It’s important to save for retirement. It’s sensible to have an emergency fund. It’s essential to live within your income and not go into debt. But where did the idea come from that people who are frugal and live simply… can’t… or shouldn’t… have nice things? Or that they should feel guilty if they buy something new?

It amazes me that so many people equate frugality and financial savvy with denial and a spartan lifestyle. I think they’re missing the point. Frugality is not about how much you can do without or how little money you can spend. True frugality simply means that you don’t waste your money on things that aren’t important to you so you will have that money for things that ARE important to you. What those important things are will be different for each person.

Being obsessed with NOT spending money is just as bad as being obsessed with spending it, because in both cases the emphasis is on money and stuff. Planning and saving for the future is important, but it’s also important to live in… and enjoy… the present. There should be no guilt in wanting or buying something new on occasion.

A thoughtful, sensible use of your money sometimes includes spending it.

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Mimi

Thank you for this post and for your blog. Your articles have been an immense help to my husband and I and you have helped us understand that frugality and simple living is not the do-without depressing life we had thought it was. We are new at this and we are being cautious in the life style changes we are making but we keep rereading your articles and you have no idea how much help you have given us. Thank-you thank-you thank-you!

Gene

I have been wanting someone to say this. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

Bert

I have a couple of friends who pride themselves on their frugality, and any time I buy something I find myself hiding it from them because they are always so disapproving. I’m very sensible with my money, I don’t spend it on foolish things, but sometimes I like to splash out on a new purchase — and I can afford to do this. I have savings and emergency funds and have money socked away for my retirement, but I also spend a little money now and again. So kudos for this post, it needed to be said.

Willow

I agree with you! Joe Dominguez wrote in his book Your Money or Your Life about how one’s attitude toward money shouldn’t be one of obsession either for it or against it. Money is simply a tool. Loved this post!

Camille

Shirley, you said: It’s true that stuff doesn’t make you happy, but it’s also true that lack of stuff doesn’t make you happy either — happiness must come from within.

You are so right – I’ve also noticed that the older I get (I’m pushing 53, though feel more like 35 most days), the less stuff I need in my life. I used to be a clothes fanatic, thinking that having a “perfect” wardrobe would make me feel good inside (how superficial that sounds now). I’ve found that with age comes happiness, something I would never have thought to be true when I was young. I think age makes you realize that you can just be yourself, and it’s ok!

trish

I was thinking about that this past weekend. I took my son and his friends to the mall to a movie and after seeing a movie myself, I walked around the mall a bit and found I had no desire to buy ANYTHING. In the past, I would have shopped and bought something, thinking I was doing something nice for myself. After about 30 minutes, I sat on a bench, had a coffee and waited for them to finish. That’s when I realized the difference: I wasn’t denying myself anything, I just didn’t feel the need to spend money as some sort of “reward” just because I was at the mall.

Jill

Very encouraging post. I’ve wrestled with this issue a bit myself lately as I have started working on my bathroom. What started as the need to replace the shower has morphed into a complete redecorating project. At first I was a bit ashamed of myself for allowing it to go beyond the bare necessities. But I read this post, did some thinking on my own and came to the conclusion that a complete change in decor was OK since it’s been almost 9 years since anything has been done to that room and I am not taking on any additional debt to finance the changes I want to make. Plus, I am doing much of the work myself, so when I finally get it all done I’ll have the satisfaction and happiness that often comes with a DYI project.

RTJM

I’ve just found your blog and find you very sensible. Many have an entirely too extreme view on what frugality is. We don’t buy “a lot” of things but what we have are good quality and durable goods.

sara

Hi..i have just found you and your wonderful blog..i always find that its the simple things that make me happy..my hubby lost his job like many others..i thought my life was over..actually it was the begginning of a learning curve for me..i don’t have lots of money but i have my family and thats what life is for me…my family..we have a lovely home,grow our own veg,raise chickens and more importantly we enjoy ourselves..we don’t have lots of stuff as i totally down-sized and got rid of the c**p that was cluttering my life and people..i have nice things that have been chosen carefully and with much debate..will it last,is it worth it..those sort of things..my frugality is mistaken for hardship..its no hardship for me or my family..its nice and i also have the satisfaction of knowing..i made it,grew it,baked it etc..i think being happy in my own skin helps..i’m 42 feel like i’m 22 hopefully look 32 haha..full of beans and never been happier…being frugal doesn’t mean no money it means you respect your money and treat it carefully..

Mandy

I loved this post, I am trying to simplify my life and while it does involve purging some “stuff” it is only stuff that we don’t use enough to justify the precious real estate that it takes up in our home or clutter that doesn’t mean anything to us and just adds to the visual complication of our home. We are also striving to only buy things that we really want, that we will enjoy for a long period of time and will last for many years. We’ve found that the things we do buy now, even though many times they are more expensive are saving us money and simplifying our lives!

Willow

I’ve come back to add something I’ve been thinking about–people who live simple lives tend to have fewer BUT NICER things because they choose carefully what they want to own.

Joe

One thing I would say regarding this, I didn’t know it was called “living simply” I guess I’m part of this a bit, haha.

Anyway, I’m 20, and live with my parents still, so my advice might not be entirely valid. As far as nice things go, one thing I’ll say is, rich people throw out their nice things eventually, so if you just wait a little bit, you’ll get their nice things for nothing.

My room has a glass desk, perfect condition, hardwood bureau, futon, TV stand, 32 inch CRT TV (no flatscreen, aww), Panasonic 170 watt stereo with 6 speakers, and 2 booming woofers that very much annoy my family when playing my techno, I also got a Dolcen Kreilling sub I could wire up too if I wanted to, too. Oh, and I have a mini fridge. This is just stuff that accumulated over 2 years of living in my apartment complex, for free from the trash. The stereo’s CD players lens needed to be cleaned, that’s all (later the changer mechanism broke, but I never played CDs much in it anyway.) Futon needed to be put back together, and had no mattress, later found another mattress. So it’s all free, I’ve furnished my room for free from the trash.

I’ve also accumulated enough silverware/dishes/pans/pots/toaster ovens/microwaves that I could just pack it all up and fully furnish my own apartment when I move out of my parent’s place.

People throw out everything, it’s awesome. Only problem is, you end up accumulating a lot of stuff you don’t need right at the moment, it’s free, but “costs” you space sometimes. Sometimes you need it, and it’s in the trash, and you’re good to go. Same thing with thrift stores, I shop there sometimes, I’ll buy a pair of shoes for like 3-4 bucks, and just add it to the collection and rotate, and when they die, I just grab another pair from the collection. All my clothes pretty much cost like…under 5 bucks for pants, and like under a dollar for shirts, I’m never at a shortage for clothes, and I don’t actively spend money on them. I wear name brand stuff that people donate to Salvation Army, Hilfiger, Polo, Abercrombie, etc, it’s nice clothing, and I like it, and don’t pay much money for it.

Jesus said something really interesting, though. So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. I, in personal experience, find that one of the most believable things in the entire Bible, you really don’t gotta worry at all about such things, don’t run after them, and in my case, I find a lot of stuff I want in the trash/etc, it’s awesome.

Linda

My husband and I have been slowly but surely paying off debt despite losing his job last year. We’re making progress and putting some away for a rainy day. But we got to the point where we just weren’t sleeping well from a bad bed. We’ve never had a new bed in the 8 years we’ve been married- (truth told I haven’t had a brand new bed in 25 years!) So we were concerened that we’d be judged for spending when our income is drastically reduced. Yet, we saved and did a LOT of comparison shopping before getting what we felt was a really good deal on a nice bed that should last us for years. It was delivered yesterday and we slept like babies last night. You just can’t put a price on that. And isn’t getting good sleep one of the simplist things we can do for ourselves?

SharleneT

One of my dearest friends lives beautifully in a well-appointed home and catches all the latest shows, fine dinners etc., yet, knows where each and every dime goes. His month starts with a high stack of charitable envelopes he willingly sends support to and is very generous to all around. He’s not a wealthy man, just a man who was raised to think outside of himself. An old saying, “If you watch the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves,” is very very true. We can pitter-frit a whole paycheck away with just a few visits to the store. Imagine going every day to buy a lunch — and, that other little thing you just can’t do without. That’s where it goes.

GC

Awesome post! Thank you for this simple reminder.

T

Thank you for saying this. A lot of folks laugh at me for being “cheap” even after I explain that I’m not cheap, I’m frugal. I got through to one friend who was a shopaholic. She told me she was eyeballing something in a store but my voice popped into her head saying “Do you really need this or are you just spending because you have a few extra bucks to burn in your pocket?” She walked out of the store empty handed and was able to make her electricity payment a week later without worry. That all being said, I do splurge on a good coffee maker every few years because I want a decent cuppa every morning and I’m not willing to go out and spend $3+ on it every day. Thanks again, Shirl. I’m going to forward a link of this article to a few people now. :)

Helen

Spot on. I sometimes watch a programme on tv here, about a young family that tries to grow most of what they use, are renovating their old farm using old methods, plow with a horse etc. But whenever the poor guy happens to mention that they e.g. have a washing machine or – yikes – a car, he gets vilified in forums and on comment pages. Trying to live a more sustainable or simpler life doesn’t mean one has to wear a hair-shirt. Have just found your blog so am reading through your archive. Loved the post about the bear in the bird-feeder!

Anna Matetic

I completely agree and I’m glad to find a “frugal” site that says the same! My husband and I call it “downsize where you don’t care so you can upsize where you do”. We do without a lot that others in our family have. But to us, we aren’t doing without. The money we save there, we spend in other places that give us more pleasure. What would you rather have? The latest sports channel subscription, brand laundry detergent, and car payments? Or would you rather have an airline ticket to Europe? A lot of what we do makes us appear “wealthy” but we spend the same as anyone else. We just choose different things to spend it on.

NWO

Frugality to me is stretching every penny as far as I can to get the best value for it but frugality doesn’t mean cheap. I will ensure that my utilities are on the cheapest supplier (gas/electricity etc) as these are products that are the same who ever supplies them it is the price that differs. Yet I wont buy cheap shoes for example, I will buy shoes that are well made and of good quality but I will still try and get the brand I want at the best price I can. My old gran said by cheap pay twice and she was probably right!

By choosing to spend less and being frugal, perhaps not buying certain things I don’t feel, or even buying them second hand or used, I need then I am freeing up money to do other things that I can enjoy, like take nice holidays more often, work less hours and to secure financial security too