Updated on 04.12.12

Snippets of Frugality

Trent Hamm

I get emails and comments and tweets from people all the time who seem almost disturbed by the idea that I incorporate frugality into my life. The implication behind those comments is that my life must be incredibly austere and boring in order to pull off all of these things.

Here’s the truth: the things about my life that I write about on The Simple Dollar are snippets of reality.

When I write about making homemade laundry detergent, for example, I’m talking about something that takes fifteen minutes out of a day every two months.

When I talk about making our own meals at home, I’m talking about fifteen minutes of meal planning once a week, plus perhaps half an hour or so of meal prep five nights a week and some extra time the other nights of the week when we’re making something special.

When I talk about leftovers, I’m talking about maybe a minute invested in packaging up the remnants of a meal.

Frugality is an element of my life. It is not my life.

Whenever I wake up in the morning, I know that I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do. If I want to go to an electronics store and buy the newest iPad revision, I know I can certainly go do that. If I want to wake up one morning and replace one of our cars, I know I can certainly do that. I can go out to eat whenever I please, I can buy a computer game whenever I please, and so on.

Sometimes, I do these things. Sarah and I go out to eat sometimes, and on occasion we even take the children. I buy a new board game or a new book once in a while. We go on a pretty nice annual summer vacation, and Sarah and I each have an annual trip that we take individually for fun (she usually visits her sisters, I usually go with some friends to a convention).

Most of the time, though, I choose not to do these things. The reason is simple: I’m very aware that all of these things have a real cost.

When I hand over money for fun things, I’m losing the opportunity to enjoy other things.

On the simplest level, overspending means getting into debt trouble, and debt trouble means stress and worry and a painful attachment to one’s job. If I simply spend without thinking about it, I will eventually be stressed about bills that I can barely pay and paranoid about the vaguest hint of losing even a drop of income. When you reach that stage, work ceases to be fun – it becomes a ball and chain.

That’s the life I once lived, and it’s a life I never want to return to.

What we’re left with, then, is making choices about how to spend money and spend time. I have to ask myself whether going to the movies twice a month is a better entertainment expense than a weekend getaway with my wife. If I have both, I’ll regret it, as mentioned above, so I have to choose one or the other.

The other option, of course, is frugality. Are there ways I spend money in my life that really don’t matter to me? Laundry detergent is one. I want clean clothes, but I really don’t care too much about what I use to get them clean, provided it’s reasonably environmentally friendly and does the job.

If making my own laundry detergent – something I don’t really care about – saves me $30 a year, then I’m suddenly able to go to the movies once with my wife and not worry about the financial consequences of it.

That type of thinking enters into a lot of the little decisions we make, but the key thing is that they’re little choices sprinkled throughout the day like blueberries in a muffin. I don’t spend all day pondering the cheapest way of doing things. Most of the time, I’d do the same thing whether it would involve spending money or not.

I would play soccer in the backyard with my children regardless of whether I was a big spender or a tightwad. I would make my family a good home-cooked meal regardless of whether I was a big spender or a tightwad.

Frugality only enters my mind when it comes to actually buying or consuming things, and even then, I often don’t think about it because the decision has already been made beforehand (like food in the pantry, which has already been purchased).

The vast majority of the decisions in my day and time I spend has very little to do with maximizing my dollar. It has to do with living a great life.

For me, a great life means – in part – not stressing out about my debt situation or whether I’m going to have enough money to cover the bills. If that means not having everything I might want, well, I consider that a pretty worthwhile trade. I still get to have the vast majority of what I desire without all the stress of debt or day-to-day financial worry.

If making my own laundry detergent (15 minutes every two months) or air-sealing my home (several hours, once) or making a meal plan (fifteen minutes, once a week or so) leads to that kind of relief, you better believe I’ll be doing it. The other 95% of my life is left untouched and left with a lot more happiness.

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  1. Katie says:

    Having read the laundry detergent post, I don’t believe it only takes 15 minutes.

  2. Riki says:

    Perhaps people think your life is austere and boring because your writing comes off that way?

  3. Johanna says:

    You’ve obviously never had…

  4. Johanna says:

    (OK, moderation won’t let me finish my sentence.)

  5. Johanna says:

    (So y’all can use your imagination.)

  6. Johanna says:


  7. Johanna says:


  8. Johanna says:

    Is what Trent’s obviously never had.

  9. Angie says:

    you twitter feed seems inactive

  10. kc says:


  11. julie says:

    Yup. Moderation.

  12. Kevin says:

    I understand the point of moderation, but why are the comments never *released* from moderation?

  13. Tracy says:

    Moderation … again

  14. Tracy says:

    It’s not the time it takes you…

  15. Tracy says:

    it’s how your writing tries to make boring things…

  16. Tracy says:

    sound like the pinnacle of excitement to you.

  17. Tracy says:

    For example, inappropriate use of words like
    ‘incredibly’ make your life sound dull.

  18. Troy says:

    If you have both, you regret it? The problem isn’t having both. The problem is you regretting.

    Fixing the comment section of this blog doesn’t cost money…so what is your excuse, other than you don’t care?

  19. Angie says:

    @Tracy – like Huell Howser

  20. valleycat1 says:

    My comments on previous posts have yet to come out of moderation.

  21. Sam says:

    Blasted moderation. This site is SO boring without the comments!

  22. Sandy says:

    I all but give up…

  23. Sandy says:

    …on this site…

  24. Sandy says:

    …because the bloody moderation…

  25. Sandy says:

    ….comments go in…

  26. Sandy says:

    …and never come out…

  27. Sandy says:

    …and it’s the comment section that really makes this blog.

  28. Sandy says:

    ….PS. Thanks for this ‘trick’ Johanna :)

  29. Jackson says:

    The “trick” doesn’t always work. Oh, and I like Tide.

  30. kc says:

    It looks like you already said that!

  31. Andrew says:

    GRS is eating you alive. Over 100 interesting moments per post.

  32. Andrew says:

    Comments, not moments.

  33. slccom says:

    Moments, too!

  34. Trent has chosen to live a simple life, and he seems content with that choice, which is fine. I, on the other hand, am a big-city frugalista who loves to eat out as often as possible, dress fashionably, collect art and antiques, go to the theatre, and vacation in Italy. I manage to do all those things without spending much money because, like Trent, I’ve learned how to be thrifty.

  35. Kyle says:

    Hey Bargain Junkie – You are trolling for clicks, as you admit you spend way more than Trent. Try trolling another website for clicks.

  36. kc says:

    @ Kyle: She has as much right to comment here as anyone else. Her path is just a bit different than Trent’s.

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