Updated on 01.28.10

Frugality and Being Social

Trent Hamm

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about some of the things I write about here on The Simple Dollar. Even though she’s struggling with some serious debt issues, she told me flatly that she didn’t want to take most of the advice given on The Simple Dollar. When I asked her why, she breathed in deep and told me the following (paraphrased):

I don’t want to be a “frugal” person. I don’t want to be the person who is no fun because I’m always chasing every dime and I’m always vetoing the fun things to do. I don’t want to be the person that leaves out cheap toilet paper for guests. I don’t want to just sit at home every night cackling as I count my pennies. I want to have a life.

First of all, it’s clear from these statements that my friend puts a great deal of value on how she appears to others. She desires an active and vibrant social life, to the point where it would seem that it’s one of the central values in her life. She wants to spend a lot of time with her friends and family – the people she cares the most about.

Hand in hand with that central desire is a desire to not alienate them through penny pinching. She aims to keep the people in her social circle happy and she wants to be involved in whatever things come along.

Both of those things are completely fine – in fact, they’re a healthy part of an extroverted personality (in moderation, of course). The problem here is that having a social life and being frugal are far from contradictory, as my friend likes to believe.

Let’s look at each of the comments.

I don’t want to be the person who is no fun because I’m always chasing every dime.
The statement here implies that she thinks she won’t be enjoyable for others to hang out around if she chases every dime. In response to that, I would simply say that most of the benefits of frugality come from choices made when no one else is around. Buying light bulbs isn’t a social event, nor is setting up an emergency fund. Grocery and household supply shopping isn’t a social event, either. Yet those are the times when many of the money-saving choices are made.

If your social experience is a key value for you, don’t cut back on it. Instead, focus on the multitude of things going on in your life that aren’t subject to social constraints.

I don’t want to be the person who is no fun because I’m always vetoing the fun things to do.
Simple. Don’t veto the fun things to do.

In fact, why not be the one who suggests fun things to do? In your spare time, think of some things that would be genuinely fun for the people in your social circle and then do some research on how to do them inexpensively. Then, when it comes time to plan a social event, pipe up with your idea. Not only will it be cheaper than throwing yourself into something without any forethought, but if you put your mind to it at other times, you’re likely to come up with some brilliant ideas to boot. You actually won’t be the downer – instead, you’ll be the person who comes up with the good ideas.

I don’t want to be the person that leaves out cheap toilet paper for guests.
Then don’t leave out cheap toilet paper for guests.

If you have multiple bathrooms in your home, designate one as the bathroom that guests use and stock it with the finest toiletries. Then, use the other bathroom yourself and use generics in there. It’s a room that’s just yours – no one else will ever use it. Since the guest bathroom will likely be used less than the one you regularly use, you’ll buy a lot more of the inexpensive stuff than the expensive stuff, trimming your budget quite easily.

Again, it’s all about what’s a personal value to you, and being a good hostess is an important value to her.

I don’t want to just sit at home every night cackling as I count my pennies.
Then don’t sit at home every night cackling as you count your pennies.

There are countless things to do all over the place that don’t require a major outlay of money. Take a serious look around your community. Look at the community calendar. Find out about the many things your city’s parks and recreation department has to offer.

Frugality is not about sitting at home and counting your pennies. It’s all about figuring out what exactly you want out of life, then doing exactly that while minimizing the cost of it. The pieces of your life that aren’t part of that picture of exactly what you want out of life are the parts you can trim.

If you value your social life, then focus on your social life. The rest of your life are the areas where you can cut. If you have a calendar that’s full of social activities every night, do you really need cable or a land telephone line? If you thrive on your friends and family, why not think ahead and come up with things that are a blast and save all of you a few bucks over the regular price of admission? And on those rare occasions when you are home, you don’t really need a flat panel television and thousands of dollars’ worth of decorations when the core value of your life is outside the home. Decorate tastefully and take your time with it to find bargains on things you actually want.

Being social is not the opposite of being frugal. They often go hand in hand.

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  1. I agree, to an extent. Frugality has nothing to do with being social. The two are not synonymous but many people spend money (oftentimes A LOT of money) in order to socialize with their friends. In time, a pattern develops. Either you go out for drinks or some other financially draining activity and that is now the norm and what is expected. The problem is now in deviating from that standard. It is difficult and uncomfortable to make those changes. Telling your friends that you would rather do X than to do what you have been doing all these years is almost a slap in the face to “tradition”.

  2. Allison says:

    This won’t apply to everyone, but as a SAHM, I got a zoo membership which includes me and another adult. I can invite another mom to visit the zoo with me, it costs nothing out of pocket and it’s a treat to the other mom. (All invited kids are all usually free because they’re young enough.)

  3. *sara* says:

    That’s a great article. The thing that doesn’t make sense to me is why you’d “[not] want to be the person who is no fun because … I’m always vetoing the fun things to do.” By being frugal in other areas, I can afford to take fun opportunities when they come along! I’d rather save where I can to spend where I want INSTEAD of spending everywhere so I can’t spend where I want (without going into substantial debt).

    That’s the point of frugality – to have the money available to use however you want.

  4. asithi says:

    I have one set of friends that I basically only spend time with when they have parties. Their other social activities often involve spending too much money IMO on snow mobiling, trips to the casinos, and eating out at restaurants. I do not like the cold, the smoke irrates my nose and throat, and I cannot stand the amount of salt or butter used in most restaurants.

    My friends just think I am too frugal, but I do not like to spend money on things that have little to no value to me. Those activities are not fun for me, so I am ok with just seeing them occassionally at parties. But then, I am an introvert so I do not need much social interaction.

  5. Kara says:

    I think this goes back to the difference between being frugal, and being cheap..

    If good TP is important to you, wait till it goes on sale and stock up..

    I love Bed Head products.. I wait until Ulta has a buy one get one sale and stock up..

    If you like to go out to eat, find restaurants in a coupon book, or restaurant.com..

    Want to go to the museum, find out when they are having a free day..

    I think your friends will like you better if you are the one suggesting events that don’t cost an arm and a leg..

  6. Vicky says:

    My friends and I are often going to fun events.

    We have memberships to Sea World, Busch Gardens, and two water parks ($35 a month for 2 years for 2 people isn’t bad, when you throw in free parking!).

    We have a local drive in that is $4 for 2 movies, or a very small 3 screen theater that is $2.50 for a movie.

    We have Netflix, and we share with each other. We all use DVDSwap and Paperbackswap, and we swap with each other.

    We love shopping. We go to thrift stores, consignment shops, secondhand shops, and thrift stores like it’s nobodies business.

    We all love our dogs, and our dogs are a huge part of our social life. We go to shows, train, teach, go to dog parks, walk around a lot.

    It may be we’re a bit odd, but we sort of compete with each other on prices – ‘Look, I found this for $1! Beat that!’

  7. leslie says:

    It’s amazing how many people don’t understand what frugality really means. It’s just being resourceful! When you look at it that way, it sounds much more social.

  8. Kyle says:

    I think your friend is missing the larger message of frugal living and your blog – the little things like buying inexpensive toilet paper or making your own laundry detergent will have little impact for the person that makes poor financial choices on large ticket items such as automobiles and their home.

    For those people the starting point is simply to step back and look at their spending more objectively and spend less impulsively. Once that is done, the realization that happiness is not bought is bound to come to light and more healthy financial choices will begin to occur naturally.

  9. Mrs. Money says:

    I usually hang out at home with my friends. :) We knit, talk about things, and have a great time!

  10. Erika says:

    For the first time in my life, I have had people think I am cheap or poor. The reason-my baby wears cloth diapers. In my area, there are very few people that do it or even think about it. I have had so many comments about the poor economy, my “need” to cut corners, or even offers of free disposable diapers. At first it bothered me, now I just laugh. For the record, my child is allergic to disposables and I had no choice. It is not and never was a financial decision. However, now I love cloth and I never plan on going back to yucky, smelly disposables. Just a story how you can not let others assumptions bother you.

  11. Leah says:

    I’m slowly learning to balance frugality and fun. After having a super tight budget and literally not being able to do much of anything, my boyfriend and I are both learning when to spend and when not.

    For example, I’m taking a belly-dancing class. Oh, sounds like big money, right? No! I take it through community ed, and I paid $48 for 8 classes — that’s 6 dollars per class, and the classes are 1.5 hours. Not too shabby.

    On the other hand, I don’t go out a whole lot. Instead of saying “no” to friends, we instead suggest hanging out at someone’s place. It’s been well-received. We hang out, play some board games, drink homebrew beer, etc.

    We only have one bathroom, so what we did was find affordable TP that works in our budget and our ethics. I buy Trader Joe’s recycled TP. It’s not the softest ever, but it’s definitely substantial enough to not be a problem. Plus, if someone is judging me on my toilet paper, well, I don’t want to be friends with them anyway.

  12. Susan says:

    If people are your friends because of the brand of toilet paper in your washroom, you need to get new friends.

    My husband and I each earn six figure salaries. I relish the opportunity to buy food when it is at its cheapest, cook at home and purchase nice clothing at thrift stores so that we have no issue in taking our three sons skiing in the Rockies for a few days during spring break (they are close by). It does not matter how much money a person makes. Ultimately it is how much they are able to keep. My husband and I work very hard for our money and want to get the best use of it.

  13. stella says:

    It’s easy to say “Don’t let what others think of you”

    Living it, depending on where you live and who you choose, or must, socialize with is something different.

    Sometimes, you end up spending more than you’d like to do things with certain people because it’s about more than mere socializing. For some of us, our business lives require socializing on our dime and it requires $$$, even though not lavish.

    When you are working hard to advance in some companies, you end up “wooing” some folks, quite literally. And it can be expensive to very expensive. However, it is an investment in one’s career.

    This also applies to how we dress, activities, etc. that are part and parcel.

    Many would love to simplify but their work doesn’t really permit total downscaling of the type described here.

    The irony: People with TONS of money are often the biggest frugalistas of all. But you can get away with what becomes “eccentric” behavior when you are rich, but is considered cheap and or a sign of being poor in the anything but rich.

    It should not matter what people think, but sometimes it does. (Let me count parents who do things and have a certain lifestyle because it allows their children greater access to people, etc. that will benefit their lives now and in the future.)

    To pretend that being perceived as poor or cheap doesn’t make a difference in life is to be naive.

    Once you are really successful in a field, you can do what you want. For those working on it, you do have to spend.

    And yes, there are work cultures where being frugal is valued. THey’re generally run by entrepreneurs and the self-employed! Their success depends on frugality.

  14. Nicole says:

    Nice toilet paper is non-negotiable in this household. Even when I lost my ability to digest red meat because we couldn’t afford it for months, we still had the nice toilet paper. It just took more effort to get. I had a 25 cent per roll threshold and when some combination of coupons and sales (yay CVS) got there, we would buy a lot of it. You can HAVE the nice toilet paper, but you may need to make other sacrifices either in terms of other goods or in terms of time.

  15. Crystal says:

    I am a people person – very social. I also appreciate Charmin and having a maid. My husband and I also live frugally – not quite as frugal as most of the people here – but frugal none-the-less. The key is to prioritize what you want and spend less on what you don’t.

    My husband and I choose to have a maid come by biweekly ($45), have someone else mow our lawn and weed ($25), watch cable ($90 with internet), and buy Charmin from Sam’s. We also spend about $500 a year on hobbies like board games and $2000 a year on a major vacation. But that’s about all of our major luxury expenses.

    By prioritizing our wants, we limit our expenses and are able to save about a third of our gross income for retirement and other savings. In about 8 years our house will be paid off and we will have absolutely no debt. My husband and I are 26 and 27 respectively and make $78,000 annually before taxes.

    We also have great social lives. My friends and I have a lot of fun having dvd movie nights at each other’s houses, having potluck board gaming parties, or just hanging out.

    For example, last Friday one of my friends came over after work. We fed the ducks in my subdivision and had dinner back at the house. After my husband got home, we all watched Jeff Dunham (hilarious) and played board games until 1am. It was really fun!

    The Saturday before that we held a 10 person potluck. We made the chili, rice, and tea and everyone else brought the extras. We ate and played games till 3am. It cost us about $20 and about $5 each for everyone else.

    This weekend I’m going to a family event and a birthday party. I’m bringing my famous sweet potatoes to the family thing and I got the birthday Starbucks gift card at a 10% discount by using my Discover cash back.

    Even though he sweet potatoes are cheap (about $2-$3), they are always requested since they are delicious – boiled for a half hour, peeled, and baked for 1.5 hours with orange juice, butter, and brown sugar (unhealthy but delicious).

    Frugal doesn’t have to mean anything bad or tacky. :-)

  16. Ari Herzog says:

    On the subject of toilet paper, only one thing is of importance here: It must be comfortable. Whether you purchase expensive recycled TP or expensive non-recycled TP, if it has a sandpaper quality to it, keep it on the shelf for your touchie won’t like it.

  17. Daner says:

    That’s a lot a bout what she doesn’t want.
    The question is: DOES she want to some day turn 60 and have a huge pile of debt that she will never be able to repay?

  18. chacha1 says:

    @ Daner – good point. The statements, at least as paraphrased, were very negative!

    We can all get stuck in that “what we DON’T want” mindset when what we should really be cogitating on is, what DO we want? If we don’t really think about what’s important to us, in the here and now AND in the future, how can we make informed decisions?

    If what we DO want is to have an active social life, see friends regularly, be a hostess, explore our cities’ offerings … and preferably to do all this without ever touching a credit card … then we can start to think about how to achieve that life within our means.

    If we’re just thinking “I don’t want to look cheap,” then we end up staying at the bar for a third round of $15 margaritas and shouting to be heard over the noise of dozens of strangers and music not of our choosing, when we could be at home playing Pictionary with just the people we want to be with.

  19. Kerry D says:

    Sometimes we are in awkward position of being asked to go out somewhere we’d rather not spend the money (i.e. restaurant) and we choose on a case by case basis… sometimes we go, if the occasion is important to us (baseball team awards at the pizza restaurant) and other times, decline.

    But, I do notice how much friends enjoy a fun evening in the home for dinner, ours or theirs. I bet others are relieved to have a social event that isn’t costing a lot, even if they are not publicly frugal.

  20. Nicole says:

    I think an underlying theme to true frugality is just: Don’t spend money you don’t have. Take care of yourself first (that means putting money away for retirement and emergencies). Make the choices that best maximize your happiness with the money you have left.

    If you value the above things, make cuts in other areas. If you can’t afford the above things even with cuts, then you’ll have to refocus either by getting more active income, saving to get more passive income, or substituting with things you can afford (maybe even re-evaluating what is important to you).

  21. Dar says:

    I agree with 17 and 18. She’s already struggling with “serious debt issues”; she doesn’t appear to be very serious about addressing them; and she seems to think it’s impossible to have any fun without spending money.

    She’s going to get a serious wake-up call one of these days, and I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes when she does.

  22. Gwen says:

    Your friend’s “reasons” made for a good article debunking them. But I think she isn’t being honest with herself — she doesn’t want to take any advice because she doesn’t want to change anything about her life, she just wants the debt to vanish.

    And a pony.

  23. Sara says:

    I don’t know, I kind of enjoy sitting at home and cackling as I count my pennies (my bank account is about the only thing that makes my job bearable these days). It’s nice to have a sense of security and not have to worry about whether I’m going to have enough money to pay my bills or cover an unexpected expense. It’s nice to know that I won’t be homeless when I retire.

    The best part is knowing that, if there’s something I really want, I can afford it. Money goes a lot further, by the way, when you’re not throwing it away on paying interest.

  24. getagrip says:

    I think this is a common cop-out for people in a poor financial position to point to extreme strawman style stereotypes and use those as a reason not to bother paying attention to their money, to continue to drive themselves into debt, and to keep from really looking at what’s important in their life by just cruising to whatever others think are important. Its all about the now and the wow.

    I guess the old question “how’s it working for you?” isn’t triggering any need to change since she’s not acknowledging the truth of her current situation. Sadly, this person hasn’t realized that if this kind of thing is seriously important to her, she could hopefully gear her life to accomodate going out all the time by cutting back in other areas that are less important. She could call herself the “frugal partier”, set up a web site and everything, maybe even make some money off it.

    Trent could work with her to make a spin off blog. :)

  25. Carole says:

    I remember seeing Amy Dacyzyn on a talk show years ago. Every suggestion she gave was belittled and put down by the audience. No wonder she retired (probably with a lot of money). Making frugal suggestions to some people is like starting a war.

  26. Rick says:

    >I don’t want to just sit at home every night >cackling as I count my pennies.
    >Then don’t sit at home every night cackling as >you count your pennies.

    Hey don’t knock it- cackling is good for your health :-) !

    Seriously, Frugality should be about creativity not depravation- firgure out what you really want and figure out how to get your real desire without spending a fortune. I wrote a post on that topic on Dec 14th.

    -Rick Francis

  27. Steve says:

    Being frugal does not at all imply that you have to “punish” yourself by eliminating all social opportunities from your life. It just means setting healthy boundaries that fit within YOUR financial situation at the time.

    So if you go out for dinner with a group of friends who like to order $80 bottles of wine – and you don’t drink or don’t WANT to drink that night – speak up and insist on a separate check versus “splitting the bill four ways.”

    Remember, your financial health is far more important than “saving face” socially.

  28. Molly says:

    Oh, I HATE it when my friends ask me to go out and spend money with them. I always end up spending more than I want and enjoying it less than I’d like.

    Solution: find some frugal friends. Grad students are the best for me. And POTLUCKs are your friend. I’m having one tomorrow – homemade bread (irish soda, very quick and easy), african peanut stew, and my friends are bringing dessert. Yum.

  29. jim says:

    Sounds more like she’s confusing ‘frugal’ with ‘cheapskate’.

  30. heather says:

    It’s not really fun to sit home at night avoiding calls from collection agencies, either.

  31. Emma says:

    I really like what Steve (#27) said:

    “Your financial health is far more important than saving face socially.”

    This is the heart of the issue. While this holds true for Steve, Trent, and probably most readers of this blog, I doubt that Trent’s friend would say the same. Nor should she feel compelled to. People have different priorities in life and guess what, that’s okay! Maybe the audience of this blog may disagree, but for many people being frugal is not the most important value in their lives, and that doesn’t make them lesser human beings.

  32. littlepitcher says:

    Someone who wants to be frugal, will find a way. Someone who doesn’t want to change, will not change, and usually will find a way, not to be frugal, but to ridicule those who do.
    Arguing with such a person is a time-waster.

  33. deRuiter says:

    #32 is right on the mark! Frugality is getting the best value for your money. You can live frugally with great style. Don’t say you can’t afford furniture, tell folks you love “Euro Minimalism”. Don’t say you run errands on your bike to save money and avoid joining an gym, say “I just adore biking like they do in Amsterdam, don’t you?” Don’t say, “I don’t want to go out to lunch every day because it’s so exzpensive.” Gou out once a week and the rest brown bag, and say, “I’m on this special diet and it’s easiest to bring my lunch.” Don’t say, “I don’t want to go to a restaurant for dinner because it’s expensive and the drinks are $15.(!!!) each.” Say, “Come to my house for dinner and drinks.” and serve charcoaled burgers on buns, home made salad, and a big pitcher of sangria made with some inexpensvie red wine, lots of juice and a few mashed up oranges. Buy designer clothing at the reslae shop and have it tailored for a perfect fit. NO ONE HAS TO KNOW YOU’RE FRUGAL UNLESS YOU TELL THEM.

  34. I believe that Trent’s friend is saying something entirely different and that something is not about how she appears to others. She pretty clearly has a perception of frugal people and it is probably based on personal experience. What I am saying is that she has a very negative perception of frugal people and she doesn’t want to appear that way to herself. I have a dear friend who is single, is a highly paid professional and lives on under $20,000 per year. He agonizes over every purchase, including the ones that would measurably and positively affect his quality of life and is loathe to leave even a modest 2 dollar tip when we dine out. He is capable of generosity, but rarely spontaneity preferring to analyze every angle of a gift before purchasing and ultimately giving it. He assiduously saves and starts other businesses in order to “hit his number.” Then he asserts that his austere life will improve. This is not likely and he and I have talked openly about this. This is what your friend is saying she is afraid of becoming this person. She apparently has never met anyone who is frugal, yet has a spending plan that is based on priorities about which he or she is passionate. Give this lady a break and help her find ways to save and spend money that she can be proud of. By the way I am very frugal and have found that the way to keep me sane and whole is to give myself permission to spend money based on my goals and priorities.

  35. Lily says:

    Great article – as usual!

    I’ve changed my lifestyle drastically since quitting my great paying job. My friends still love me even though they know that I will probably never again pay an entire group’s meals. I have found out that people love me for me and not for my previous, misguided, generosity.

    I tell them all I’m on a serious budget. They understand why I quit, they probably are secretly a little envious, but I have not had one negative experience from displaying my frugality. Actually, I do think I’ve been made fun of, but I take it in stride and take the joke.

    Everyone understands that my $ is going toward savings for my summer cross-country motorcycle rides. And I get some really good belly-laughs from my friends when I tell them about the funny fights I have with my husband who “dares” to throw out a used, but still good, ziplock bag. Or how I’ve rationed out his toilet paper.

    It takes maturity and self-confidence to do what I’ve done – sometimes you have no choice, as with people who are laid off and have small children. My heart goes out to them. But know that the discomfort comes from the ego. Tell that ego to shut the hell up and go on to do what you know you need to do.

    I understand that “appearances” are important to virtually every human alive – so start talking about your need to be frugal. Your friends will appreciate your honesty and likely they will come clean about their own financial issues so you can partner-up and find some closet frugalists that can help you succeed.

    I have a girlfriend that makes a ton of $. She had a bit of a hard time adjusting to my new frugality. She’d call and say, “Hey, let’s meet up at ___ and have a couple of drinks. They have really great appetizers, too.” I saw this as a $50 expense – which was what I used to do on a whim. At first I was uncomfortable telling her “no”, but after explaining a few times about how I don’t want to spend that $, she’s learned to back off on the spending. I invite her over, instead, to have one of my fantastic homemade Mexican dinners (I even make tortillas from scratch), and she brings the wine. Tonight I did agree with her to go out with her and some of my old friends – but she know’s I’ll be having ONE martini and that the rest will be water. She’s delighted that I’m going to join her cause I’m funny and fun as hell! And I’m going to really enjoy this outing since I haven’t had one in two months.

    Good luck.

  36. Marinda says:

    It’s a balancing act and with family, I no longer talk about the wonderful clothing and books I score at the thrift store.

    Now I used cloth diapers and a diaper service because it was less expensive and more my style, but used disposables when traveling.

    I have family members who have no retirement, the house will not be paid off until they are 72 and they go through cars, expensive cars like kleenex. They ate out all the time and because of life style choices, have spent tons of money on lawyers. After all the drama and trauma, they envy us because we are retired and are 57 and 55 years old respectively. So I may be frugal, but I dress well, drive a lovely car and have everything paid off. I travel and help my children achieve their dreams, college grads with NO debt whatsoever.

    The last thing I do is stay home, laugh and count pennies. What a sad person she is. I am glad you are her friend, she needs one.

  37. MrzFitz says:

    The book ‘The Millionaire Mind’ where Thomas Stanley, PhD studied hundreds and hundreds of millionaires shows that they say the best fun they have are doing things that aren’t terribly expensive. Playing cards with friends is one of their great example. I guess people just look at things differently. Good job Trent. Really, good job on this and your other many articles!

  38. Brittany says:

    Love it. This is one of those articles I would like to just print and make copies of so I can hand it out to people who roll their eyes or make remarks about my frugality.

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