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Do You Really Have to Pinch Pennies to Live Frugally?

4 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

I’ve always been a penny pincher. In my younger days, I would work summer jobs and basically save everything. Any time I saw a way to save a couple dollars, I jump all over it. For example, I switched to a little know cell-phone provider to cut my bill down. I’ve even been known to walk all over a shopping plaza just to make sure I got the best deal on ibuprofen. (Or Advil, for those of you who spring for the brand name stuff.) It felt natural to me. However, I can imagine that not everyone has the time or patience to spend 20 minutes of their life trying to pinch a few pennies. Which leads us to the question surrounding this article: do you really need to pinch pennies in order to live frugally?

Well, Maybe…

I credit my penny pinching ways as one of the major reasons our family finances are so solid. After all, I might not have had the guts to quit my job to start and take if I didn’t have rock bottom expenses at the time. After al, I was initially taking a pay cut of over 70%.

Now, though, I don’t do nearly as much penny pinching. I still care about expenses, of course. But I’m no longer running around town trying to save a dollar or two. I still call my cable company once a year, asking them to extend the new customer discount rate for me. However, I’m no longer trying to time it so accurately that I’m calling on day 365, to maximize my savings.

I’ve got a much better handle on my financial situation these days. I’m still learning how to let loose a bit, though. After years of pinching those pennies, it can still feel weird to spend extra on the things that are important to me. I used to just feel miserable when I couldn’t afford to splurge, even though I clearly can now. It’s a different mindset to get used to, but I’m making decent progress.

Am I Still Frugal?

On the outside, almost no one considers me to be a frugal person anymore. Only my immediate family would still think that way about me. After all, how frugal can I really be when I drive a decent new car and we live in a generously sized house? Despite the appearances, I still spend a ton of time looking for deals. I think I’m actually saving a ton compared to my peers who have the same lifestyle. It’s just that my “Facebook Life” (or other social media) doesn’t reflect any of that.

To others, it probably looks like I life a pretty good life. We go out to eat, have plenty of nice things, take vacations, and can seemingly do almost anything we want, financially speaking. These are the things that a frugal person might consider the height of extravagance. To tell you the truth, I’m starting to doubt whether I’m really even a frugal person anymore.

Still, being frugal isn’t always the same thing as using your money wisely. There are other ways to be smart with your money, even if you aren’t what is traditionally considered “frugal.”

What’s Important to You?

In my book, it’s all about whether you’re wasting your money or not. Of course, what is considered a “waste of money” varies from person to person. What might be a waste to you could be really important for someone else. For example, some people probably think it’s a waste of money when I take my family out to eat at a nice restaurant. (In fact, I’m craving that even more after a year of various lockdowns and closures.)

However, it’s not a waste for me. I enjoy the experience of getting out, eating new and delicious foods, and spending quality time with my family — without worrying about the cooking or cleaning part of meal times. Those things are important to me, so I don’t consider it a waste of money. You should always be able to enjoy some discretionary spending, as long as you’re not going into debt for it.

What Does “Wasted Money” Really Mean?

In my mind, wasted money is when you spend on things that you don’t really think are important. For example, I’ve watched a ton of TV since the lockdown started. However, I never really cared for (or had that much time) for TV before. About a decade ago (when I was making more money than I ever was), I cut our cable. In fact, our TV was 12 years old when we moved last year. It was so old that it became a running joke among our friends. The only reason we have a newer TV now is that we bought all the previous owner’s furniture, along with the new house. They had a nice TV, so now we have a nice TV.

On the other hand, maybe you really enjoy watching TV. You could be a huge sports fan or a cinema nerd. In that case, spending your money on a fancy big TV and a premium cable package might be important to you. Those things can improve your overall viewing experience and make your hobby more enjoyable. If it puts a smile on your face every time you turn it on (and you’re responsible about the purchase), then who am I to judge?

The Bottom Line

There was a time when I would jump through a bunch of hoops just to save a dollar or two. My ibuprofen adventures are just one example of my penny pinching efforts. Nowadays, I don’t go too much out of my way if it’s only going to save a few dollars. Still, I’m happy when I look at my month expense tracker. Pretty much every dollar spent is either a real need or increases my quality of life. That’s definitely a win, in my book.

What do you think? What do you consider frugal? How do you pinch your pennies? And what do you consider to be a waste of money?

Pinching PenniesShutterstock
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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