the month to see what is left in the bank account! This way, I know we can cut back if we really had to but at the same time we do not become too extravagent now. I remember being a single parent and having to watch every penny, so I do understand that some people do actually have to go to extremes and would do the same if necessary, but I am very grateful that at the moment do not have to be so strict. I wish more people were more like you and appreciate that often the best things in life are free – I love being with my 18 month old grandaughter, she makes me laugh so much – such a character and she does not care whether the toys and books we play with are new or second hand. Every time we go out we have a good time – she has just learnt to feed the ducks at the pond. Priceless!

  6. A lot of the super-frugals do what they do because they enjoy it. They enjoy the rush of finding new ways to save money. Others do it because they are living on smaller incomes. I struggled a lot with comparing my own frugal or non-frugal habits to others at first. It wasn’t until I became comfortable with my own decisions that I felt the need to stop comparing.

    I really, really despise coupons at this time in my life so I don’t bother with them. Maybe some day I’ll love them, who knows. At first I used to cling to my regular Starbucks trips. Now, I realize I’d rather save the $4. You’re right, it is an art form of finding what works best for you and sticking to it, whether others do the same or not. Great article!

  7. Excellent post – thank you. I think the crash diet analogy is very good – as with dieting, frugality probably needs to be a life-long commitment if it is to work really well. But, as with dieting, it’s very important to have little treats now and again in order to stop cravings and to enjoy life.

    Although I have pretty much always lived a fairly frugal lifestyle (often through absolute necessity), I’m very happy to splash out on certain things. For example, I don’t feel comfortable eating cheap meat so am very happy to pay top whack for organic or free-range meat. If money is particularly tight one week I’d rather be vegetarian for that week than eat cheap factory-farmed meats.

    Also, not having had a holiday for over five years, my partner and I have just come back from a rather lavish break at Champneys. Yes, it was pricey but my goodness we both enjoyed it immensely. And we’ll probably go again in the not too distant future. Life is short and there are times when denying yourself everything nice in order to be frugal makes it just downright miserable. Moderation in all things is probably the key (not that I practice that, oh no!!)

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