What Does Being Frugal Mean to You?

by Reader Contributors
What Does Being Frugal Mean to You photo
How do you define being frugal? Here’s how Dollar Stretcher readers have answered this question over the past few decades.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I’ve always been careful about spending money. Does that make me frugal? Or do I have to start reusing paper towels and only shop at thrift stores to qualify? Can you be frugal and still enjoy a Starbucks coffee or a night on the town? What exactly defines someone as being frugal?
Frugally Confused

Who better to answer these questions than our frugal readers? Read on for a few of the responses they shared with us. If you have one you’d like to add, email it to Andrea at thedollarstretcher.com.

Editor’s Note: We’ve been collecting folks’ definitions of frugal for a few decades now. A few of these responses may seem slightly dated, but I think the sentiment behind each response applies still today.

Frugal Is Using Money Thoughtfully

I define being frugal as being thoughtful in the way you use your money. Thinking about how you use your money, where to scrimp and save, and where to spend that money you’ve managed to scrimp and save!

It’s a balancing act. Trim a little off over here where I won’t feel it as much so that I have a bit more wiggle room over there.

You Can’t Have It All

Being frugal is realizing that you can’t have it all. You make choices about what is important to you and your family. You save by being careful with your money so you have enough for what you really want, whether it is to pay the rent on time or buy a bigger home.

It’s also about being “green” and not wasteful and thinking about the next generation. In the 70s, I was into “Mother Earth.” I tell my grandkids that I was green before green was “in.”
Dee Bee

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The Best Use of Resources

A reasonable explanation of “being frugal” is making the best use of all your resources, including money, time, possessions, etc. This does not rule out a night on the town as relationships need to be made the best “use” of too, and that means maintaining the relationship at a good level.

If a cup of Starbucks is on your daily agenda, you can afford it, and you can pay your bills and otherwise take care of your assets, then you can still qualify as frugal. No one else can really define it for you. If I make the best use of all my assets, keep my debt in check, and take care of the people, places, and things in my life, then I’m frugal.
JD in St Louis

What Is Valuable to You?

My definition of being frugal is getting the most value out of your money. That said, you have to really think about what is valuable to you and worth your money.

In my case, I like an expensive brand of soap. I buy when it’s on sale and I have coupons. I am not much of a TV watcher, so I have the cheapest cable plan out there, and I’m thinking about dropping it.

So sit down, think of what is important to you, and spend your money accordingly. At the end of the day, you want to be happy!

Frugal Is What You Make It

I think being frugal is what you make it.

I consider myself frugal. Yet, I buy Coach purses (at the outlet store). I also take a trip to the Caribbean each year (using frequent flyer miles and/or American Express reward points). I do not shop at thrift stores but will shop at an outlet store. I do not reuse paper towels. Instead, I buy them at a decent price.

If you like Starbucks, go there! But, try to modify an aspect of your visits. Don’t go there every day. If you must go frequently, try a Monday-Wednesday-Friday, Tuesday-Thursday, or Saturday-Sunday schedule. Unless you are stuck on a particular drink, get a different (lower-cost) drink. Or, you can go to the extreme and try the drink you like at a different place, such as a different coffee place, supermarket, gas station, etc.

You can be frugal and still enjoy what you like!

Being Frugal Means Different Things to Different People

Frugal can mean different things to different people and different things to the same people at different times. Basically, it means being thoughtful about how you use your money. It does not mean doing without everything.

Does being frugal mean you can’t have a Starbucks coffee? That depends on your situation. For me, a Starbucks coffee is a special treat that I only indulge in once in a while. For my daughter, who earns about four times my annual income, Starbucks can be a daily habit.

If you buy a Starbucks coffee every day on the way to work, at $5.00+ a pop, that is over $1,250 a year, and that is without the cranberry walnut scone. Is Starbucks coffee worth that to you? Is there something else you would rather spend $1,250 on than coffee? Is there a way of having the Starbucks experience at a lower cost? Perhaps by brewing coffee at home and adding flavored syrups or creamers? Or maybe just have Starbucks on weekends?

On the other hand, your life may be very stressful, and the half hour you spend in Starbucks, away from work and family responsibilities, enjoying your coffee and reading the latest novel by your favorite author is worth $1,250 a year to you. If you decide that it is, just enjoy and don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to buy into what someone else thinks is being frugal.

If you refrain from mindless spending, apply this kind of decision-making to all your financial dealings, and are meeting your financial obligations and saving for retirement, in my opinion, you are being frugal.

Relax and Enjoy the Frugal Journey

Relax! A frugal person is one who conserves money by getting the biggest bang for the buck when spending, getting the best value for the money, and not wasting money. This is different for each person. One may be frugal by buying excellent quality and using the item for many years until it is in tatters. Another may buy a cheaper item because they will only use it a few times. Then a third person may get the best deal by buying a used one of the same item.

You don’t need to be frugal in every single thing you do. I’m frugal with raising food in my garden, shopping carefully, not wasting food, cooking everything from scratch, and putting any waste in the compost heap or feeding it to the chickens who give us eggs. I buy only gently used clothes at estate sales and yard sales and shop for the cheapest gas and pay cash to get the “for cash” discount. I squeezed the old nickels until the buffalo screamed in pain. I print on the back of every piece of printer paper, and when I go to a meeting, at the end, I pick up every discarded paper handout that still has a blank side and bring them home to use when I print. My stylish home is furnished entirely with estate, yard, tag sale and flea market finds. When I tire of a piece, I sell it for what I paid or more.

Frequently, I take the money saved and buy a round-trip airline ticket to Europe. I stay mostly with frugal friends I’ve met over the years, and when they come stateside, they stay with me in exchange. When I travel, I’m frugal (love those frequent flyer miles!), but I feel rich because I always have enough money.

Reviewed December 2023

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