What is Frugality and Are We Frugal?

By glblguy

Mason jar filled with coins

In a comment made to my recent article A Guideline Budget – How Do You Compare? a reader stated that I am not frugal. I agree, We’re not frugal, or at least I don’t consider us frugal. We are on a quest to be more frugal, but we’re not there yet. But then I began to wonder, how will we know when we get there? What is frugal exactly and what defines one as being frugal vs. not being frugal? I then began to wonder, do we really want to be frugal? Hmmmm…

These questions of course kicked in the strong researcher side of me and I looked into what it means to be “Frugal” and what societies view of frugal really is. Lets look at a few definitions and perspectives on Frugality:


Wikipedia defines Frugality as: Frugality (also known as thrift or thriftiness), often confused with cheapness or miserliness, is a traditional value, life style, or belief system, in which individuals practice both restraint in the acquiring of and resourceful use of economic goods and services in order to achieve lasting and more fulfilling goals. In a money-based economy, frugality emphasizes economical use of money in meeting long term personal, familial, and communal desires.

Being Frugal

One my favorite frugality blogs, Being Frugal, Lynnae talks about what being frugal really means to her. But in a nutshell, she says being frugal means:

  1. Prioritizing
  2. Living within her means
  3. Not wasting

She sums it up with: I desire to live a simple life that reflects good stewardship of the resources God has given me. Well said I think and this is what being frugal means to to me as well. It all boils down to good stewardship.

Frugal For Life

Frugal for Life, a blog about frugality says the following about Frugality:

~It is living below your means; living on 80% of your pay instead of 100-110%
~It is being conscious of your spending and making sure it is a need and not a want
~It is giving yourself time to research the best deal so you don’t waste money
~It is seeing treasure in items with as much as you can imagine using your creativity

*It is not living a life you dread waking up to
*It is not thinking that money controls you, but instead you control it
*It is not about what works for you will work for everyone else

FFL’s point are a little more specific and measurable. One that really struck a chord with me was “It is seeing treasure in items with as much as you can imagine using your creativity“. I thought that was pretty unique.

Frugal Village

Frugal Village states that Frugality is often associated with unpleasant thoughts and that people like Mr. Scrooge or the 60’s Mom come to mind. They then say this isn’t true, bu that being frugal is really “It is being in control of our money“.

Are We Frugal?

There are literally thousands of pages indexed on Google that describe various perspectives on being frugal, but the perspectives and definitions above really hit the highlights and provide a consistent view of frugality. I am going to analyze our personal finances and values against each of the above perspectives and see how we measure up.

Wikipedia – We practice restraint when acquiring economic goods. We avoid temptation and do a great deal of research and price shopping before buying items. We do these things because they make me feel better about our spending and they help us meet the goals we’ve identified in our financial plan.

Being Frugal – We make every effort to prioritize our spending. We focus a considerable portion of our income to debt repayment, schedule and plan for items or expenses we are going to purchase or incur. We also spend less than we make (live within our means) and we work hard to not waste. I eat leftovers for lunch, we’ve started sharing large meals, we recycle, and look for ways to re-use existing items we already have. My wife is way better at the last one than I am.

We also work diligently to be good stewards of our money and of what we have. Are we perfect? No. Do we do this consistently? No. This isn’t an overnight process and we still have long way to go, but we’ve also come a long way since we started.

According to Being Frugal, we are frugal

Frugal For Life – Since we allocate more than 20% of our pay to debt repayment, we do live on less than 80% of our pay. We budget and manage our spending to insure we are living on less than we earn. We don’t dread waking up, we manage our money instead of it managing us, and we decide what works for us.

According to Frugal for Life, we are frugal.

Frugal Village – Since we budget, spend less than we earn, and account for every penny of our money, I’d say we are very much in control of our money.

According to Frugal Village, we are frugal.

This exercise surprises me honestly. It would seem that based on the definitions of Frugality from four authority sites on Frugality that we are Frugal after all. Are we as frugal as we could be? No, absolutely not. But, each week we are learning and applying that knowledge to making ourselves even more frugal.

It would seem we have indeed crossed the line into frugality. Now that we are there though, we have quit the journey to get where I would like to see us. Will we ever be “super frugal”? No, that’s just not for us. I think once you are frugal, the next step is determining how frugal you want or need to be.

What are your thoughts? Are you frugal? Is so, how frugal are you? If you aren’t, are you trying to be? Where do you miss the mark?

32 Responses (including trackbacks) to “What is Frugality and Are We Frugal?”

  1. paidtwice Says:

    I think frugality is a mindset first and a practice second. if you think frugally, you’ll act more frugally by association. And it is all a journey – we’re all at different points with it. What would be frugal for one person/family may be ridiculously extravagant for another. it is all about perspective.

    I aspire to be frugal and sometimes I think I hit cheap instead ;).

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Great post! I’ve been pondering the same question the past two weeks.

    When I started measuring our potential frugality to the standards outlined by you, I think I found a flaw in your logic. By my calculations, you are not (yet) frugal.

    You wrote:
    “Since we allocate more than 20% of our pay to debt repayment, we do live on less than 80% of our pay.”

    That debt repayment is, in effect, the payment of past living. I would argue that you’re spending less than 80% on your currrent living but to be truly frugal one would have to spend less than 80% on their total living expenses (current and past). One who lives on less than 80% of their income and SAVES over 20% of their income — they would be frugal.

    By your definition, anyone whose mortage and/or car payments and/or credit card pay-down amounts comprised more than 20% of their income would qualify as being frugal. Wouldn’t that be most of us?

  3. glblguy Says:

    @paidtwice – I agree, and I’m with you cheap. A fine line somtimes I think.

    @Elizabeth – Thanks. You make an interesting point. So you are saying that what Frugal For Life is really saying is that you day to day living expenses + debt should be less than 80% of your income? If you are paying on debt though, that confuses things. If I look at my expenses and add in my debt (minimum payments), I am less than 80%…I just take that extra and put it on my debt rather than saving.

    I am concerned that with what you said, you are saying you can’t be in debt AND be frugal at the same time. I would disagree with that.

  4. Elizabeth Says:


    LOL — maybe we need new frugal classifications: voluntary frugality and forced frugality ;-)

    I agree that it seems wrong to say that one can’t be in debt and be frugal at the same time. I know many people in debt. Some seem to be in debt despite their frugal lifestyles. Others are in debt because “frugal” isn’t in their vocabulary.

    The whole question of whether your argument was flawed arose when I tried to apply your measurements of frugality to my own circumstances. I’m speaking a little out of turn here because I’ve been asleep at the wheel for some time and am just starting to pay closer attention to our family’s budget and our complete financial picture. Here’s what I know:

    We have a mortgage payment and a car payment due every month. Those are our only two “debts” owed to banks or financial institutions. I make nearly all of my everday purchases on credit cards but we pay those bills off in full every month. In addition, our daughter attends a private school. We chose to pay that tuition in two payments — the first one of which has been made; the second one is still outstanding (I’m unsure of when that will be due). If I calculate twelve month’s worth of mortgage payments plus twelve month’s worth of car payments and then add in our tuition obligation (in other words, our debt load), that amount equals over 30% of our combined annual gross income.

    In addition, I make the maximum annual contribution to my IRA account every year. My Husband is 72 so he can’t have an IRA. I’m unsure as to how much in additional funds we put into savings but I know that it is done.

    These numbers show that we’re clearly living off less than 70% of our gross income — maybe as little as 60%. By defintion then, we’re frugal. I’m a cautious consumer and not into conspicuous consumption but I would not consider myself to be frugal.

    I really don’t know what my point is, glblguy. Maybe I’m truly frugal and don’t even know it. When I look around me at all the people who own McMansions, take fancy vacations, own nicer cars, and/or give their kids nicer “toys” than we do — I always assume they make a lot more money than we do. Perhaps they don’t.

  5. glblguy Says:

    Elizabeth great information. Honestly, the one of the points of this article is that frugality isn’t really tightly defined, and as paidtwice says, more of a mindset. I would consider you frugal…maybe not as much as some others, but frugal.

    As for those that you see…I think your “Perhaps they don’t” comment is pretty dead on. I’d bet they are in debt up to their eyeballs :-)

    Thanks, your comments and information added some great information to the topic!

  6. Vixen Says:

    Great article and even better commment discussion.

  7. TV Girl Says:

    This is a great discussion.

    My interpretation of Frugal for Life’s definition was that the 80% included living expenses plus debt minimums. That would mean two things: 1) the other 20% is going toward some combination of debt reduction and saving, and 2) if some emergency happened (pay cut, medical bills, etc) you would have 20% of disposable income to alleviate the effects without a change in lifestyle.

    About 53% of my income goes to debt repayment every month, which means that *other than debt* I live on 47% of my salary. I’d say that’s pretty frugal.

    Unfortunately my student loan minimums are pretty high, so if I use my interpretation of the definition, I live on about 85% of my income. Still, not bad.


  8. Elizabeth Says:

    What TV Girl said makes sense and clarifies the distinction between glblguy’s situation and my own.

    glblguy could maintain his current budget, continue to make his minimum payments, and still have 20% of his income available for emergencies or whatever. That makes glblguy officially “frugal.” Congrats, glblguy! :-)

    At some point you’ll have paid off your debts and will have that same 20% free to invest or build savings, etc.

    For me to qualify as frugal our monthly expenses INCLUDING mortgage, car payment, and tuition must be no more than 80% of our combined net income. As I gather more information about our finances, I’ll be curious to see how close we come to being officially “frugal”. For now, at least I know that we live within our means. It would appear that that in itself is something of an accomplishment.

  9. glblguy Says:

    @TVGirl – Great summary and perspective. I would agree btw, I think you’re ‘super frugal” :-)

    @Elizabeth – YEAH, I’m frugal again ;-) Actually if you include my mortgage and car payments, that would make be closer to living on 50% of my expenses. So once I am out of debt, I will have 50% of my salary to save, invest, and give. I was only including credit card and 401k loans in my debt.

    I agree, great discussion…who else has some thoughts or perspective on this?

  10. TV Girl Says:

    Super frugal? Wow! Yay me! Unfortunately I was super UNfrugal for too many years, and I’m paying for it now. Still, it’s nice to know that when I’m debt free I can start saving and investing and a pretty nice rate.

  11. Lynnae @ Being Frugal Says:

    I hope I’m frugal! I write enough about frugality that something would be seriously wrong if I’m not frugal. :)

    Thanks for using my definition! And yes, you’re frugal in my book. :)

  12. Shay Says:

    I think everyone is diffrent when it comes to being frugal, and to what extent they need to be frugal too.

    I belong to a yahoo group and we had this discussion a few months back after critisim arose in the group over one ladies budget….Some of the ideas that the group come up with are to me cheap (and nasty) and I would never ever do them.

    To others I am not frugal because I am not consumed by every single cent I spend yes I am in debt but not to the extent I was 12 months ago when I first decided I had enough come March 08 I will be debt free except for my mobile phone.

    My bills are now paid on time, I have full insurances for house,car,life, and funeral plan, I only work part time and I am a single mum (In austrlia you get assistance from the goverment until they are 16, the amount changes with my wages) I have limited savings but each week they grow with my little bit of imput I have. And as each bill gets paid the money that was going to that bill goes to the next bill and then if there are no more bills left to get rid of that money goes into savings.

    We shop for clothes mainly at the Second hand shop, we don’t have take away alot and my closest supermarket is 40 mins away, I can by groceries from where I work but at a high price (we live in the country and I work at the local store) If I got down to the nitty gritty of my every single cent I earn I could be saving alot more and paying off my bills that little bit quicker as well. BUT it is my choice not too. (the bills I have remaining are two loans I obtained from family to help get into a buisness) so I don’t pay interest on them.

    THERE is Frugal And Frugal everyone needs are diffrent and everyones finaces are diffrent Frugal is what a person wants it to be…Weather by force (debt ridden)or by choice (to make more wise decisions on finacial matters)

  13. glblguy Says:

    @Shay – Great points. Thanks for providing another perspective!

  14. Frogdancer Says:

    I found this through a comment someone made on http://www.simplesavings.com.au on the forum.

    I’m a single mum of 4 in Australia and work full time, recieve a useable but not lavish amount of child support (it pays for the boys’ music lessons and school subject levies.) I joke to people around me that I’m on a frugality kick. We drink powdered milk, I make my own yoghurt, grow as many of our veggies as I can… in a nutshell I’m cautious about what I spend my $$ on day to day. I have a mortgage, and I put as much away on that as I can every month.

    We hve also had two overseas holidays in the last two years. Bali and Thailand.

    Travel with 5 people doesn’t come cheap. But I’ve chosen to show my boys a bit more of the world than what’s in their safe little suburb. My definition of frugality is sensible stewardship of the resources you have, to enable you to achieve the goals that are important to you.

    Drinking a bit of powdered milk and wearing op shop clothes is a small price to pay for seeing the looks on my boys’ faces as the plane took off for ttheir first trip…

  15. Frogdancer Says:

    It ate my comment!!! Ok, I’ll try again.

    My situation is that I’m a single mother of 4 boys, working full time. I have a mortgage, and that’s it for debt. I tell my friends I’m on a frugality kick. They watch in bemusement as I make our milk from powder, eat home made yoghurt, biscuits and cakes, dress from op-shops and generally watch the pennies. I’m frugal.

    We have also been on two overseas holidays in the last two years, in Bali and Thailand. It’s not cheap to transport 5 people overseas from Australia. We’re a long way from anywhere.

    My definition of frugality is good stewardship of the resources you have, to enable you to achieve the goals that are important to you. This takes clear headed prioritising and a backbone. I wanted the boys (and myself) to see more of the world than the view from our safe little leafy suburb in Australia.

    Mixing up powdered milk, growing veggies and doing lots of home baking is a small price to pay for seeing the looks on my boys’ faces as the plane took off for their first trip….

  16. Jodi Says:

    I think for me it’s about understanding where I really WANT my money to go rather than allowing it to slip through my fingers unchecked.

    Personally I don’t think anyone can judge another as being “not frugal”. It’s not about a contest to see who can spend the least. What is a right about for one person/family to spend it too much for some and not enough for others. It’s about what is right for YOU.

    I think it’s also about being smart and buying what you want/need for a reasonable price. These days we’re up against some VERY crafty marketting techniques. We’re all a part of the “game” whether we want to be or not. In my mind, frugality is about playing to win (ie. money in my pocket rather than some corporate organisation).

  17. Fabulously Broke Says:

    You could definitely say that just looking at our numbers, technically, we ARE frugal (living on about 30% or less of our income on a monthly basis), but taking into consideration our situation (rent, utilities and food paid for), we really aren’t, but we’re trying to be.

    It’s one thing to be frugal, it’s another to bash other people for the choices they make, like buying a Wii, or a new top, EVEN if they didn’t need it.

    What’s the point of having all of this money if you don’t spend a little of it now and then (if you are able to)?…. I don’t want to be old and rich and having had missed out on life, but on the same time, I don’t want to be old and poor, and feeling stupid about the choices I made when I was younger.

  18. Fortunate Says:

    This is somethig I have been grappling with over the past few weeks. I think I had passed over from being frugal to being miserly because my life became a little joyless. I have a 50% less consumer debt than I had 6 months ago. I gave up my car, which is a sacrifice b/c I live in a metropolitan area but it’s not exactly NY. What would normally be a 15-20 min. drive can easily become a 45-60 min. trip on mass transit – and don’t get me started on the annoyances of riding a bike in the rain! I also live in a cramped efficiency b/c it’s so cheap. No cable, strict grocery budget, and almost no eating out. I’m continuing to pay down my debt, add to my savings, and have begun investing. So considering all of that, I was told this weekend that it might be okay for me to buy a few new clothes for work without feeling guilty. But it’s hard – you get in the habit and you just want to keep squeezing the life out of every little penny!

  19. glblguy Says:

    @FrogDancer – Thanks for visiting and glad you found us. Great story. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    @Jodi – Love the playing to win comment you made. Thanks!

    @Fabulously Broke – I agree on spending, it’s all about finding a balance and not spending more than you make.

    @Fortunate – I agree, there is a line and you can go too far. I think the important point is the line is different for each person, and maybe even different depending on your priorities and what is going on in your life. Thank you for the comment!

  20. LC Says:

    Is someone who lives on 50% of a $150,000 income more frugal than someone who lives on 100% of a minimum wage income? I definitely agree that if you spend more than you earn you are not frugal enough, but I think that frugality comes down to not spending more than you have to and cutting back in some areas in order to provide things that are important to you. I especially liked Frogdancer’s story. Some people would say that taking that many overseas vacations is not frugal, but it all comes down to setting your priorities and making sacrifices in other areas to make those a reality.

  21. glblguy Says:

    @LC – Great perspective. Thanks for you excellent and insightful comment.

  22. Vending Help Says:

    I wonder if the reason most people (as per Wiki) equate frugal with being cheap or miserly is because when they try it it doesn’t work. What I found is that if saving money doesn’t have a goal then it fails. Sacrifice without purpose is just pain and we are all hardwired to avoid pain – thank you Tony Robbins ;-)

    Once my wife and I started to set goals, suddenly the budgeting/saving/frugality had purpose and we no longer dreaded it. We stopped having money fights and worked together. I realize it has been said to death by setting goals is so important!