Being Frugal Without Looking Poor

by Debra Karplus

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Whether your frugal lifestyle is by choice or necessity, you may be concerned how you’re perceived by others. These tips can help you benefit from frugality without allowing frugality to cheapen the look of your lifestyle.

People Like Us: Social Class in America is a 2001 PBS documentary ( that’s sparked much controversy since it first aired. The film demonstrated that social class is often defined by our family background, income, career, associates, interests, attitudes, aspirations, and level of education, but also our appearance.

Essentially, how we spend our time and money contributes greatly to our perceived social class. So how do you, a person who takes pride in the many benefits of a lifestyle based on frugality, keep from “looking poor” to the people around you?

Your Appearance

The documentary shows examples of how one’s personal appearance makes inferences as to their social status. One single woman in the film, for example, finds herself attracting men she views as “losers” in terms of their shaky financial status and lack of job security. When she starts dressing better, with more stylish clothing and accessories, hairstyle, makeup and jewelry, men of “higher status” become attracted to her.

There’s no need to “come out of the closet” regarding your resale store purchases. Allow people to admire the lovely outfit that you are wearing to a family wedding or a colleague’s retirement party.

You can always look stylish while being practical about the amount of money that you spend on even the fanciest clothing for an upscale event. If the outfit is in excellent condition, is well-tailored to your body size and shape, not out-of-style, and the ensemble is completed with appropriate matching accessories such as scarves, shoes, and purse, no one will ever suspect that the entire outfit cost you less than $30. (See How to Make Cheap Clothing Look Expensive.)

And if one of the other party guests mentions that they have a dress just like yours that they bought at Bloomingdale’s or Lord and Taylor, for example, don’t let them catch you silently smiling because you suspect your outfit originally came from one of those stores, too. Always remember that it is okay to share success with great bargains with your other frugal friends, but in crowds where you don’t really know the people or don’t want to look “low class,” just keep the details of your incredibly affordable purchase a secret. (See 6 Clothing Resale Shop Saving Secrets.)

And as far as manicures, pedicures and hairstyles, if you are not a do-it-yourselfer in the pampering arena, many of the hair and cosmetology schools in your area are likely to offer these services for cheap. Call around to get prices. No one at the swank party that you are attending needs to know how and why you look so fabulous. Just be gracious and say “thank you.”

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Entertaining Others

You can always entertain with panache on a budget.

A restaurant meal will almost always cost far more than anything you can serve in your own home, so always aim to have people come to your house rather than dine out. In your own kitchen and dining room, you can display and serve food beautifully on plates and trays. It’s easy.

Find some ideas in some of the entertaining magazines or look online. And no one needs to know about the sale you found at Aldi’s, Sam’s Club, or Costco. Just thank the guests who compliment you on the meal. (See Host a Catered Event for Less.)

And your home and the areas where you entertainment can look fabulous, too. The art print on the wall that you purchased for a few bucks at a garage sale that guests are admiring doesn’t need part of the discussion either. Just let the guests continue to praise it. (See The $150 Living Room Makeover.)

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Staying True to Your Frugal Values

Put a positive spin on the qualities about your life that you don’t want to change.

You never really know what another person’s finances are like. The fancy house in an upscale neighborhood or the pricey car with all the expensive features or their closets filled with designer clothing might actually be concealing a person or family that is up to their eyeballs in debt.

In the end, you with your chosen lifestyle of frugality may be ahead of other people! And, those “fancier folks” might not be able to retire as early as you because they have bought into America’s trap of consumerism, while you have not. (See The Financial Folly of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’.)

Regardless, remain true to the values that drive you. Continue to only purchase what you can afford and opt to live below your means whenever possible, as social class ultimately becomes a non-issue.

Reviewed September 2023

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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