Conquering the “Frugal Living” Myths

The term "Frugal Living" has so many myths surrounding it that making it a part of one’s personal finance plan, sometimes, becomes difficult. So, lets look at some of the myths and try to dispel them, so we can make frugal living an integral part of our everyday life.

Frugal Living = Cheap
This has got to be one of the biggest myths about frugal living and one of the main psychological barriers to incorporating the concepts of frugal living in our daily habits. While one extreme of frugal living can mean being very cheap, you need not go to such extremes. Being frugal is a lifestyle choice, and you can choose the degree of frugality you are comfortable and adopt it.

An example might help illustrate this better. Joe likes to live a simple frugal life. Before going out for dinner, he evaluates all this options. If possible he avoids going out to dinner and cooks at home. When it is not possible to cook, he determines which of the restaurants provides the best value for the buck and enjoys his meals in one of those restaurants. He always tips the waiters, if the service is good. John, on the other hand, always eats at home. He uses the least expensive ingredients to cook his meals, without worrying about their nutrition value. In the unavoidable circumstance that he eats out, he always goes to the cheapest restaurant, and he never tips the waiters.

It’s up to you who you want to be – Joe, John or someone in the middle. To me personally, being frugal is about finding the best value for the buck; not necessarily finding the cheapest deal possible. Once you get past this myth it will be easier to start considering frugal alternatives to more expensive choices, in your everyday decisions.

Frugal living will make you rich
This is the second most devastating myth that prevents people from sticking to a frugal lifestyle. There is nothing more disappointing than being diligently frugal for a few months, at the end of which you realize you have not saved enough to fill a child’s piggy bank, let alone your retirement account! It is important to realize that frugal living will not make you rich; it will just help you from getting poor. If we give in to all our whims and fancies, the gap between our income and expenses will keep increasing, until we dig ourselves in debt till our eyeballs (and then some). A frugal lifestyle is a guard rail that prevents us from getting into this situation. Being frugal is not about amassing wealth, it’s about avoiding debt. In the process, if you can bridge the gap between income and expenditure, or help make your income larger than expenditure, that’s just great. But do not set out with expectations that being frugal will make you rich.

Gospels such as "always shop at thrift stores" or "don’t ever eat out"
Several proponents of frugal lifestyle have these gospels that they live by. And they expect every one else to live by it too. But there are no hard and fast rules. If you feel that a particular "rule" doesn’t work for you, bend it till it fits your lifestyle. Rather than aim for absolutes and risk failing miserably, incorporate frugality in your life in small dozes. The change in your mindset will help you a lot in the long run, as opposed to small prizes by taking drastic steps. Once you are comfortable with a frugal life style, you can create your own gospels :) For now though, politely nod and move on, when someone tells you what you MUST do to get a frugal life stlye.

"Do it yourself"
This is another contentious point. Some people are very good at doing stuff themselves. Other are simply not cut out for fixing stuff. Even if you are a DIY type of person, you may be good at some things, but not everything. Then, there is the time factor to consider. So, when something comes up, think objectively if you are qualified and have the time to do it yourself. If not, hire someone. It will probably be less expensive to pay someone to fix the problem, than to fix the mess you create while fixing the problem :) Even if you are perfectly capable of fixing it, is the time spent on the project worth the money you saved? Personally, I feel lawn care, house cleaning, fixing a leaky faucet etc, are DIY, but for spraying pesticide, painting the house etc, I will hire someone.

Ultimately, remember that "frugal living" is a lifestyle choice. There is no fixed way to incorporate it in your life. There are a lot of myths about what MUST be done and what MUST NOT be. Work past them to find your comfort zone. There are several good resources available on the Net for frugal living. Check them out. See if they fit your personality and style. If they make you uncomfortable, forget them and move on. Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you cannot follow a particular suggestion. Award yourself when you have been particularly good. Start with baby steps. Concentrate on making it a mindset, rather than a fixed regimen. In the long run, it is probably your best insurance against "lifestyle inflation".

Note: This post was inspired by Andrea Dickson’s post Can I Conquer My Vanity for the Sake of My Sanity? at Wise Bread. Thanks Andrea, for your thought provoking article.

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bluntmoney said...

Interesting post. I think I have a different point of view on frugal living though. For example, I would call not tipping a waiter cheap or rude, not frugal. And for me being frugal has little to nothing to do with avoiding debt.

ispf said...

Thanks for stopping by, bluntmoney.

What I like about blogging is that it gives me a chance to read different perspectives on different topics. I am glad I was actually able to provide a different point of view in this post :)

About tipping a waiter, I consider it cheap too. And that was the point I was trying to make. That frugal does not have to be cheap. Some people take frugality to that extent, but based on individual values, one can set limits of how frugal one really wants to be and bust the myth that frugal = cheap.

S/100/30 said...

Some people are very good at doing stuff themselves. Other are simply not cut out for fixing stuff.

This reminds me of the time my husband wanted to DIY some plumbing issues we had. Issues that involved welding copper pipes. Which we have never, ever done.

I happily paid the plumber $100 to save a lot of aggrevation.

Leo Babauta said...

This is good stuff. I've been examining some of the same issues in my blog. Check out my most recent post:

What is truly necessary? A guide to living frugal

Majoies said...

Hey, I linked you to my blog on frugal living and I was wondering if you could link me on yours. My blog is new, and I am trying to get more traffic. Thanks for your help!

John Kaiser said...

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing. I am just starting to attempt the frugal lifestyle.

Lily said...
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