I talk about frugality a lot on The Simple Dollar, both directly and through allusions in other posts. To me, frugality – in the form of living within your means as best you can – is one of the biggest keys to personal finance, and it’s particularly vital because anyone can do it, so I find it quite interesting and I practice many, many frugal ideas myself.
That being said, there are often times when I mention specific frugal tips that readers say “cross the line.” For instance, my recent mention of going to a coffee shop with a group but just ordering water struck some people as unethical. Similarly, I’ve been criticized for wearing socks with holes in them, rewashing Ziploc bags, making my own laundry detergent, and countless other frugal tactics, all from readers who stated I’d gone “too far” with this frugality thing.
On the other hand, I hear about people who dig through dumpsters for outdated food items to eat immediately and I just shake my head, wondering what these people are thinking. I do appreciate that they’re saving money, but it’s just too much for me. They cross the line into the world of what I define as being a cheapskate.
So, how much frugality is too much frugality? There’s no strict line here, actually, because it seems to vary quite a bit from person to person based on a number of factors: tolerance for “out of the mainstream” behavior, willingness to invest time to reduce expenses, and so on. In fact, I would go even further and argue that there is never too much frugality, as long as respect for others exists – what actually creates that line between frugal (good) and cheapskate (bad) is our other values.
That’s why I value things like The Complete Tightwad Gazette, even when they cross that cheapskate line. I realize that the line between frugal and cheapskate is different for different people, and even when I hear about things that just simply cross that line for me, I try to think of ways to apply that knowledge to the values that I have.
Let me throw out a couple of examples. Some people shouted that it was too cheap for their tastes when I would order water at a coffee shop, but instead perhaps they would find it ethical to order the cheapest drink on the menu and a water to go with it (I personally don’t like coffee that much, so I’d far prefer the water). Also, some stated that it was too cheap for them to actually take notes out of a book at the book store, so why not just do the same thing at the library instead? Same end effect, just a different location.
In the end, it’s all about finding that point where you’re comfortable with things but you’re also maximizing the value of each of your dollars. Finding that fine line – and always trying to live by it – is the real key to frugality.