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CAN A PERSON BECOME TOO FRUGAL?

 

Mystery Money Man explains why experiences are better than stuff, and explores the question of whether a person can become too frugal.

By nature, I’m a pretty frugal guy.  However, since launching Mystery Money Man just over 6 months ago, I’ve taken things to the next level.  My no-spend January, our family’s 16-day, uber-frugal summer road trip, and my growing aversion to a vast majority of spending are evidence of this.

My increasing focus on frugal living has caused a significant shift of mindset,  and I’ve begun to wonder if a person can become too frugal?

I think the easy answer is yes.  Simply put, too much of anything isn’t all that good.  And while I don’t feel my frugal ways have become detrimental, the question is worth asking.

FRUGALITY MOTIVATED BY FEAR

Frugality motivated by fear becomes unhealthy.  At such a point, it morphs from a hardy desire to eliminate waste, into a fear-inducing poverty mentality.

Trust me, this is not how you want to live, and you should be aware of the characteristics.

Consultant Alan Weiss (I stumbled upon this article, and it’s a good read) defines a poverty mentality as follows:

“(a mentality) that influences behaviours consistent with beliefs that money shouldn’t be spent, opportunities are limited, any risk at all is dangerous, any success is temporary and non-replicable, and generally remaining in the back of the pack is safest.”

In other words, a poverty mentality might be considered frugality gone too far.

HAVE I BECOME TOO FRUGAL?

I’ve embraced a frugal lifestyle because I’ve experienced its benefits firsthand.  More so, I’ve realized its enormous potential.

As an example, here are just a few ways our family has benefitted from reducing our spending during the past year:

  • My wife was able to leave her part-time job. With two teenagers and a highly energetic ten year old, her ability to be at home has made our family’s lifestyle much more settled, less rushed.
  • Our return to life on a single income happened without a cut to our accelerated mortgage repayment, or a reduction in our savings rate.
  • We took the opportunity to travel.  From our well documented $650 road-trip, an upcoming sojourn to Phoenix with my son, and our camping and travel plans this summer, we couldn’t make it happen without being extremely frugal month in, month out.

IS LUXURY A FORM OF WEAKNESS?

frugalWhen you reduce or eliminate habitual, wasteful spending, you begin to view luxury in a new light. That is, as an occasional indulgence which can enrich your life.  This is the way in which luxuries should be experienced.

On the other hand, the pursuit of luxury as a primary goal will leave you unsatisfied, always wanting more.

Only you can decide when enough is enough.

I love how one Mr. Money Mustache puts it, in this article.  In his words,

“luxury is best appreciated as a strong and interesting contrast to, rather than the fabric of, your daily life”.

Unfortunately, our consumer society tells us that the opposite is true.  That you can’t have too much of a good thing, and that fancy restaurants, regular spa visits, expensive concerts and sporting events are the “fabric” of any normal lifestyle.

EMBRACE FRUGALITY AND WATCH YOUR GRATITUDE SWELL

Have I eliminated all luxury from my life?  Not even close.  In fact, we took our kids out for lunch just the other day.  It was the first time we’d done that in months, and I appreciated the experience so much more than I would have previously, because it was such a treat.  We surprised the kids, and they were genuinely excited, and grateful for the time together.

By making less room in my life for “normal” luxuries, I get to fill my days with more happiness inducing activities, which come with the added benefit of being absolutely free!

Walks with my wife, playing ball with my son, or board games with my daughters, these are the true luxuries, and cause my sense of gratitude to swell.

BrooklynJust last night, I read an inspiring post by one of my absolute favourite writers, Linda from Brooklyn Bread.  In it, she describes the joy she feels in being able to partake in the hobby of bird-watching, while living within the urban landscape that is New York City.  It’s become an activity for the whole family, and has an amazing “fun-to-frugal” ratio, as Linda cleverly puts it.

This is exactly what I’m talking about.  The swell of gratitude.  Experiences are the true luxuries in life, more satisfying than stuff.   Can a person become too frugal?

Suddenly, I’m not so sure.

Comments 24

  1. I think it depends on what you mean by frugal. Some people consider it a synonym for cheap. That can be taken too far and result in you buying poor quality items or not looking out for your fellow man. Others view frugal as deprivation. Again if your depriving yourself of something you value, frugality is then not good. Finally there’s people who feel frugality is an efficiency play. Buy what you need to be happy and stuff the rest. In that case I agree too much is hard to have.

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  2. I loved this! Putting a value on your level of frugalness and evaluating if it’s worth it or not (which, at least as of right now, it is). I think the standard cutoff is to look at how your life has been affected by implemented frugality measures. If it’s adding value, a-ok. If it’s actually taking value away from your daily life, then that’s when I think the idea of being too frugal can be discussed. Thanks for writing, M$M!

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  3. What a wonderful essay. I feel every word. Life is for living, for finding happiness. If taking your son to spring training (a grapefruit dream in our family as well) is going to mean special time together and the creation of beautiful, priceless memories, and you are able to put that money aside – allowing frugality to derail you would be misguided. The point is happiness, not just saving money for saving money’s sake. It’s realizing, as you have, that most often, spending money is simply not what gives you the greatest happiness, deep down. My biggest revelation as a parent is not that it goes so fast, but that it is legitimately a tiny amount of time that we have before our kids head off to college. Every opportunity seized for connecting with them, and filling their childhood memory vault with gold, is time and money well spent. Thank you so much for the call out, MMM! Honored!

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      Hi Linda! I have the same feelings you do about watching our children get older. The time together as a family unit really is fleeting, and so precious. My wife and I have made our share of mistakes as parents, but one thing that I feel we’ve done right is not being too busy for our kids. They’ve never had to compete with other priorities, which isn’t always easy to do. I don’t think it makes watching them grow up any easier, but there’s a peace I feel about it. : )

  4. I don’t think there’s a line for “frugal.” I DO think there’s a line where “frugal” becomes “cheap.” The line between the two is different for everyone. For example, I use cloth napkins instead of paper towels. Some people would think that’s cheap, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable and frugal. I think it comes down to whether your safety or someone else’s safety is compromised to save a buck.

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      Hey Mrs. P! After all of my reflection on this, this week, that’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at. One can take frugality pretty far, and as long as they’re approaching it with the right mindset, it’s a great thing! I’ve seen people who are cheap, that’s a whole other animal! : )

  5. I think we become too frugal when we start becoming cheap. Those two things are not the same. Frugal is good. Cheap is bad.

    Enjoy the simple things is awesome. I’ve never considered bird watching. If I was in NYC I’m pretty sure I’d be doing more people watching. 😀

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      Always love it when you grace my site, Ty! : ) With my son and I heading to Phoenix next week, I asked my 14 year old daughter where she’d like me to take her in a couple of years. She said, New York City. I saw dollar signs, haha. I think bird watching, or people watching is a healthy alternative haha.

  6. Frugality motivated by fear is a scary thing. This is why I originally failed at my debt payoff plan. This year I started my financial journey with this amazing community of bloggers and posts like this are true motivation for me! I also started practicing minimalism and it helped me evaluate what was in my life that no longer had purpose. I’m so excited and grateful for my new journey because I am reaching speeds I never had before. More determined than ever! As for luxuries, they are rare but so much more appreciated these days. Thanks for sharing!

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      Thanks so much for sharing Ms.R, and for the encouraging words! Your comment reminds me of a great post I read the other day by JD Roth, over at MoneyBoss. He compares frugality and minimalism, the differences and the many ways in which the concepts overlap. It’s a pretty good read. : )

  7. I think it depends on your motivation. Some people are frugal just for sport. When I’m in the Mister Money Mustache forums and I read about people using rocks for soap, separating 2-ply toilet paper and keeping their homes at 55 degrees to save money, I wonder. Now if you’re doing all that for a purpose, OK. But if you’re already FI and you don’t need to shave off those cents from your budget, then to me you’re just being cheap (and weird).

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  8. I love the point on gratitude. We get pizza and ice cream as a family every Friday night and watch a movie together. While I love the spirit of it, there are times where it seems like we take this for granted. Rather than appreciating the fact that we’re blessed enough to have delicious food, a roof over our heads, entertainment, and quality family time together we end up arguing about which ice cream to get or what movie to watch.

    I like your idea of spacing things out more so they seem more special. Maybe we can try this out 🙂

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    I love that tradition your family has Chris, especially the pizza and ice cream part, haha! I know what you mean by feeling a need to change things up every once in a while. As your kids get older, those traditions will become even more important as family life gets so busy, with everyone moving in different directions.

  10. I totally agree that a person can become too frugal. Spending money or the lack thereof can be a form of control just like any other unhealthy habit. There are times when I walk on either side of the line and have to remind myself: It’s okay to spend. Live a little – that’s what its for.

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  11. Great article, I think I was definitely becoming “too frugal”; I gave up healthcare (and going to the doctor) for two years. Not the best risk/reward gamble to maximize my monthly savings. I ended up avoiding catastrophe but I wouldn’t do it again.

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  12. In my mind, you can NEVER be frugal enough. By some, we’d be considered frugal, but I think we spend way too much. Heck, we don’t even hit up thrift stores (except for costumes at school for one time events).

    A second thought, you also can’t truly enjoy life without hardship. Case in point, when I drive my car, it’s an amazing luxurious experience. The reason? I bike commute daily. I much prefer to ride my bike, but the break I get from using my legs and just kicking back and relaxing as the engine does all the hard work for me is difficult to describe. Is bike commuting a hardship? Not really, it’s quite enjoyable most of the time, but it does require considerable effort.

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      Great thoughts FP! I agree with you on the benefits of experiencing some hardship. When we constantly fill our lives with luxury, it loses it’s meaning. We have to allow ourselves some hardship, to be inconvenienced, to truly appreciate luxury. Society doesn’t think that way, unfortunately.

  13. I think it matters first off changing what brings you enjoyment to be the things that grow wealth like cutting spending, investing, etc. But beyond that, you need to set some minimums or benchmarks of what you want to accomplish like investing goals or accelerated mortgage payoff, etc. Then, as your income exceeds those benchmarks you’re allowed more luxury choices if you want. It’s the difference in 2 people who want to go to the movies on a date, with one making $25,000/year and the other $250,000. If both have set out to invest, say, at least 15% of their income, then that “luxury” choice is much more important for the lower income. One should probably be more “frugal” when it comes to the movies versus the other. First time reading/commenting, good stuff!

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      Thanks for reading! For a lot of people, I think that’s the first key step to living a more frugal life, that is, changing what brings you enjoyment. Well put!

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