Many people believe that frugal living means that you have to deprive yourself of things you want. This is a common misconception. Actually, to live frugally simply means that you decide to spend prudently in some areas to better afford things that you want or need in other areas. It also means that you limit unnecessary expenditures and get the most value for the money that you do spend.
Frugal living requires that you prioritize your spending choices, and look for ways to save money. While a $3 cup of coffee may be an enjoyable extravagance, it’s certainly not a necessity. Why pay for a commercial greeting card when you can make your own? All that costs is a little time.
Frugal living also means you do more things by yourself instead of paying someone else to do them. For example, changing the oil in your car instead of taking it to the mechanic will save you money. So will growing your own vegetables, making your own laundry detergent, cooking more meals at home, etc.
Frugal living also means finding inexpensive ways to spend your time. Family game night can replace a trip to the multiplex; libraries, museums, parks, beaches, community pools and recreation centers are free or may have reduced fees. Staycations — where you take a vacation in your own town — keep travel costs to a minimum.
Finally, frugal living means that you avoid debt. Paying interest on debt saps your financial resources and limits your freedom. Debt settlement and/or debt relief can help you reduce outstanding debts so that you have more money for the things you truly want.
With the savings you can accomplish by living frugally, and by making smart money decisions, you can actually better afford to splurge now and again on a few self-indulgent luxuries. In fact, if you never treat yourself to the occasional nonessential, you may feel that your lifestyle choice is depriving you of pleasure.
If that happens, then you are like the dieter who wants to lose weight all at once by starving herself, rather than by cutting back on food slowly and gradually. Being constantly weak and hungry makes little sense, even if the weight does come off. Similarly, feeling deprived because you’ve chosen to be frugal, and refuse to ever spend for enjoyment, negates the real purpose of the frugal lifestyle.
However, while living a frugal life may be a choice for some, it may be a necessity for others. Sometimes a person is forced to be frugal because of economic circumstances. Perhaps debts have piled up due to overspending, a family or medical emergency, or a lost job. When frugality is involuntary, it is easier to fall prey to feelings of deprivation. In these situations, it is important to remember that the condition is likely temporary.
In the long run, however, an enforced frugality can actually lead to an overall re-examination of poor spending habits and misplaced priorities. Once a person is obligated to make more careful considerations about how money is spent, he or she may emerge from the temporary condition more attuned to preventing a re-occurrence of the involuntary thrift. Then, frugal living can become a smarter, more enjoyable way to live.
Jeffrey Sterner writes about personal finance issues for Debt.org.