Note: This was originally published May 17, 1999, when I was the Frugal Living Guide for About.com Other sites have since picked it up and published it, but I own the rights to it. I am not complaining; on the contrary, it's a compliment when people think what I have written is worth repeating - as long as they attribute the work to me.
Frugal people are familiar with things like self-sufficiency, homeschooling, midwifery, simple living, alternative energy, dumpster diving and wild food foraging. We are also familiar with budgets, bank rates, and personal finance.
We live in every circumstance and situation imaginable, from past the end-of-the-road rural cabins, to highrise apartments. Some of us are passionate about the natural world around us, others feel as if allowing our hair to grow an extra inch is going natural. For some, "back to basics" means cooking a meal instead of eating out, for others, it means sawing the winter's wood with a crosscut saw.
Just as we are a diverse, broad ray in the spectrum of lifestyles, we are also perceived in many opposing ways.
"Frugality" can conjure up visions of continual black bean soup and shoes with cardboard insoles. "Mean" and "stingy" are the synonyms that come quickly to mind. Doing without, deprivation, and poor, are other words used to describe a state of being that's a threat rather than a blessing; a thing to be avoided rather than sought after.
But frugality (synonyms: economical, money-wise, canny) can also mean creatively making the available money do as many things as possible, down to creating and maintaining a comfortable savings account and living debt-free.
What and who are we, really? Most of us will find ourselves on neither end of this seesaw -- and seesaw it is. Nothing ever stays balanced exactly, so there is always a little adjustment to be made here, a little tuck to be taken there. Probably the only thing that can be said of frugal people is that they are determined to get the most and the best from the resources they have.
Most of us simply continue trying to be more and more frugal in various ways, but there are those who have the courage to completely sell out. Voluntary simplicity, they call it. A simpler, more frugal life isn't limited to those who have already made it, and changed their minds, either.
In the final test, living frugally is all about choices... yours and mine. When we begin to make conscious choices about how, when, and if we use your resources, we are immediately more in control. And when we're in control, the responsibility is ours -- for a more frugal tomorrow, personally and globally.