Updated on 03.05.09

Frugality and Feeling Deprived

Trent Hamm

One of the things my wife and I both pride ourselves on is coming up with inexpensive and creative solutions for common problems. We like using white vinegar as a fabric softener – it’s inexpensive and accomplishes the same goal. We like eating leftovers. My wife just spent two weeks hand-sewing stuffed animals that she made for our children out of a pile of old sweaters she got for pennies from a used clothing store.

We’ve come to enjoy these things. We both take a lot of pleasure out of frugal projects and frugal choices in our life.

The joy doesn’t come directly from saving money, though that’s nice. Instead, our joy comes from the fact that we’re not wasting resources. We’re finding uses for things that would otherwise go unused or might get thrown away. We’re also discovering creative new uses for common things, like our use of white vinegar as a fabric softener.

The thing is, if our priorities were different, we could easily afford different solutions. We could buy the best laundry detergent and it wouldn’t break us. We could eat gourmet meals every night and our budget could handle it. We could just buy our kids new stuffed animals instead of making them.

Four years ago, I would have viewed the cheaper route as being the “deprived” route. I firmly believed that the more expensive option was the better option and, if you had the money for it, that’s the way you should always go. If you’re earning plenty of money, then you should be spending that money, right?

In a way, I almost looked down upon people who were frugal, particularly people who were actively choosing frugality over simply buying the best. I felt pride in my possessions and experiences – and I authentically looked at people who chose different paths as needlessly depriving themselves.

What changed? I found that, as I tried different tactics in my life, I was very happy when I could make something work well, especially when I didn’t expect it. I was honestly surprised when I discovered how well white vinegar worked as a fabric softener – and I wanted to share that discovery. My wife thoroughly enjoyed the process of making homemade stuffed animals – and she used the leftover material to make pot holders.

Eventually, I reached a point where I no longer felt like I needed to spend lots of money to find the best things in life for me. I found quite a bit more happiness in finding ways to do things that weren’t wasteful, in terms of money, time, or other resources.

Whenever I see someone look at frugal tactics and conclude that the person must be living a deprived life, I understand where they are coming from, because I was there not all that long ago.

What I’ve learned in the interim, though, is that a sense of being deprived – provided, of course, that your basic needs are met – is just a negative state of mind. All it does is convince you to spend more to make the feeling go away – and, at the same time, overlook opportunities in life that can help you get into better financial shape.

Frugality isn’t choosing to be deprived – it’s just a different way of looking at things.

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  1. Anna says:

    Trent, you’ve said it all. I can only add this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

    “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.”

  2. Sue says:

    I agree!! I love being frugal and saving our resources. Thank you for putting it so clearly for all to read!

  3. Brandon says:

    Trent, well written article. It’s posts like this that I enjoy the most. Saving money can’t be done by just one person in a relationship.

  4. Lynn says:

    Great article – it was just what I needed to read today. I am still in the place of feeling deprived. I haven’t done enough of the creative solutions that I’m proud of myself yet. My husband and I chose to go this route and I have to keep reminding myself of that. It’s nice to know I’m not the only person who has had to struggle with this. I’m hoping as my frugal choices become habit, I’ll feel less and less deprived. We’ll see what happens!

  5. Breanne says:

    Ack, Trent, you “stole” my post idea! I was going to write something with almost this very title in the next day or so :-)

    I was thinking about it last week, and it occurred to me that I think of the difference between being cheap and being frugal as simply this:

    Frugal has the effect of helping you to thrive
    Cheap has the effect of making you deprived

    The goal should be to thrive, and not to deprive.

  6. “nothing is ever good or bad only thinking makes it so”


  7. Amen. My blog byline is “cheerfully living on less” because I think that a life of frugality can indeed be a happy one.

  8. warillever says:

    Thank you for stating this so beautifully and concisely.

  9. Michele says:

    I agree with everything you just said. There is a degree of satisfaction making things yourself, making do with what you have, and using less of the earth’s resources – even if we can afford not to.

  10. Lori Beth says:

    I can’t get my husband to subscribe to the thought that being frugal is not being cheap. I’d rather get by with ‘cheap’ things then live paycheck to paycheck to pay for the ‘better’ things. In consequence, I feel deprived of being able to be able to buy new socks since we have to use that money to pay for our bazillion channels that no body actually watches.

    I’ve always shopped at thrift stores and been frugal so I’d have the money tucked away to buy that wanted, but not necessarily needed, item.

  11. femmeknitzi says:

    Not only is “feeling deprived” simply a negative state of mind, but it is the exact state of mind that advertisers are determined to keep us in. Considering children of this generation are bombarded with over 5000 ads a day, getting and staying out of that state of mind is not only a great accomplishment, but a necessary one if you ever hope to be a truly savvy consumer.

  12. EXACTLY! Great post! I am not chosing to be frugal simply as a way of saving money, it is a lifestyle more in line with my values. I feel a moral obligation to reduce as much waste from my life as possible. That includes wasted money, wasted time, wasted energy, wasted resources. I have found that the less I buy, the less I waste and I value the things which I do have much more than I would have. It isn’t about depriving myself, it is about doing what I feel is right not only for myself but for the world I live in.

  13. MB says:

    This reminds me of something I said to my husband last night. We got a little advert for Bed, Bath and Beyond in the mail yesterday and as I was looking it over I told my husband it was “a bunch of stuff I never knew I wanted”. Of course I was being sarcastic. I threw it in the recycle and now don’t even remember what was in the ad. Out of sight, out of mind and no deprivation felt.

  14. BankFiesta says:

    Frugal living is all about expectations, driving a civic vs. ferrari really changes my life very little (although having a car is important), quite fast diminishing returns for luxury items.

  15. Zannie says:

    I actually find it FUN to be frugal. I like puzzles, and finding the least wasteful way of accomplishing a goal (or indulging a desire) is a fun puzzle. I love showing up to a party with one of the best costumes there and knowing I only paid $5 for the materials to make it, or finding something around the house that I can use to make something I need instead of buying something.

    I’m a software developer; finding elegant, simple and efficient solutions to complex problems is what I do every day, or at least try to. Creative frugality is just a different version of the same game, and it has the additional benefit of providing me with a *lot* of security.

    I am sure that frugality would not be so fun if I *had* to do it; that would be really stressful. But by being frugal when I don’t need to, I do a lot to ensure I never *will* need to.

  16. Sandy says:

    Great article, Trent. Choosing to be frugal is a really creative way to live…you can buy what TV tells you you ned to be a fulfilled person. But when you realize that you can be very fulfilled by doing things that YOU choose to do, it’s a real high!

  17. Bob says:

    Thanks Trent for a insightful post. I was wondering though if you and your wife ever “splurge”, do something maybe that isn’t all that frugal? I find I enjoy living frugal as long as I can look forward to that splurge down the road.

  18. DB Cooper says:

    We have a large dog (actually a beloved member of our family) who has passed his puppy stage and has long-since outgrown is dog bed. We’ve contemplated buying a larger one, but the $30-$40 had us on hold. Then, just the other night, my son was cleaning his room/closet and brought down his old sleeping bag, zipper permanently broken, and said he didn’t need it anymore. A cheap sleeping bag to begin with, it was certainly not worth the investment of putting on a new zipper. Then it occured to me – could we fold it in half, then in half again, sew it up with some fishing line, and make our dog happy? He LOVES it – it’s four layers thick, soft as can be, perfectly sized – and in essence it was free! Frugal solutions are everywhere.

    Frugality ROCKS!

  19. Lois says:

    I think a big part of the scenes you describe are the feelings connected with them. The ability to be creative is a human desire from what I’ve seen. The ability to provide for your family from your own hands, create, be wise, set a good example and make choices that support your morals is a real spirit lifter, too. I agree with all the above comments, and really enjoy your site, especially articles like this one. Thanks Trent

  20. “He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” Socrates

  21. Gabriel says:

    I absolutely identify with the joy you get from saving resources. I run a jewelry and art business, and all of my items are either vintage (ie, used) or handmade out of paper taken from magazines and other scrap paper. It’s good for the environment, and it’s good for our pocketbooks :)

  22. Ivy says:

    At one point we had to be frugal because of poverty and at another point we’ve chosen to be frugal because we want to. I have to say that the latter feels much better than the former.

  23. cynthia says:

    Could you please have a guest posting from your wife on making the stuffed animals? That sounds awesome.

  24. Frugalicious says:

    Hey Trent, isn’t necessity the mother of invention? well now that the economy has gone down the tube, frugality is almost a matter of survival for many time to einvent our lifestyle. Unfortunately old habits are hard to break. Take for instance the young couple that goes to happy hour and out to eat four times a wek. Reality check – cut down or you stant to be cut (in savings that is) or the folks that keep paying for unecessary minutes and uprades on their cell phone just cause their contract provider has created an unrealistic need for more minutes and top of the line phone with the works – another reality check – cancel the contract and go to walmart and buy yourself a net10 phone – instead on $80 per month, you’ll be paying $15! that’s some savings don’t you think. Guys out there – think semantics… cheap, frugal, cautious – the message is loud and clear “save your dollars for a rainy day”… a thunderstorm is approaching!!

  25. KC says:

    That’s the great thing about being frugal is you don’t have to be deprived. by being frugal I’m able to save money for things that really do matter in life. By having some financial security I don’t have to be depraved – in fact I’m saving myself from real depravity if something bad were to happen – job loss, etc.

  26. jadekitty says:

    Lori Beth- Removed a few subscriptions every so often and see who notices :)

  27. Oskar says:

    Sometimes I almost fool myself into beliving we live a deprived life even though we have it better than most and make the most of our own finacial resouces and the natures resources. However att times I look at my finances and think what are we missing since we can save 45% of our income? And for a few seconds we are back to square one wanting to spend it all on stuff…:-)

  28. It’s all about point-of-view . . .

    I would rather be “deprived” in some areas so I can splurge in other areas . . .

  29. tightwadfan says:

    Great post. My husband has been trying to encourage his brother to live within his means but his brother and SIL just cannot let go of feeling deprived any time they don’t get instant gratification. “Feeling deprived” is the single biggest block to them getting out of debt and it’s the same for most people I know who live a credit-financed lifestyle.

  30. Battra92 says:

    Anytime I feel deprived I just go and look at all the things I already have. DVD’s, Video games, camera equipment, CD’s, comics/manga etc. I quite literally have enough entertainment to hold me off for a few years, not counting what YouTube and other website reading has for me to read. I have enough clothes to last me for a long time. I have a reliable car and enough to let me survive.

    What does bug me sometimes is when I want something like an anime figure (yes, I’m a nerd) or some gadget to play with and I realize that I can’t spend the money at this point. Still, I like Dave Ramsey’s line about how you need to live like no one else now so later you can live like no one else (or something like that.)

  31. Kevin says:

    I’m going to have to disagree on this one. I’m sorry, but I think it *would* be more fun to be driving a brand-new fully-loaded BMW than a 4-year old base model Mazda. I *would* rather take fancy, far-away vacations than make do with another week at the cottage this summer. I *would* rather take a taxi than a bus.

    I’ll grant that there are a few things in which frugal actually is better. For example, a romantic, homemade dinner for our anniversary can actually be better than going to a fancy restaurant and spending 3x as much. I grow my own vegetables because I enjoy it, not because it saves money. But who are we kidding? A large part of frugality *IS* self-deprivation. Just admit it, make your peace with it, and pat yourself on the back for being financially better off than your peers.

  32. Carole says:

    We are an older couple. When we were young we needed to be frugal. After a while we really didn’t. Anyway not so much. Now we are comfortable, but why spend more on something unnecessarily? Use the money for a special trip or whatever luxury appeals to you. I’ve always looked on frugality as a game or a challenge.

  33. Carole says:

    We are an older couple. When we were young we needed to be frugal. After a while we really didn’t. Anyway not so much. Now we are comfortable, but why spend more on something unnecessarily? Use the money for a special trip or whatever luxury appeals to you. I’ve always looked on frugality as a game or a challenge.

  34. Carole says:

    We are an older couple. When we were young we needed to be frugal. After a while we really didn’t. Anyway not so much. Now we are comfortable, but why spend more on something unnecessarily? Use the money for a special trip or whatever luxury appeals to you. I’ve always looked on frugality as a game or a challenge.

  35. tammy says:

    Sustainable self sufficientcy totally negates my feelings of deprivity when it comes to being frugal. I know how to make bread, I know how to stretch a buck til it screams, and I know how to make do, repair, and best of all, I lack that *instant gratification* chip. The best things in life are those we must wait for.
    Great post Trent!

  36. Amanda B. says:

    I second the request for the article on how to make sweater animals. I think they would be great to donate to the fire department (to comfort children who have gone through the trauma of a fire) and may be a good project to do with the kiddos from church. Pictures would be great!

  37. Jinny says:

    I would love to know about how to use vinegar for softener, also what was the tip for laundry detergent. I love your posts.

  38. Jinny says:

    I would also like to know about the sweater animals, I would make them for children in hospice. Thanks.

  39. Johanna says:

    This may be extendable into a wider philosophy: Consciously putting certain things off-limits forces you to explore options that you would never otherwise have considered, which may actually lead to living a richer life than you lived before.

    Right now, I’m experimenting with buying all my fruits and vegetables at the local farmers’ market. (Winters are just warm enough where I live that I can do this all year) So I can’t have fresh peppers in the spring or apples in the summer or oranges pretty much ever, and for four months out of the year I eat a lot of potatoes and onions and butternut squash. But during the other eight months, I get vegetables that I’d never tried before (garlic scapes, kohlrabi), and I’ve come up with more ways to cook potatoes and onions and butternut squash than I thought possible.

    People think I’m a freak for doing this, but until about 100 years ago, it’s what everybody did, because they had no choice.

  40. mikey says:

    This should be passed on in those chain mails because this is worth far more that any money scheme. I feel if more people got this message, this recession would be over a lot sooner. This should be Obama’s plan. Thank you.

  41. Melissa says:

    Yes! I am definitely interested in a post on making stuffed animals as well. I have had 10 babies born to family members or close friends in the last 6 months and would love to be able to give them something I’ve made.

  42. Battra92 says:

    @Tammy, I thought the saying was “Choke the dollar until the eagle screams.” Oh well. :)

  43. andrea peck says:

    This post really gets to the heart of the matter – it is sometimes hard to be frugal, even if you love it, because of the looks/comments you get from people who don’t get it. This writing is timely to me, as I have become less concerned about others’ opinions and more joyful in my own saving! Thanks so much for underlining my thoughts! Also, would love a blog on stuffed animals also!!!

  44. andrea peck says:

    This post really gets to the heart of the matter – it is sometimes hard to be frugal, even if you love it, because of the looks/comments you get from people who don’t get it. This writing is timely to me, as I have become less concerned about others’ opinions and more joyful in my own saving! Thanks so much for underlining my thoughts! Also, would love a blog on stuffed animals also!!!

  45. viola says:

    About 5 years ago, while everyone else was buying a house to big and brand new cars and expensive furniture, I bought a regular size (but newer) house, still drove my paid-for car (has 155,000 miles on it now), and lived well below my means in order to save.

    At first I felt deprived because I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing. I felt like I worked hard to go through college & do well at work, and I deserved to live a nice life. Then a friend of mine got laid off, and I realized that what I deserved for my hard work was to have money in the bank, investments for my future, and peace of mind.

    Now I see that other people really couldn’t afford that lifestyle anyways since they were spending more than they made. Now THEY are having to cut back on everything while I live just the same. Now THEY are the ones feeling deprived. The time to be frugal is not when you lose your job or the economy goes bad. The time to be frugal is ALL THE TIME, so that you’ll be prepared.

  46. viola says:

    Oh I forgot to add that the feeling of deprivation comes from the change of spending to not spending all the time. Once you’re used to not spending, the deprivation feeling goes away.

  47. Catherine says:

    I’ve never posted here before, but just had to ‘third’ the request for info on stuffed animals! I, too, get a lot of pleasure out of recycling things. I turned my bro’s old t-shirt collection, and old flannel sheets, into a stack of fitted cloth diapers for my baby, and I felted and sewed pieces of wool sweaters for use as covers. Sounds corny, but every time I change his diaper I’m happy that I’m saving $, not sending a paper diaper to the landfill, and re-using t-shirts that would’ve been thrown away otherwise. I then used the smaller wool scraps and scrap leather to make soft-soled ‘robeez-type’ shoes for him. The shoes are free, cute, and it’s a pleasure to see your child using something you made for him by hand. I COULD just buy him shoes at the store, but where’s the fun in that?

  48. Nancy says:

    I’d also like to add my request for patterns or how-to on the stuffed animals out of sweaters! They would be so fun to make!

  49. Kate says:

    I echo the sentiments of Cynthia and Amanda B.: It would be great to see your wife’s stuffed animals and, assuming she used patterns that weren’t copyrighted, to get the instructions.

    Your thoughts on the “deprived” mindset were right on the money (pun intended), too! Kate

  50. kz says:

    @viola : I feel the same way about watching everyone else cutting back and (largely) complaining about having to do so. My husband and I live frugally all the time, so this is nothing new to us. Other than feeling a little less secure in my job and watching gas prices dive, this recession hasn’t affected me in the least. I feel badly for those who are seriously affected, but some of those are the same folks who gave me a hard time for being frugal when times were good.

  51. Carrick says:

    I totally agree, Trent. In addition to it being fun to imagine you’re living more like “Little House on the Prairie”, I think that getting to feel smug about it in another fun reward as well. :) Just as driving a Prius makes people feel smug (at least according to South Park), I totally feel smug about things like the fact that most of the clothing I own are several years old, making my own lunch and bringing it to work in a reusable container, etc. And the fact that most of these things coincide with helping the environment makes me feel even smugger. :D

  52. Frugal Liz says:

    My husband and I are frugal all year so that we can go on 2 awesome vacations without having to dip into our long term savings account. We have a separate bank account for our “vacation fund” and it’s fun watching it grow every month. Our goal this year is to get it to $3,000 by October. So far we have $1,700!

  53. Bill in Houston says:

    Trent, I gotta ask, “Doesn’t the vinegar as fabric softener make your clothes smell… like vinegar?”

    That’d be my only real qualm. Instead of fabric softener we buy the 200 count dryer sheets at Costco. Costs about two cents a dryer load. No, we don’t air dry our clothing because it is against homeowner association rules.

    Keep up the good work.

  54. Kathy says:

    In the midst of a pity party, I was bemoaning the fact that “all these kids” (which after 40 seems to be an awful lot of people) had newer cars and newer cell phones and Tivo and better computers and iPods and…here I was with a “good” job driving a 7 year old Ford Focus, no computer, and a three year old cell phone.

    Until I remembered that “these kids” had massive debt and worked three jobs. Which is its own kind of deprivation.

  55. Cory says:

    @Bill in Houston – We have used vinegar quite a bit lately but not with the idea of it doing the fabric softener’s job (will have to check that out!) I’ve noticed no vinegar smell but I suppose if you used enough you might. The reason we’ve used it is that it seems to cut just about any other smell out in the clothes.

    A musty pair of swim trunks we couldn’t get the odor out of before came out completely odorless after using some vinegar in the washer.

  56. Cory says:

    Regarding expensive is better… I’ve been learning lately that sometimes the “old fashioned” way of doing things can beat the pants off the “new” way.

    We just got a nice new cast iron skillet from our niece. She didn’t want it because it wasn’t T-Fal. I love it. Properly seasoned it is just as non stick (for some foods) and I never have to worry about what kind of utensils we use in it. It’s not always better than a good non-stick pan, but getting rid of it because it wasn’t the expensive option was a mistake.

    I’ve also found I get a much better shave from a double-edge razor like you mentioned in a past article than I ever did with multi-blade cartridges. Plus new blades are only $0.20 each vs $1.80-$3.00 each the way they are with some models. And I’m having a minimal impact on the environment. Don’t feel deprived at all.

  57. Denise says:

    I absolutely disagree with the post above that says frugality is about being self-deprived and that those who are frugal should just accept that. My husband and I make a great living and view frugality as using our money to obtain the most value. That means, if I want a certain product, I shop around and find the best price so that I know we haven’t wasted money. Or if there is something we want to see or experience, finding a way to do so that gets us the most bang for our buck. We buy things of quality. So, we can have all the fancy things we want AND have a lot of money saved in the bank for emergencies and for retirement because we’ve been thoughtful about how we spend. We have peace of mind. I bet a lot of people who frown on frugality can’t say the same.

  58. Courtney says:

    Handmade toys make great gifts – Easter and Christmas are coming! ;) My MIL made my 15-month-old daughter some awesome toys when she was a bit younger. They are all washable, dryable, colorful…and often had rattles inside. (a bell in a plastic box works well!) A knit covering over a cloth ball is great for little fingers, too. Plus, I wasn’t worried about lead paint, or melamine. And, it was eco-friendly to repurpose old fabric.

  59. EJ says:

    All my life I have been very frugal. Our friends use to call me cheap because I’d rather have a drink and nice meal at home rather then spend a fortune going to 5 star restaurants with them.

    We’ve always lived on less and only bought what we needed. I think people have forgotten how to enjoy life without spending money. We paid off our first house in 10 yrs. and our second house in 8. The house we live in now was paid off in 5.

    When my husband was laid off in 2006 at age 59 we decided it was okay not to go back to work.

    Our friends who thought we were cheap, still have mortgages and would love to retire but can’t.

  60. One of the first things most people discover when they try to live a frugal lifestyle is that extreme frugality is almost impossible to live with long term. It’s a lot like dieting. You can cut back on what you eat in a sensible way that you can live with happily for the rest of your life

  61. Maha says:

    Living frugally and feeling deprived is a matter of perspective. As one commenter said, he’d rather take a taxi than a bus. I can afford a taxi, but I much prefer the bus. There’s just something giddy about it. My favorite bus rides have been in other countries, where I got the chance to meet the locals, so to speak. My other favorite bus rides are ones with my kids. They think it’s a hoot.

  62. John Miller says:

    Read The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith. Great insight into macroeconomic effects of “non”-frugality.

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