“Beyond” Frugality

A few days ago, someone made the interesting comment that they’re “beyond frugality” in their personal finance journey. When I asked her what she meant by that, she made several comments along the lines of “focusing more on improving income” and “optimal use of time.”

That phrase, “beyond frugality,” stuck in my head for the last few days. It’s a comment that’s often made by people who have managed to get their financial lives under control and have reached a point where they feel like the next big change in their lives is to improve their income.

Often at that point, frugal tactics seem unwieldy. If you have time to invest and your financial life is under control, the thought would go, why not invest it in improving your skill set, starting a business, or something else that will improve your earnings? Many personal finance blogs, such as I Will Teach You to Be Rich, focus on this perspective, often to the point of deriding the idea of frugality.

In a lot of ways, I agree with the idea of moving in that direction once your finances are under control. However, I absolutely don’t agree that it’s “beyond frugality.”

“Hard” and “soft” frugality In my eyes, most of frugality boils down to two categories: “hard” frugality and “soft” frugality.

“Hard” frugality refers to activities that, in a mission to spend money, cause the person involved to invest significant amounts of energy and/or time, particularly when the amount of money saved isn’t monumental. Making homemade laundry detergent would be an example of “hard” frugailty, as would cloth diapering.

“Soft” frugality refers more to choices in the moment, such as the decision at the store to buy a more economical toilet paper bundle at the store, as well as defined one-off projects that consistently save money, like air-sealing your home. This type of frugality is “convenient” frugality – you can always make those decisions in the moment and you can schedule those one-off projects whenever you have time or energy, rather than “having” to make a batch of laundry detergent or “having” to deal with cloth diapers.

When someone derides frugality or claims they’re “beyond” it, it usually means they’ve abandoned or don’t want to utilize “hard” frugality. They stop doing things that save money if they require a major investment of time or effort and sometimes deride such things.

Frugality is a mindset There are a few important things to note, though.

For one, many aspects of “soft” frugality are learned behaviors. I almost view many of the things that I would call “soft” frugality as being one-off projects. At first, they require you to be very mindful of the situation around you, but as you practice them, they become second nature. Once upon a time, I would puzzle over which household product to buy – now I have a very good sense of which ones are the best bargain for my dollar and make my choice fairly quickly.

Once “soft” frugality becomes natural, it’s easy to forget that it’s frugality. Instead, it becomes simply who you are – you’re a frugal person. I think that many people who say that they’re “beyond frugality” find themselves in this group. Many of the tenets of the softer side of frugality are so natural to them that it just seems part of who they are. When they look at what they’re not doing, they see “hard” frugality, they evaluate that choice in terms of their current direction in life and time and energy available, and they realize that many of the “hard” frugal choices don’t match them right now. Thus, they feel “beyond” frugality.

Often, people who have become naturally adept at “soft” frugality find themselves in a stronger financial place than before and they find that their directed efforts bear much more fruit if they’re targeted toward entrepreneurship or improving their career path.

Simply put, once your frugality progresses from the point of having to be mindful to the point where frugal choices seem natural, you’re never “beyond” frugality. It’s simply a part of who you are.

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