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Home » Frugality, Live

The 4 Reactions to Frugality & Why Spending Can Only Take you so Far

Last updated by on 19 Comments

There are four common reactions that I get when I preach frugality and the benefits harvested from a frugal lifestyle.

The first is excitement. Those who have been bitten by the frugality bug have an incredible connection to others who also have. There’s a synergy. A commonality. I think that comes from being in the small minority, but having similar goals to simplify, break free, and thrive. Consumption minimization without deprivation requires creativity and some hustle. It’s fun. And there’s a sharing of knowledge that can occur here that is really enlivening. Good stuff.

reactions to frugalityThe second is shock or astonishment. “You spend how little per month?! That’s crazy!”, “You sold your car and bike to work? Why?”. This reaction usually comes from those who just haven’t really been exposed to the ideas, as the virtues are definitely not trumpeted in the mainstream. Sometimes these conversations can be really fun because there is a curiosity and it can present a teaching/learning opportunity. Other times, it can seem like you are talking in a foreign language. You get weird looks. Sometimes some head nodding.

A third reaction comes in the form of minimization. This, on its own, usually comes in two forms. The first is the blow-off: “Well, that’s nice, but I could never do that. I have to have my (fill in the blank).” Other times, it surfaces as attempted humor. You know, the “you’re such a cheapskate” type jokes. Mostly harmless stuff and I play along, but often times the humor comes with a twist of spite. People make fun of things they don’t really understand or they feel a bit threatened by. Those with wasteful spending habits feel threatened by frugality because it turns the mirror on their wastefulness. But I guess I would prefer to have it directed towards me in the form of minimizing humor than the fourth and final reaction…

Angst. This comes out in the form of name calling or attempts to diminish ones self-worth. I’ve seen it directed towards others. I’ve actually had people tell me on this blog, on a number of occasions, that I must be miserable. That they feel sorry for me. That my way of living is not worth living.

My initial first response to this kind of negativity is bewilderment… I mean, if you don’t like the lifestyle concept of frugality, what are you doing following, reading, and commenting on a personal finance blog that espouses the virtues of frugality and reduced consumption on a weekly basis!?

Playing armchair psychologist, I assume that this kind of reaction is for one of two reasons:

  1. The person really does have a misconception that frugality = misery. Their belief is that if you are frugal (aka not someone who spends your money on whatever pops in your head as a potential “happiness-driving token”), you are not truly living life. Money is meant to be enjoyed through spending and if you aren’t spending it, you must have a miserable existence.
  2. The person has so identified with their spendy lifestyle that they take it personally that I’ve indirectly questioned it. Their response is a retaliation to try to make me feel bad or question my own lifestyle.

Do I ever take it personally? No. And my message back is this…

Spending will Only Take you So Far

I have already obtained 99.9% of the sustainable happiness/fulfillment that could be obtained from spending more money. I eat healthy, wonderful organic food. Brew wonderful brews. Drink wonderful drinks. Experience the entertainment I want to experience. Bike when I want to bike. Hike when I want to hike. Go on trips I want to go on. Have adequate means of getting where I want to go. A nice roof over my head. We have 3 awesome pets. What more stuff do we need? All of our basic needs and MUCH more are covered. More stuff cannot take me any further down the path to eternal bliss.

There is something that can take me further down that path: time ownership that financial independence can provide.

When you own your own time, it can open up doors that spending cannot: freedom of choice to pursue your interests and passions, learning more, exploring more, creating more, connecting more, contributing more, relaxing more, exercising more, and the personal growth and enjoyment that comes from all of the above. These things can take you further than more stuff ever could. And simply replacing more stuff with that hope and goal adds a ton of life energy and motivation.

So, please, don’t worry about me. And definitely don’t feel sorry for me either. And I hope that one day you might join me.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


19 Comments »
  • Good one GE. While I don’t consider myself frugal, I think some hear the word and think of extreme coupon people or those talked about on reality shows. It is just poor understanding.

    • well anyone who gets ideas on how to view the world from reality shows is seriously shallow and possibly even stupid anyway. really, they need to get a broader view of life. they can’t tell the difference between an obsessive disorder and someone who is just plain old frugal?

  • Kim says:

    So refreshing to find a place in the gigantic internet where we can all talk about frugality among friends :) And I totally agree with the concept of buying time for yourself instead of buying stuff. In our household we regularly use the phrase “happiness curve” (I think it’s from Your Money Or Your Life) to decide whether we want to make a major purchase or not. We maxed out our happiness curve a few years back by buying a used moped scooter for $200 that brings us endless joy, and since then it’s been the gold standard that we compare other purchases against. It usually turns out that buying that new widget is not going to make us anywhere near as happy.

  • Jason says:

    To be fair though, look at the other side. Your blog is entitled “20something finance”, thus appealing to many 20somethings, with a majority of them being male.

    Assuming a reader is not married and doesn’t have kids, it is debatable that their 20s offers them their greatest utility in terms of entertainment (as they are not responsible for others), but this utility comes at a price. And most men are well aware that attracting women, which just about every 20something man out there aspires to do, costs non-paltry amounts of money in terms of sunk costs and “finders fees”.

    GE, I think you have lived a very atypical life, which has obviously worked out great for you, and your blog is your blog, but don’t think of “frugality” as being all or nothing. If some people choose to cherry pick a few tips here and there so that they can afford other things, then your info is still going towards a purpose, just not your own. You are allowed to live the way you do because of certain circumstances, but many others are not given those same allowences in this market.

  • AmoAbores says:

    I’ve never commented before but I am a dedicated reader of your blog. I am grateful and very appreciative that you share your lifestyle with the world.

    I am a 20 sometimes and I feel like I am growing, learning, and really developing my identity as an adult. My parents are the stereotype of practical mid westerners. Their practicality has given them options and freedom.

    Your blog is helping me grow and develop the habits and skills that my parents taught me. It’s helpful and encouraging to see this lifestyle in action for someone closer to my age.

    So, thank you. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for writing. You and this space are appreciated.

  • Jake Erickson says:

    Totally agree with you, G.E.. I get the same reactions amongst my friends and family. Most of them don’t get too angry, but many of them believe that it’s not possible or that they wouldn’t want to do it even if they could. I like how you don’t take it personally. It can be tough sometimes, but just brushing it off seems to be the best way of dealing with it. Most of the time defending yourself only results in an argument with no one getting anywhere.

  • FatChance says:

    I think I spent 143,000 in 2011 between major purchases and several international vacations. At some point, after reading several blogs (yours, MMM, Renewable Wealth) I realized this was out of control and unsustainable even if we could afford it. I scaled back last year and spent~70,000. I was just as happy as I was in 2011 if not more so as I had less stress. This year I am on a pace to spend ~$45,000. Now I am getting the weird questions from co-workers. “Still hanging onto that car? Why not buy a new one?” “Why in God’s name do you ride a bike to work?” “Why haven’t you bought your 16 year old who got his license last month his own car yet?”
    I just respond that I do not want to be forced to work until I am in my 60s or 70s.
    G.E. Thank you so much for your insight and your writing style and Blog. You have helped to put me on a path that is quite different from the one I was on. A path that saves me money, makes me happier and keeps my stress levels way down.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      That’s some serious spend reduction! “Still hanging on to that car?” – where do you work, b/c comments like that would have me running out the door.
      Appreciate the comment, and glad that I may have played a role in the spend reduction and happiness increase. It’s awesome to hear stuff like that from readers.

  • I think that the angst really is misdirected fear and embarrassment. Many people work extremely hard to create an illusion of a fantastic life through extravagant spending. Their self-worth is directly related to the perception that they are admired and that their peers aspire to have their lifestyle. When you tell them that their high spending does not impress you, they are stricken with fear that others can see through their smoke screen and see that they are just like everyone else.

  • Ivan says:

    G.E., you’re absolutely right that spending will only take a person so far on the happiness scale.

    But for some people, they just can’t (or wouldn’t) accept that fact. After all, they’ve “spent” their way to happiness up to this point, so they think they have to keep it going. That’s why the idea of frugality makes them so uncomfortable.

    I think the important idea here is that frugality doesn’t equal cheapness. Rather, being frugal means being mindful of your spending. If you choose to sell your car and bike, that’s cool. If you want to splurge on fancy trips, that’s OK too.

    Ultimately, it’s our lives we’re talking about. We should make spending decisions that are right for us.

  • Great article! My life goal in life is to live life fully without spending boatloads of money. I think all we need is a nice, humble home, money for our food, gas, bills, and some extra money to take vacations.

  • Alex C says:

    Those reactions are so true. I always get the person who makes jokes and tells me I am cheap. The problem is that a lot of people have the wrong idea of what frugality is.

    Most people like to think furgality and cheapness are on in the same thing, but they are far from it. The simple definition I give cheap is not willing to spend any money even for the betterment of yourself. The definition of frugality though is this: Spending money on ONLY the things you care about and cutting costs on the things you do not give a darn about.

    So for example, I too do not drive a car. I ride a bike because I do not care to have a car. I kill a bunch of birds with one stone because I get excersice so I do not need gym membership, do not need to buy gas, or other car needs.

    That frees up money for me to do things like travel and buy healthier food because my health is important to me. How can you enjoy life if you can hardly move? Frugality is about spending on the things you want. Maybe having an awesome car is important to you. Maybe having new clothes is important to you.

    I will not judge you, but frugality is living simply. Many think it is a life of deprevation, but I feel bad for them because if they only knew that frugality offers a life of abundance.

    So that is why I have for all of you who think frugal people are cheap.

  • Renee L. says:

    Nice share!
    Living frugally is only a chore, if you make it one. Choose to look at couponing, thrift shopping and all those other things that you do to save as a game, and that’s exactly what they’ll become.

  • SJ says:

    I appreciate your post and can relate to it. I make decent money and choose to save more of it vs spending it and if that means i don’t like driving often and long distances or using one paper towel instead of 4 when one is more than enough i am okay with it. I do feel though i am often judged by my friends by these habits who choose to be more wasteful. Wish i could lead them in the right direction.

  • ~Matt~ says:

    Great article. There is a wide range of reactions you get to experience with being frugal. There is nothing more satisfying then hitting that point where your parents are asking “YOU” for advice.

    There is a bit of bewilderment in others eyes of what I can manage to do with out. Simply cutting the cable cord,smart phone and what I would call strategic shopping has saved a surprising amount of money. Being frugal is nothing more than really maximizing ones resources.

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