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Frugal Living: It’s A State of Mind (Not Just What You Buy)

8 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

Being frugal isn’t so much about what you buy. Really, it’s more of a state of mind. A different way of living. Too often, we get caught up in penny pinching in a way that isn’t healthy for our finances – or our sanity. If you’ve been trying (and failing) to get your budget balanced for years, it might be time to truly embrace frugal living. The best part? It’s probably not anything like you think it’s going to be.

Frugality Isn’t the Same as Never Buy Anything

Most people think frugal living is a lifestyle that involves never buying anything. Or at least never paying for things that we don’t really need. This mindset is a bit counterproductive, and I’m going to tell you why. You can get so caught up in trying to avoid buying things or making every activity a DIY project. The end results, though, are typically subpar.

The problem with this approach is that buying cheap things usually means they aren’t going to last very long. Low quality items can actually cost you more in the long run, compared to more expensive (and higher quality) items. You probably only have to buy the expensive item once, instead of constantly replacing it.

Being Cheap Can Cost You

Even worse, DIY efforts can end up more expensive than expected — especially if you don’t have a good idea of how to actually complete the task in question. You could make a mistake that winds up ruining your materials. Now you have to pay a professional to fix your mess, which will cost you more money. You could have just paid them in the first place and spent less.

I once sold an old kid’s bed to a couple through a classified ad. They showed up with a crappy Philips screwdriver from the dollar store. The husband ended up stripping the screw with it. The couple ended up going home empty handed, as the bed was essentially garbage by the time he was done fighting with it. But they still needed to pay for it. In the end, we agreed that he would pay half of the sale price. Everyone lost; the couple was out $50 and I was left with a destroyed kid’s bed to get rid of. All because the guy wouldn’t spend a few extra bucks on the right tool.


Never Buying Anything IS Miserable

If you mistake frugality for never buying anything, you could end up with a rather disappointing quality of life. You can get caught in a scarcity trap. That is, feeling like you can never spend money on the things you want because you’re constantly on a mission of frugalness. This can make life frustrating, difficult to deal with, and frankly, not much fun.

I made this mistake. I’ve always been fairly conservative with spending, most of my life. While I’ve managed to accumulate a great deal of savings, I’m still sometimes frustrated with life. Sometimes I would ask myself, “what’s the point of all this money if I can’t spend any of it?”

I have since given myself a little more breathing room. It’s made a world of difference.

For example, I no longer try to jump through multiple hoops if all I’m going to save is a dollar or two. It’s not that free money isn’t great – it certainly is. However, it’s just that it doesn’t make a lick of difference in the grand scheme of things. Being able to ignore the millions of possible ways to save a single dollar significantly destresses my life.

Frugality is About Getting Value for Your Money

Being frugal is more about your mindset and getting value for your money, rather than always saying no to spending. When you’re truly frugal, you have a good idea of what you want and where your priorities are. You should know what’s worth spending money on and cut out what isn’t important.

Figure out what really matters to you. For example, I don’t care that much for designer clothes or high-end brand names. So I barely spend any money on clothes. You won’t see me rocking a Gucci anything. While we do have what some would call a fancy house, it’s not filled with expensive furniture or gadgets. We need space to live in, not uber-expensive furniture and television sets.

On the other hand, my family really enjoys going on trips together. So we make it a point to visit other places whenever we have a chance. While I still try to look for deals when we travel (I use rewards points, discounts, and other strategies to save money), I’m also willing to pay a little extra for comfort and convenience. These things are important to me (in a way that a fancy dining set or a new iPhone every year aren’t).

Frugal Living is About Living Better on Less

Frugal living is not really about living a lesser life by depriving yourself. It’s about living a good life on less. It’s about how to stretch your dollars to last longer, no matter how much money you make. The good news is that it’s possible to live better on less.

I can give you a list of a thousand tips to save money. However, following these tips still doesn’t really teach you how to live frugally at all. Instead, I’m going to give you a few general rules to try and live by. Soon, you’ll be well on your way.


Learn Contentment

One of the best things you can do is learn contentment. Instead of always wanting more or something else, take a look at what you already have. In many cases, you might be surprised to learn that you already have enough. Try to appreciate that.

Do you really need a newer car? Will another iPhone or PlayStation really make you happy? Find ways to be content with (and grateful for) the things you already have. You will automatically live better that way. It’s easier to be happy when you aren’t so focused on getting more.

Go for Quality, Not Quantity

Sometimes, you can live better if you are interested in quality rather than quantity. That is, not always concentrating on getting something for the absolute cheapest price. While looking for a good deal is important, sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

In those cases, you aren’t really living better. You may find yourself being frustrated by the cheap, flimsy, and underperforming products you’ve bought in an effort to save money. Look for high quality items. Then do what needs to be done to help them last longer.

When it comes to food, you can also find time to enjoy high quality treats on infrequent occasions, instead of buying a lot of lower quality treats that can ruin your health and leave you unfulfilled. In other words, enjoy a night out at a nice restaurant every three months instead of eating McDonalds every other week.

Make Quality Family Time a Priority

You also live better when you spend time with the people you love. Strive for quality time together and don’t even worry about spending any money on it. Many activities you can do together with your loved ones are free.

You might be surprised at how much more you enjoy your life when you can spend time with friends and family members that are important to you. It’s hard to focus on material things when you have quality family time to spend with loved ones.

Have a Solid Understanding of What You Value

I don’t hesitate to be thrifty on clothing in order to go on another family trip. I’m also starting to realize that I am happier if I increase my quality of life, instead of buying something really expensive. This is actually a bit of a surprise to me. Ten years ago, if someone offered to give me a Ferrari or pay for all my travel experiences, I would have jumped behind the wheel of that magnificent machine without a second thought. Nowadays, I realize that going on vacation without it devastating my finances is worth far more than a fancy car sitting in my garage.

While no one is ever going to make those hypothetical offers to me, having this understanding means that I can pick and choose how to spend my money in ways that make me happy. I don’t have the money to do every single thing I want, but I can still spend on important experiences and quality time, instead of just buying more things. Instead of shoving more money into my sports car fund, I rather eat out more often with my friends.

Whether your priorities are different than mine are irrelevant. Maybe they are. The crux of the matter is that you can only direct your hard-earned money towards things that actually make you happy if you know what you value first.


Take Better Care of Your Health

You don’t need a fancy gym membership (or even fancy home equipment) to take better care of your health. Exercise can help you feel better, keep your body healthier, and improve your sleep habits. All of those things can actually help your finances too.

When you take care of your health, you are more likely to feel better about your life. You’ll be more productive, more optimistic, and more confident. Making a few changes to your lifestyle can help you live better, without spending a great deal.

Look Out for Good Deals and Freebies

Always be on the lookout for good deals, discounts, and freebies. Keep an eye out for discount passes to the local theater (or go to the cheap theater), watch for specials at the amusement park, and clip coupons. You can also look around town for free activities and historical site tours. There are a number of opportunities that can be had for a discount. Some are even for free. Take advantage of these and you will enrich your life without paying a great deal more.

Just don’t drive yourself mad in the process. Like I said, it can get frustrating trying to pinch every penny. Look at the big picture instead. If you are meeting your goals or even exceeding them, do you really need to worry about that $1 difference? Or even $10?

The Bottom Line

True frugality is about figuring out what matters to you and then making sure your financial resources go toward those goals. You cut out the stuff that doesn’t matter to you and instead focus on what does. You can still spend money. Just stop wasting it on things that aren’t important or helping you reach your goals.

In some cases, spending more will actually make your life simpler and save you money in the long term. Trying to be “cheap” is not the same as being frugal, so don’t agonize over every cent. That’s just a recipe for a miserable life. No matter what you do, focus on your health and family. If you can be content with those things, you’ll live a happy life no matter how much money you have.

David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.


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