There are plenty of words that have a undeservedly bad reputation, and ‘frugal’ has to be one of the worst. For most people, the world ‘frugal’ implies being cheap, mooching off of others, going without the pleasures in life, or simple penny-pinching. However, despite what you might have heard, that’s not at all what being frugal is all about.
In fact, I would argue that frugality is about freedom, not deprivation. No one can be frugal all the time, and you only give up things that you honestly didn’t need to begin with. True frugal people understand that while our consumerist society is constantly shouting “BUY!” you don’t have to live that way.
Frugality, in short, is a way of life and while it isn’t as hard as you think, it has to be a conscious choice. Contrary to what it might seem like from the outside, it’s not the same as being cheap. In fact, they aren’t even in the same ballpark. Frugality is about being careful with money so that it can be spent with intention on things that you care about. That might mean paying off debt, or saving up for a big purchase. Perhaps it is designed to help provide more security later, or simply a way of simplifying life that comes with some added financial benefits.
Being frugal means avoiding extravagance.
I would wager that most people neither need or use roughly a quarter of the things in their house, and that’s a pretty conservative estimate. When was the last time that you wore that shirt at the back of your closet, that you picked up that book, or used that extra frying pan? Yet, at some point you picked it up because you just had to have it. You knew, despite the fact that you already had three, that it would be a great addition and would greatly improve your life. Except it didn’t.
Frugality is about ignoring those pressures to buy, and instead living and spending with intention. There are varying levels of frugality, which sometimes does mean skipping out on purchasing something immediately or using things for a little longer than normal, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Buying fewer things means that when it comes to that one thing you really want, you have the money for it and you don’t even have to feel guilty about it.
Being frugal means having financial security.
Most Americans today are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with absolutely nothing in the bank for an emergency. If a $500 bill suddenly came up, they would be in huge trouble. And while we’ve all been there, it’s not something that anyone would aim for. Instead of turning to debt, being frugal can free your finances and help you start getting out of debt or having that extra security in case something happens.
Imagine not having to worry about paying bills. Imagine having no debt. Imagine not having to worry about retirement. All of these things are good reasons to live a frugal lifestyle.
Being frugal means understanding value versus price.
Being frugal is not the same as being cheap. A cheap person will purchase an inexpensive item, regardless of quality, and end up replacing it with another cheap item in six months. A frugal person will instead pay a bit more for a good-quality item that will last for twice as long, therefore saving money.
As Warren Buffett said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” This is the essence of frugality: understanding the value and quality of an item and comparing the price to that. If it’s a good deal and you need it, then buy it and take care of it so you won’t have to replace it. There’s no point in spending money you don’t have to.
Being frugal means spending money with intention.
Frugality isn’t about not spending money—it’s about not wasting money. Frugal people always spend money with intention; they aren’t the kind to be fooled into spending more money than need be. Sales like “Buy two, get one free!” aren’t actually deals if you only needed one to begin with. Additionally, frugal people often know exactly where their money is going, which means that they are able to, occasionally, go splurge without worry. They know exactly how much they have coming in and out, and can make those decisions with far less guilt and worry than other people.