The word “frugal” is frequently synonymous with an unflattering list of words. The most common one I’ve heard is “cheap.” But what I’ve noticed is that when words like that are thrown around, they often represent a stereotypical idea of frugality. People who’ve adopted a frugal mentality might balk at those descriptors because they tend to discount, under-appreciate, and confuse this philosophy around money.
Every now and then I like to revisit the definition of frugality, as it bears repeating. This time, I figured I’d address a snapshot of the many myths I regularly hear regarding this way of living. The following are five popular assumptions/myths that people tend associate with frugal living.
Myth 1: Buy the cheapest products possible
If someone has a surface-level understanding of frugality, they tend to assume that I shop for the cheapest everything. From shampoo to razors to coffee to cars to bikes to phones, the myth is that frugal people scour the world for the cheapest option every time.
In reality, I tend to shop for the top and work my way down. I try to understand what the “best” products are selling and see if I truly “need” what they’re offering. Similarly, I search for similar abilities in more affordable products. Who wouldn’t want to save money and get the features of a more expensive product?!
Also, cheaper products don’t always pay off in the long run. Various problems can occur from poor resale values to early failure. I have two examples that come to mind. In both of the following instances, long-term planning pays off better than short-term savings.
First, disposable, plastic razors are one of the cheapest ways to shave upon looking at the face value. But these razors don’t last as long, rust quicker, and do not shave as closely. In total, that actually results in spending more money over time. How anti-frugal!
Second, a cheap Windows laptop might cost $400 to $500. Again, on face value, this seems cheaper than an Apple laptop for $900. It takes a critical eye to parse apart the savings. For starters, an Apple computer is more reliable and powerful than the ~$450 Windows computer. You’re paying for that though, so not very frugal yet. The real cost savings comes with resale value. Because of the power and dependability, Apple computers retain their total value for longer periods of time. That $900 purchase price degrades at a lesser percentage each month.
Myth 2: Never pay full price
This one is tricky. No one wants to pay full price for anything. Sales, deals, coupons, and special savings entice us. I promise, they affect my buying and likely sway you, too. Grocery stores and malls are full of these opportunities. Heck, some of us wait for weekly ads to make our purchases!
In the end, we hate paying full price so much that we will spend countless hours over our lifetimes scoping out deals. But the frugal person doesn’t necessarily focus on the sale to buy a product. The key is buying it consciously, with intention, and through savings — not credit. Being a frugal consumer means avoiding purchases because of sales. Sales shouldn’t be the catalyst for purchases.
When you focus on a new item for purchase, it’s important to consider the place it has in your household. New shoes might be vital to your job. Rather than focusing on the “savings,” concentrate on the value. What shoes will stand the test of time, be comfortable, and limit future purchases?
Like before, the full-priced option may actually be better than the sale deal. Evaluate sales carefully. End of year or last year’s models might actually be a great deal, though. The point is, this myth is reductionistic and oversimplifies the complicated task of staying frugal.
Myth 3: Avoid adventure
Personally, I never want my frugality to be boring, limiting, or burdensome to trying new things, experiencing cultures, and developing a greater appreciation of the world around me. While yes, travel tends to be expensive, there are ways to adventure and take advantage of the world around you.
Perhaps it includes attending a free concert or talk at a local university/library. Perhaps it means taking a long bike ride around your city. Perhaps it means strategizing a bonus miles credit card to reduce ticket costs.
Regardless of the method, travel and adventure can be made more frugal. It takes forethought and planning. While many people buy tickets on a whim or whenever they’re gearing up for a flight, frugal people tend to find dates earlier on and book tickets then. The savings is often greater further away from a flight date.
Even more, the frugal philosophy necessitates a new definition for adventure. It seems that many people associate spending money with “fun.” The reality is far easier. We needn’t spend money to enjoy life. Adventure is right out your door — all it takes is a perspective change and appreciation of the world’s natural offerings. Hike, run, read, walk, chat up a future mate — whatever!
Myth 4: If you must eat out, tip poorly
The more brutal stereotype of frugality states that we tend to cut costs everywhere we go. If we eat out, we’ll likely tip poorly because that’s an opportunity to save.
Frugality needn’t be at the cost of others. In fact, that’s an ethically dubious version of this cost-saving and life-affirming philosophy. Savings shouldn’t undercut another way of living or punish others. If you’re a poor tipper and don’t recognize that servers don’t make much as an hourly wage, you should avoid eating out altogether because that’s the more frugal option anyways.
Most of the time, I tip about 15 to 20 percent for good service. If it’s bad… Well, all rules are off. Eating out is a treat for me — rare compared to the amount I eat in. When I do treat myself, I try to be respectful to those serving me, as well.
Myth 5: It’s hard to maintain
We are not born into a world that advocates for frugality. Choosing this lifestyle takes years of relearning and backtracking. Surrounded by advertisements and marketing for products we likely could avoid or go without, we are not accustomed to avoiding purchases. In that sense, it can be challenging to initiate frugal living.
Once you’ve started living with less, reduced spending becomes more habitual and quotidian. It’s all about relativity. When spending is reduced gradually over time, the cuts are less effortful. Then, when you reach a basic level of spending, maintenance can occur.
This stage requires less consideration for purchases and decisions. Maintenance doesn’t require rethinking spending patterns, reformulating grocery lists, etc. All you need to do is continue at the same rate and frugality will be yours!
Every now and then, opportunities to buy something will crop up despite your maintenance, and you’ll feel the pull to purchase. When that occurs, it’s important to recognize what motivates your frugal life. Why did you start living frugally in the first place?
Frugality is a philosophy and way of living. And many of the myths and assumptions that people carry about frugality are wrong and/or exaggerated. It’s bigger than simply spending less. It is a conscious philosophical decision to save money where you can to enjoy what you love.