Updated on 11.13.07


Trent Hamm

Twice or three times a day, a reader will send me an IM and strike up a conversation on some topic or another. Usually, I find out that we have some sort of interest in common and we spend some time talking about baking or video games or sports or books or Magic: the Gathering, and after that the reader will tell me that they’re surprised that a person like me would find such things fun. When I press further, they usually suggest that someone so in tune with their personal finances must be an absolute bore.

I understand this impression fully and it no longer really bothers me too much. When I first heard it, I found it rather annoying, to tell the truth – why would a person just assume that I’m boring? When I thought about it more, however, I realized that it’s completely reasonable to come to that conclusion, though, for several reasons.

First, the average person perceives personal finance to be as boring as watching paint dry. They visualize balancing checkbooks and paying bills as boring – which it is on that level. I don’t find bill paying or balance checking to be much fun either.

What I do find fun, though, is the human aspect of the outcomes of those tasks. How does my choice today affect my future? How do your choices affect your future? How do we think about money, and how can we easily change that into something more healthy for the long term? These are all interesting questions to me, and I find a lot of personal value in exploring them.

Second, the average person wants the totems of financial success, whether earned or not. Think about it: when you see someone wearing inexpensive, drab clothing or see someone driving an older car, you often assume that they must hold a relatively low socioeconomic status, even though the person inside could be quite well off. Since people typically want to associate with people in their own group or in a higher group, they tend to turn away from people who show signs of being in a lower group.

The immediate assumption of poverty – or at least of a lower socioeconomic status – is one that is ingrained in all of us. We see expensive items as being signs of a person with significant income – and thus a person to pay attention to. The guy in the older car? Not so much. Thus, to openly admit that I drive a truck more than a decade old, and that I intend to drive it into the ground, often paints a picture in people’s minds of someone who is obsessed with saving money over the bounds of good sense. In other words, a bore or a freak.

That’s not the way I look at it, though. My self worth is no longer defined by things like it once was. It’s a difficult leap to make since popular culture constantly reinforces the idea that important and interesting people have expensive things. This leap is something that I constantly wish to challenge. I wish to shout from the rooftops that a person should be judged by the content of their character, not by the contents of their house.

Finally, the average person perceives frugality to be incredibly boring. The idea that one would spend their free time discovering ways to maximize their dollar seems incredibly boring to some and actually negative to others who view such behavior as highly miserly.

To me, spending an hour doing research and then saving hundreds of dollars over the life of an appliance is well worth it. Not only does it directly save me money, but I usually learn something in the process. The same idea goes for making my own laundry detergent or baking my own bread at home or anything else. To me, frugality is about fun – finding things that I enjoy doing that also save me money, or simple things that I can do once that maybe aren’t so fun, but save me money automatically in the future. I’m not really into hanging Ziplocs out on the drying line to get another use out of them – that’s extreme for my taste – but I do enjoy trying these things and finding out the ones that work for me and especially the ones that are fun.

I also don’t deny myself fun things – I do own a Wii and a few games for it, after all. I just don’t go out and buy such items on a whim – I make sure I can afford it and then save for it. This way, when I go to the store and make such a purchase, there isn’t that little hint of guilt there concerning whether I can actually afford the item or not – if I go into a store to buy an expensive item, I know I can afford it and I’ve enjoyed the anticipation of saving up and waiting until the moment is right. It’s quite enjoyable to take home an item that you’ve planned for, thought about, and bought completely with your own money.

In the end, it’s all about perspective. Being frugal and being a careful money manager doesn’t mean boring at all unless you choose to make it boring.

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  1. LC says:

    I agree that frugality is a way to “buy” things that are fun/important to you. For example, someone might not really care what his car looks like but it’s really important to take a big vacation every year. Or a family doesn’t mind saving every possible penny if it means a parent can stay at home full time.

    Also, I find that there are many benefits to a simple life and that a lot of the things people spend money on actually diminsh their quality of life.

    It’s all about what is important to you.

  2. Amanda D says:

    What does it say about me if I think balancing my checkbook is fun? Probably that I’m a type-A, OCD engineer ;) I also enjoy the hunt of getting a good deal and knowing that other suckers paid full price for things.

  3. Becky says:

    That’s funny, I also enjoy doing my finances. I get a huge thrill out of moving money out of the checking account and into the ING savings account every other week!

  4. Erin says:

    Whenever I do things with friends, they seem to always want to include eating out with the activity. Or they want to go shopping. When I suggest that we go out, but not eat out or that shopping is not of interest to me, or that to drive to the nearest metropolitan area for entertainment costs a lot in gas (I live in a small town), I immediately hear their moans or get that look that says how boring my suggestions are.

    We all make decent money, but I choose to save mine. I enjoy being with my friends, but I don’t enjoy spending what I consider too much money on entertainment and I do not want anymore “stuff”. Some friends either don’t have anything saved for retirement or, even worse, they do not have any retirement money and have a lot of credit card debt. They do not see anything wrong with this.

    How do people maintain friendships with good people they care about, but still maintain a frugal lifestyle?

  5. Sm4k says:

    I second the mentality about the cars, and freely admit that I used to be the same way. If I saw a beater on a highway I assumed that person was in a worse position than a guy who was driving something much nicer.

    After I listened to Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover and regularly listening to his podcasts, I found myself looking at beaters on the highway and wondering “could I drive that for a year?” Now I think “I wonder how high HIS payments are.” when I see the nice cars.

    It really changed my perspective entirely, and made me even happier that my 7 year old car is paid off, fun to drive, has been very reliable, and it still looks pretty good. I’ll be driving that thing until it dies.

  6. Kim says:

    My husband and I have a great strategy for saving money. We have chosen to make most our friends people of modest financial means. We never talk salaries, but based on their jobs, I would guess that we make 2 to 3 times what most of our friends make. My husband works as a merchant marine. It’s an uncommon profession and most people assume that, because it’s blue collar, it’s low paying. Since we put a thousand dollars a month into debt repayment and another thousand into 401k, our spendable budget resembles theirs far more then the average person making 90K. We have wonderful friends and there is very little pressure to spend money. We do movie nights with all of our kids and make homemade pizza, we have park play dates. We swap babysitting all the time. We have great conversations and go for long walks. We freely share hand-me-downs and give tips on great finds at thrift stores.

  7. LC says:

    I also get a kick out of balancing my checkbook and making financial calculations.

    It just so happens that most of my friends make significantly less than me, so when I make frugal suggestions, they are relieved. It only causes problems when there is a concert or something that we look forward to going to (a big event like this is maybe once every couple of years) and they can’t afford to go. It makes me feel bad because I would gladly pay for their ticket because I know how much they were looking forward to it but I don’t want to come across as if I’m shoving it in their face. Sounds kind of like that Friends episode…

  8. rkt88edmo says:

    As an accountant I totally can relate. I work with a bunch of dynamic and smart people, not boring bean counters.

  9. lynn says:

    Erin’s post really jumped out at me. For a few years my group of close girlfriends has been buying presents and going out to dinner for birthdays. This year everyone is “broke” so we opted for a simple brunch at my house. I make the main dish, everyone brings something- salad, appetizer or bottle of Proseco. The presents are usually minor luxuries like a manicure or a book. We’ve had just as much fun and the birthday girl feels just as honored- if not more so! Stuffed french toast with turkey sausage and a bottle of (cheap) bubbly! Can’t beat it. But “everyone” had to be broke before we did it.

  10. SJean says:

    Don’t most of your readers find personal finance interesting? I am surprised that this happens so often.

  11. Mike says:

    Great article, Trent. I’m constantly amazed at the great topics you are able to come up with every day.

    When I went to graduate school 20 years ago (at a certain well-known writing program in your state), I asked a visiting writer what advice she had for young writers. She said, “Make friends with real working people. Don’t just hang out with grad students.”

    I didn’t know it then, but that was some of the best advice I ever received. I now have a network of working-class friends all across the country, many of whom are much more fun, and interesting (as well as more frugal) than some of the professionals I work with. Many people with big incomes and lifestyles have enormous debt, anxiety, and thus have no choice but to put their careers ahead of nearly everything else.

    I treasure all the “real” people of modest means I know out there. I think Kim’s perspective above is excellent for anyone just starting out in life.

    By the way, Trent, I think you seem like a very fun person, judging from the engaging way you use words to inspire your readers. I don’t know how you manage to be so prolific.


  12. Sandy says:

    I wasted so much money in my past, but finally turned it all around and got out of debt, so being frugal is a way for me to stay out of debt. My discovery is that it’s actually fun and becomes addictive, but in a good way. Now whenever I make a purchase, it is thoughtfully planned, so winds up being very satisfying. I really enjoy living within my means, or below my means and not having credit card debt, and having an emergency fund, and a monthly savings toward future expenses. I do find personal finance interesting and have read countless articles online about it, just to reinforce my mindset to stay responsible with my money and not overspend on random items, and never run up debt again. It’s so much more fun to earn interest than pay it.

  13. vh says:

    Jeez, I must be an awrfully boring nerd, because I find all the great ideas you come up with and your stories about your young family–really, a voyage of discovery that is just beginning–to be one heckuva lot of fun: and only the half of it, because the comments your readers contribute are about as much fun.

    PF boring? Ohhhkaayyy… To each his(her)(our) own!

  14. JB says:

    I too find calculating my net worth and paying myself first to be the most exciting parts of the month. Personal finance is a lifestyle and I would almost equate it to some of my friends hobbies. Except this hobby is about saving money and not spending it!

    I used to be really into going to the mall, going ot movies and dining out before too. Now I splurge on purchases at the mall sometimes, have a Netflix account, and cook deliscious meals at home. For me, knowing that I could do all that stuff buy choose not to excessively is wonderful.

    And yeah for beat up cars! When I first started driving my old car I too was kind of embarrased and was mentally counting my pennies until I too could get a shiny new vehicle! Then I realized that my beater is reliable, gets great mileage and saves me so much money with auto insurance and no car payments. Plus, since it’s old I don’t need to stress about a nick here or there or where I park in the lot. When I see a fancy car I too think ‘I wonder how much there monthly payments’ are too. I now have enough money saved to buy a newly used vehicle cash when my beater dies…but they’ll have to pry it away from me first!

  15. Jake says:

    Nice post! I enjoy tracking my finances as well. I check my net worth everyday and its exciting to see if it goes up or down (preferrably up). I then enjoy finding ways to either increase my assets and the rate of return on my assets. So, you’re right..it’s not as boring as people think!


  16. Steve O says:

    Watching your money grow should not be an end in itself, though it can be fun. Having financial independence = freedom. That’s something you can truly celebrate. “FU” money is almost better than sex.

  17. Steve O says:

    P.S. My car is 13 years old.

  18. Heather says:


    I was curious to know what kind of deal you got on your Wii. I am planning on saving up for one for the family and have no clue where to start.

    Thank you,

  19. Jayne says:

    I find the whole question of “Am I hanging out with interesting enough people?” a sign of self-absorption. Everybody has something interesting about them if you will only look for it.

    Obviously we pick friends we enjoy, but the idea that people write off certain groups of people is kind of arrogant. What makes them think that they are so interesting, that they now possess the status to complain about others being boring?

  20. The Chef says:

    Managing my finances is real fun, I realise this only after getting into a huge debt and now trying to get out of it after careful money management practices. Putting fun aside I feel living frugal to the extreme and taking huge risks for not having liquidity(for emergencies)in order to get out of debt is a kind of punishment for irresponsible use of money that i did.

  21. Rob in Madrid says:

    I have friends and family that I really care about that are really struggling to keep their heads above water, but the moment I mention frugal living their eyes glaze over. They all want to be debt free but don’t want to change anything, it’s very frustrating for us. I don’t understand why. FL has allowed us decrease our financial footprint from 105% to about 85-85% without a corresponding drop in our standard of living. I expect as we pay our debts off that will drop to about 50-55%. If anything removing the financial stress we were under has greatly improved our quality of life.

  22. Jenyfer says:

    I think we all agree that FL works; I think we all agree that it is easier to live the lifestyle if you have friends that live the same lifestyle. All these others–they are the people I thank God for, because they make us look so much better!! After all, if it wasn’t for unfrugal fools, there wouldn’t be a real recognization and appreciation of frugality, now, would there?? Wink wink, nudge nudge

  23. Deila says:

    OMG I must be boring as sin! I love going over our finances every day! I love seeing where I can cut a little here and a little there so that, at the end of the month, I can move even MORE $$$ into our savings, or have an extra $50 to invest into Prosper.

    My biggest pet peeve with my husband was his constantly talking about buying a NEW car as soon as our old one was paid off. Although it took me a while, he finally understood the benefits of keeping the car at LEAST 10 years, then, when the car is paid off, taking the car payments and putting them into a savings/investment plan.

    At the end of 10 years, IF the benefits of owning a new car outweighed the cost of keeping our old car, we could use the saved $$$ to buy a ‘new’ (See:Pre-Owned) car outright! NO interest on payments, NO finance charges. Then, we could start the process all over again, but saving the $$$ in a smaller amount of time and having extra $$$ left over!

  24. Eric says:

    If someone obsessed over saving and/or maximizing their money is what someone else considers a “freak” then I’m happy and proud to label myself a “freak.”

  25. beloml says:

    Dailygalaxy-dot-com has an interesting summary of research that found evidence that materialism goes hand-in-hand with low self esteem. I think that’s a major factor in this discussion, and why money is such an emotional issue–why frugal people are branded as freaks.

  26. Marta says:

    Great post!!

    I get the same reaction about my dietary choices as well as my financial choices. “You don’t want any cake? Oh come on, lighten up – it’s just one piece.” “You’re not coming to Happy Hour? Don’t be such a stranger.”

    These types of comments and trying to justify your refusal every single time can really wear you down. It is a daily battle – fighting for a healthier future (mentally, physically, emotionally, financially) or giving in to temptation.

  27. Linnea H says:

    I am a PF bore. I like checking my budget, net worth, planning retirement savings and so on. I also enjoy frugal living and especially the results of it.

    Another boring hobby is decluttering our home, trying to sell stuff or give to charity.

    Third hobby is to read about all of the above in books and on the net.

  28. walleyegirl says:

    I agree with Marta! People hate it when you make an honest choice to improve yourself if it means doing something that others aren’t going to do. It makes them uneasy, and you become the outcast, until it’s fashionable to behave in that manner. It’s very lemmingesque.

  29. Kathryn says:

    Did you ever think that people call you “boring” because they are jealous of where you are and where you are going? There are some people out there who aren’t happy unless everyone is worse off than they are.

    I have always loved a challenge, and when my husband and I finally understood what debt was and where it was taking our WHOLE family, we dove into the challenge of getting debt free. I seem to enjoy it more than he does, but I’m around other people who are scratching towards debt freedom and he is around other people who are living in denial.

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