Five Things I Wish People Understood About Frugality

These days, nearly everyone you know has embraced some aspect of modern, American consumerism. It’s not uncommon for families to have 200+ channels in their cable television package, for kids to have $500 smartphones and $200 sneakers, and for parents to trade in their cars for new ones every few years.

This is more or less true all over the country, and can even be seen among families on the lower end of the income scale. The fact is, cheap and easy credit has roped us – all of us – into believing we can afford anything we want, even if we have to charge it.

But, what happens when you buck all of those trends? What happens when you purposely avoid buying expensive stuff? What happens when you choose to be frugal – not because you have to, but because you want to?

I can tell you from experience, you get a lot of shrugs, confused looks, and even pity. While some people understand frugality whether they embrace it or not, plenty of others cannot fathom why you aren’t spending money the way everyone else does. I mean, why would you purposely deprive your family of the stuff they want? And why wouldn’t you want the best and newest gadgets, electronics, clothing, and cars?

Also, if you aren’t spending your money on bills and “stuff,” what are you spending it on?!

What Spenders Need to Understand About Their Frugal Friends

Sometimes, I wish the many spendthrifts in our lives understood all there was to gain by adopting a frugal lifestyle. Instead of seeing what we’re living without, I wish they would see how frugality adds value to our lives – and not just today, but for our future selves, too.

While the lessons are endless, here are five things spenders should understand about frugality and the money-minded people in their lives:

Frugal people cheap out in some areas so we can spend lavishly in others.

Why do frugal people willingly spend money in one aspect of their lives, but refuse to spend in another?

This is one issue that non-frugal people just cannot seem to wrap their heads around. For people who are willing to spend on nearly anything, it’s difficult to understand how – or why – frugal people so often pick and choose.

The thing is, being picky about where you spend your money is actually a cornerstone of frugality. If you save money on the things you don’t care about, you will have the cash to spend lavishly in the areas you find important.

For frugal people, this can mean plenty of things. Maybe you refuse to upgrade your old, high-mileage vehicles, yet spend willingly on several family trips each year. Or perhaps you’re perfectly okay with paying for children’s sports or lessons, but buy only second-hand clothing.

Whatever your “splurges” are, you’re perfectly okay with them because you’re saving money elsewhere to fund what’s most important to you.

If it’s not in the budget, it’s probably not happening.

When you don’t live with a budget or spending plan, it’s easy to let the chips fall where they may. But when you create a monthly budget – and actually follow it – you can’t let random purchases or events throw your budget off track.

So when a spender invites a frugal family on a last-minute weekend trip, they shouldn’t be surprised to hear it “isn’t in the budget” this month. Yet, this doesn’t mean they don’t have the money at all; it only means they haven’t allocated money for anything extra, or that they have already spent their entertainment dollars elsewhere.

If it’s not in this month’s budget, it’s probably not happening. And for a frugal family, that’s perfectly okay.

Many frugal people choose this lifestyle for a reason.

While spenders tend to see frugality of self-prescribed deprivation, it’s actually nothing of the sort. By and large, frugal people choose this lifestyle with a goal in mind – whether that goal is retiring early, traveling the world, or paying for their entire lives in cash.

Most frugal people see their lives – and their finances – as full of trade-offs. We may not get that new iPhone everyone is pining over, but we sleep well at night knowing we’ve got a fully-stocked emergency fund. And we might drive our older beater car forever, but find comfort in the fact that we can pay our daughter’s college tuition without taking on loans.

Whatever our goals and dreams are, frugality is nothing more than a means to that end. We’re frugal for a reason, and we don’t care if it makes sense to anyone else.

Adopting a frugal lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re not generous.

Here’s one thing that really gets my goat. A lot of times, people assume your frugality determines your level of generosity. If you don’t want to spend on the best and newest “stuff,” then you are probably far from generous in terms of charitable giving. And if you’re seen as “cheap,” you probably stiff your waiter and other service professionals as well.

In my experience, the idea that frugal people aren’t generous couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, a lot of frugal people include their charitable giving in their monthly budgets and long-term spending plans.

Here’s another truth: Most people who are frugal will happily tip their waitstaff 15% to 20%, too. Why? Because if they couldn’t afford a sit-down dining affair, they would have stayed home in the first place.

Frugal does not always equal broke.

This last one should seem obvious, but it isn’t obvious to everyone. While some families are frugal out of necessity because they have limited incomes, others are frugal by choice.

Just because someone is frugal doesn’t mean they’re cash-strapped, or that they “can’t afford something;” it just means they don’t want to spend money on it.

At the end of the day, people from all income levels choose a frugal lifestyle for different reasons. For some people, it’s the best way to stretch their modest incomes as far as they can go. For others, it’s a conscious choice that helps them get the most out of their money and their lives. Everyone is different, and we’re all frugal in our own way – and for our own set of reasons.

The Bottom Line

We all choose how we spend and save for reasons other people may not understand. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we’re happy with our decisions and that we’re making the financial progress we aim for.

While frugality can be difficult to understand for some, it really boils down to priorities – as in, most frugal people have found their priorities and spend according to them.

So please, whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for the frugal people in your lives. Most of us are living our lives exactly as we want – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. She blogs at and teaches others how to write online at

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What do you wish people understood about your frugal lifestyle? What would you add to this list?

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.