Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Extremely Frugal

Once upon a time, a reporter asked if I were "extremely frugal", "fairly frugal" or "not so frugal".

I had a feeling I'd be disqualified if the answer were "not so frugal", so that was immediately out. The right answer, of course, would have been "extremely frugal", but I wanted to be honest, so I did a little soul searching before answering.

Just what makes a person extremely frugal? What guidelines can we use? Where do we draw the line? And... just what do those terms mean? What is "extremely frugal" and "not so frugal"? (And who knows what "fairly frugal" means? - email me!)

There are some things that go beyond extreme frugality. Being frugal or penny pinching to the point of hurting yourself or somebody else, either physically or mentally, is beyond the reaches of frugality. Call it something else, but it's not frugal. Here's what extremely frugal is not:

  • Saving money for the sake of saving money. That's miserly. (Apologies to Jonni McCoy of Miserly Moms fame.) Before we go a step further, remember that 'miserly' comes from the same word as 'miserable'. Remember Silas Marner?

  • Deciding against that piece of clothing that you really do need, and 'making do' with what you have - for no reason other than you're too stingy to pay for it.

  • Not taking care of basic needs - medical care, nutritious food, shelter and a degree of comfort.

One woman wrote that her grandmother was extremely frugal because she only heated as much tea water as she needed at one time. Is that extreme?


  1. Good post! In the Noah Webster 1828 _American Dictionary of the English Language_, Frugal is defined: "Economical in the use or appropriation of saving unnecessary expense either of money or of any thing else which is to be used or consumed; sparing; not profuse, prodigal or lavish."
    The definition has not changed much over the years. What is economical or unnecessary is very subjective. "Unnecessary" is contingent on one's circumstances at the time. So is saving unnecessary expense. I know people who feel that buying clothes from the discount rack in upscale stores is saving unnecessary expense. I once had a discussion with a coworker who said that she was frugal. I knew that she was not. I said that I was resourceful. She admitted that she was not. Should frugality be measured on how resourceful we are? I don't know. I buy items that I feel will support the health and well being of my family when the other choice(s) would not.

  2. "Subjective" and "contingent on one's circumstances at the time" seem like a good way to measure it if it's measurable at all.

  3. I'm certain I'm not frugal at all, I waste far too much! So trying to adopt a more frugal mindset is really helping me to look at ways to cut the waste. It ties in so well with my environmental concern, too: 'reduce, reuse, recycle' are both pocket and planet friendly concepts!

  4. Helen, being concerned with our environment and living frugally seem to go hand in hand, as does simple living. Making conscious choices is the important thing.

  5. Well, I do shop at clearance racks at upscale stores for stuff I really need, like leather shoes that will last me a long time, and a wool coat that will last me a long time, and that I do need for 4 months of insanely harsh winter. I would get that coat cheaper only at a thrift store, but however, this coat is very good quality and by the time I'm done with it, it would have been a good investement.
    It just happens to be flattering and well fitting, while being of superior quality .