I’m not a big fan of being frugal, in general terms. Sure, it’s a necessary part of budgeting and cutting back on expenses when you are in debt up to your eyeballs (like me), but I don’t like being frugal on it’s own.
It’s not really the frugal part that bothers me, it’s more what the word has come to mean recently. To me, being frugal has come to mean getting very extreme in the ways that you cut your expenses. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many frugal advocates try and one up each other…
Frugal 1: You should cut back on your entertainment costs…look at cutting cable, eat out less.
Frugal 2: We cut our cable cord, stopped eating out, and started doing crazy extreme couponing. We are awesome!
Frugal 3: We threw out our TVs, forced our kids to read books only, grow 60% of our food in our garden, and we burned down our favorite local restaurant so everyone can be frugal like us. We are awesomer!
Frugal 4: We sold our worldly possessions to escape from this oppressive financial circus and moved into a local commune in the remote wilderness. We live in a hut and make our own food and clothes. We are awesomest!
Okay, we get it. You are the most frugal couple out there. You win!
The biggest problem I see with these frugal crazies is that they only focus on the expense side of the budget. They advocate things like extreme couponing, growing a garden, and doing a staycation…all of which require lots of time and energy. They never seem to focus on investing or increasing their income, which is another way to improve your financial situation.
I just think that “being frugal” has been done to death. I don’t want to start a garden and grow vegetables. I don’t have time for couponing. I don’t want to live in a commune. I don’t even know what a commune is, but I bet there is someone running around in a grass skirt calling everyone “dude” in a real mellow, stoner voice. The general frugal principles are great, but the manic nature of keeping up with the Frugal Joneses is ridiculous.
You can cut your expenses all day long, but what do you do with the extra cash flow? That is the more important question. If you save on expenses but never invest that extra money, you have lost a great opportunity.
I’m not picking on all the wonderful financial bloggers and experts out there who advocate being frugal. I’m just picking on the extreme folks who recommend uncommon principles, almost as a way to point out how perfect they are. It’s like the people on Facebook who seem to lead these amazing lives. Gag!
Our Kind of Frugal
Obviously I’m going overboard here in order to get a laugh. At least I hope it was obvious. I go for the cheap laugh every time. It’s the classic sarcastic approach to things. Anyway…
Maybe I’m using the wrong term here with the word “frugal” and should instead use the word “cheap.” There is a good look at frugal versus cheap over at the financial blog Frugal Familia.
And there is a good reminder that it’s not how much you make but how much you keep, from the blog Route to Retire.
For me, being frugal is still about cutting back on expenses that are excessive and not in the “necessary to live” category. Here are a few steps we have taken recently to cut back on our expenses:
• Cut the cord – We cancelled our cable TV and went with a cheaper route. We bought digital antennas for about $35 each (two TVs) to get us about 20 local TV channels. We already subscribed to Amazon Prime for the free shipping and started using their video streaming service, giving us kids shows and adult shows. Then we recently added Sling TV for $20 per month, which gives us 20 cable channels, including ESPN (woohoo…got my sports).
• No more cards – We stopped my wife from using credit cards. It wasn’t the temptation, but the easy access to credit that did us in. My wife thinks and acts frugally, but she can’t resist a sign that says “sale” or “clearance.” It’s her kryptonite. The big change was going to a debit card only for my wife. Now I transfer a set amount of money per week to her debit card account, which is her spending money for the week for gas, groceries, etc. I still use one credit card for gas or small grocery store trips and pay it off each month.
• Limited vacations – We cut down our vacations to more local getaways or trips with limited out-of-pocket expenses. I receive hotel points for work travel and we use the points for free hotel nights for the family. We spent three nights at the beach this summer…all for free. We barely fit in the hotel room, but that’s the tradeoff. Another savings is using the local amusement park where we pay for one admission and then get free admission for the rest of the season. My wife even gets free parking.
We are certainly being frugal with those cuts. No commune living there.
Actually, the largest cut I can make to expenses is to pay down debt, particularly credit cards. I look at debt pay down as more of an investment, though, and not really being frugal and cutting back on things. Frugal is about doing without something and my credit card debt is about living with too many things for too long.
We continue to find ways to cut expenses, but they will be smaller cuts going forward. First we hit the big ticket expenses and then we move down the line to the next biggest expenses. Sort of like a lean six sigma approach to personal finances.
I’m actually looking forward to the kids going back to school because my power usage will go down considerably. We won’t use as much air conditioning and lights will be off most of the day. It will only bring seasonal savings, but I’ll take it. See, more frugalness in action.
What is the most extreme frugalness you have done to cut your expenses? Do you live on a commune…what’s it like? Leave a comment and let me know.
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