Updated on 10.20.08

Spreading the Frugality Ideavirus

Trent Hamm

noteRecently, I was reading Unleashing the Ideavirus, Seth Godin’s excellent book on how ideas get shared among people. The book is available as a free PDF. It’s a little bit dated in terms of specifics, but the ideas are still the same: if you have a compelling idea and share it freely in a compelling way, other people will do most of the work in spreading it around for you. Like, for example, that link I just provided to Seth’s book – it’s a compelling idea and shared freely, so it gets passed around.

As with anything I read, I try to apply the idea behind it to what I’m doing. It’s fairly clear that my “ideavirus” that I wish to spread is frugality, or, in other words, spend less than you earn and make wise spending choices. I started this blog to talk about my own challenges with that idea – my successes, my failures, and what I learn about it.

From my perspective, The Simple Dollar’s success isn’t judged by the income I make. If that were my primary motivation, this site would have a lot more ads on it – and some of them would be rather dodgy. You’d be shocked at some of the ad offers that have been made to me – I could be a rich man right now. Instead, I run fewer ads and, as time goes on, I’m starting to negotiate ad agreements directly with organizations that I believe in and strongly match my own goals. My goal is to eventually have nothing but a small handful of ads on the site, all directly negotiated with companies doing business that I personally find value in, and that would raise me enough income to allow me to do the real work of The Simple Dollar.

What’s the “real work”? I judge the success of The Simple Dollar in terms of the number of people who have made positive changes in their financial lives because of the site. That’s my big motivation.

I know that at least some of you – both those of you who have your own blogs and those of you who do not – share this same motivation. You believe, as I do, that individuals are far better off when they have firm control over their money. They spend it more wisely, don’t carry a heavy debt load, and aren’t kept up at night with money worries. They live happier, can retire younger, and have more freedom to make big life choices (like trying a new, more fulfilling career).

How can this ideavirus be spread as widely as possible? This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Here are my conclusions.

Write catchier stuff that makes these ideas simple, attractive, and interesting. In other words, write something that’s entertaining enough to keep people intrigued and yet simple enough so that the idea behind it comes through. I think my best success in that department is my personal finance on the back of five business cards post, where I literally drew out the basic ideas of personal finance. Those are the kinds of things that people will send to their friends – and some of those friends will send it along to their friends.

Make the idea portable. Create something that people can take with them. Make posts easy to print out, for one. Another idea? I created a simple, straightforward set of money exercises called 31 Days to Fix Your Finances and made a downloadable document out of them. Even better, I encourage people to send it to their friends.

Figure out which ideas really work, then work hard at sharing them. Based on my traffic, I can tell that the two things above really worked, whereas some of my other ideas haven’t worked as well. The people who actually read it are telling me which ones work and which ones don’t. What does that mean? I make sure that, when I introduce others to the site, I send them the ones that work first. The catchy ideas. That way, even if they don’t stick around, they’re more likely to get that “spend less than you earn” idea stuck in their head.

Practice it loudly and proudly in my own life. I have the largest garden on the block. I also have what appears to be the oldest vehicle on the block. I share homemade food with the neighbors – not long ago, I gave one of our neighbors a loaf of my homemade zucchini bread. When people ask what I like to do, I talk about things that are very cheap or free – playing with my kids, playing board or card games, working in the yard.

Use “loud and proud” business cards. This one might particularly amuse you guys. Another thing I do to spread the idea is I give out “reminder” business cards. I encourage people not to file them away with their other business cards they get from people, but put it in their wallet next to their credit cards. On one side of the card is a gentle and humorous reminder to spend less than you earn, done in a very bright green. On the reverse, all it says is “Money got you stressed? Visit The Simple Dollar. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/”. The idea’s simple – if they see it in their wallet next to their credit card as they’re about to spend, it might encourage them to think twice about it.

Do you have any additional ideas how I could – or you could – spread the idea that frugality is interesting or cool or a good idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Laura says:

    I want to see this business card! I would distribute if I had some.

  2. Cindy says:

    I have a question….how can you live on less than you make if you don’t know how much you will be having come in. My husband is a attorney however each month it is different and we have had months (more than one) where we haven’t had enough to cover what we need to pay and we do try and live frugally.

  3. Chad says:


    What about a simple Excel spending plan? Just some basic instructions and a sample form…Just a thought


  4. Trent,
    I think that what you are preaching is the way to develop a real business.
    Providing value is the only way to build a sustainable business.
    More value = More recognition = More compensation
    (Regardless of how you define compensation)

  5. Brad says:

    You’ve been a big motivation for me, through personal emails and this site directly. Feel free to reprint/post this:

    I take home 5200 a month, through poor decisions I acquired car debt in the amount of 1300 a month. I live in a posh area and rent is 2000 a month. The rest however is open. I have been able to hunker down on food, gas spending and other frivolous items and went from being break even at the end of the month to banking $1500 a month so my wife and I can buy a house at age 25 (we’re 24/23 now)

    Going from a sloppy consumer to careful has changed the way we live our lives, see our goals and set for the future.

  6. Anne says:

    I want Brad’s job :) I’m 26 and taking home a lot less than that, but with no car note and much cheaper rent. And I agree 100%, this site really has been a great help. I banished my consumer debt and am now working on putting together a more detailed budget so that I can actually point to goals rather than just nebulously saving because I know I should.

    Your site has also really helped me keep my consumer “wants” in check, the latest being a $300 smart phone that, upon closer inspection, would have cost me a little under $1,000 in additional plan fees over the 2 year contract. Plus now I know to make certain in my budget that the $1,000 is actually saved rather than spent elsewhere! It’s a cool feeling and not at all one of deprivation (I’m still getting a new phone, I saved for that expense, just one without a plan requirement attached).

  7. Brandon says:

    Trent, have you thought about having two versions version of TSD? One with more (higher paying/dodgier) ads and one with less ads? I know personally I’d be willing to ignore the ads to know that I was contributing to your “job”. I really enjoy the message that you preach to people. Just yesterday I mowed my yard for the 9th time and thought to myself when I was finished (my lawn mower is now paid for). Everytime I mow next year I am essentially saving myself $20.

  8. BonzoGal says:

    Trent, I am one of those people you’ve helped make positive financial decisions. I read your blog every day (including Saturday and Sunday) to keep my motivation toward frugality going strong.

    As a “thank you”, I try to tell my friends and family members about your blog so you’ll have more readers. I’m always forwarding your URL to folks. I know a couple of friends who have started reading regularly because of my recommendation.

    I really do think you should work toward a book- the blog could promote the book and vice-versa.

  9. sandra says:

    I must say that I´ve seen many blogs talk about frugality, but in Portugal some “crazy” ways to save money are the day-to-day life for everybody. We all put our clothes to dry in the sun, we all avoid spend money here and there, we all go to Lidl ( the most enexpensive supermarket), but with gas go higher and with small pays in the end of the month, its very dificult. my brother says that the portugueses are spend more than they earn: almost everybody go to have a coffee every day, and the people weep the cost of the school books for her child, but still goes to the coffee shop and some think that if they stop smoking, that is gona do a favor to the government, so…ignore the crisis that we have since ever, work more hours and continue all the same way. all this to say that the Simple dollar made a huge difernece in my life, and a year later (for me) change my husband too.thanks

  10. Mitch says:

    Trent, this site is, bar none, my favorite on the web. I started reading during my last semester of college (last fall), and I’ve managed to largely avoid the pitfalls that many of my former classmates have fallen into. I occasionally make mistakes (far less often than I used to), but it’s encouraging to read about a guy who also makes mistakes and has paid off so much debt in a relatively short time. My wife and I are on track to pay off nearly $90k in student loan and consumer debt within 4-5 years, and I don’t think that ever would have happened had I not stumbled across your site a year ago. Keep up the good work!

  11. Brad says:

    You don’t want my job trust me. :)

  12. Steph says:

    Have you thought about making business cards like that downloadable so that your readers could print them out, add them to their wallet, and even hand them out?

    It’d be a great incentive not to spend money, and I know some people who I could give them to!

  13. Ray says:

    Thanks for this post–it’s really useful to see how somebody successful like you share what make him successful.

    Making positive impact on people’s lives–that has to be pretty motivating!

  14. I read recently on a blog that parents had put a $10 gift limit notice on invitations for their child’s birthday party. They may have also said that homemade gifts or none at all were equally welcome, but that in no case should a gift cost more than $10. Apparently, other parents liked that idea, because the original parents saw similar notes popping up on other kids’ party invitations. Viral marketing? I dunno, but I like the idea.

    I’m thinking of trying something like this for Christmas with my family. I really don’t need anything, so if people want to get me something anyway, I like the fact that they’ll have to think carefully about what to do for less than $10. It would certainly inspire more creativity than is frequently put into gift exchange.

  15. moneyclip says:

    I’d like to see some interviews and testimonials a la Dave Ramsey. I think these drive on the realities of being frugal. It’d be awesome if you could do it per youtube video, limiting them to under 10 minutes each.

    Perhaps you could try to tackle each individual’s problem, lay out their specific issues and then show them how they can make all these changes you’ve been touting, and then come back to them in a month, a half year and a year with follow-ups. Then you could re-analyze what they’re doing right and what they still need to do, to be more frugal and to get out of debt.

    I think that’d be an interesting direction this website could take. In my mind there’s nothing more powerfully motivating that seeing advice put into action to make change. Real change isn’t talked about, it’s seen!

    Of course that’d take a substantial amount of time, video editing, and then finding candidates in your area that would be willing to share their story. But if you could do it, I think it’d be awesome and would represent something to seriously distinguish this site from others (not that it needs to but it would definitely be different)

  16. conny says:

    I also want to see the card, and a link to where to get it…

  17. Carrie says:

    I love the idea of the business card! One tip I give my friends who have credit card debt is to wrap a piece of paper around their credit card that lists their goals. That way, each time they use their credit card, they have to look at what they’re giving up in the way of their goals.
    (It’s a tip I may have learned from your site, as I’m a long time fan and avid daily reader.)

    Kudos to you for following your passion – I’m sure your motives are part of what keeps so many of us coming back.

  18. Sarah says:

    @Brandon: Try Firefox’s Ad Block Plus. I have it, and I don’t see any ads on this site.

  19. samantha says:

    I use your site for info and a check on how I feel about money. If I ignore your site then I know I’m feeling guilty and that is when I need to read it. It easily keeps me motivated to stay on budget and check my accounts.

  20. Kevin says:

    Have you ever thought about contacting local high school teachers or college professors in your area and seeing if they will use your blog in appropriate classroom situations?

    I really think your writing style would appeal to younger people as well. We need to start teaching the kids the ways of frugality and show them they don’t “have” to go down the same free-spending road as their parents.

    By the way, congrats on cracking 40,000 subscribers – you have a small city reading your blog it seems!

  21. SteveJ says:

    Wow there are some great ideas on here, I really like moneyclip’s and Kevin’s.

    @Brad – I don’t care how much you make, spending $1500 less a month is a tremendous change in lifestyle. Congratulations!

    @Trent, I really enjoy your site because it keeps me thinking about my finances and where I want to end up. Your site sets the perfect tone for me, friendly and informative, so I come back for my daily dose. I haven’t really bought into the frugality message as much as I should – I’m naturally cheap in most basic spending areas (food, clothes, car), big on doing things myself (yard work, repairs), yet not inclined to start a garden, do a month’s worth of meal planning, or give up my completely unnecessary mountain of video games and electronics. I do enjoy reading those articles too, even if they don’t always inspire me to action. Your site has been invaluable in so many other ways though, I’m taking a much closer look at savings and investing options (I would have left my savings in my .00001% bank account if I hadn’t read about ING direct), and I’m actively seeking out more work to pay down my debt that way, since I’m unwilling to make the tougher cuts in the budget (I just can’t give up my high speed internet or blissful A/C!)

    I think the greatest service the TSD provides is to show that there are a lot of options and that you’re not forced to do the stupid consumer thing. Everyone is different so every article doesn’t apply, but the vast assortment of topics and solutions can help you find something that will help your situation.

  22. Anne K says:

    Hey, Trent, I like the idea of spreading a business card but not the idea of you paying for all the thousands of cards. How about making a business card design to post on TSD somewhere, maybe right under the blogroll or something? People can print it as they wish and hand it out. I’ve been sending links to your site, but perhaps hardcopy would be better.

    Anne K.

  23. Elizabeth says:

    Have you tried a push to get press for the Simple Dollar in other media? Surely the context of current events should make tv/print/radio financial reporters receptive to your message.

  24. Rob in Madrid says:

    Fewer ads, I think that is one of the reasons why your blog is so popular. Not that I’m apposed to ads, newspapers are cheap simply becuase they had ads.

    Also as America moves from bubble inspired spending to forced frguality (via a nasty rescession) blogs like yours will become more popular.

    Also I’m one of your sucess stories, starting this paycheque the extra money will actually be real true disposible income! A really really wierd feeling.

  25. Hi Trent! I really enjoy your writing and your style, and have for about six months now. For me it’s mostly inspiring to read how change is possible, how it works; I am pretty frugal by nature and (therefor) have no debts. However, I am trying to get into a different line of work – a young mom between jobs right now. Probably something to do with coaching, writing and creativity. Am inspired by the success of TSD and how you’ve set it up, how you describe your process. (my blog is still in the experimental phase, have to take your advice on writing catchy to heart)

    In terms of how to spread your ideas, I’d suggest branching out. I think frugality is a good idea and people who are inclined towards it will find you – that’s how I did, through a Google search on frugality. However, you might attract and seduce others, who do not necessarily like or know of frugality, to consider boiling their life down to its essentials (something like love your close ones and work your passion, and cherish both), and in effect living more frugally in a different manner. By branching out (or linking to, cooperating with) “living your best life” type of subjects (or blogs, writers). For example, “glamming up” some really savoury dishes, that happen to be frugal. Post a super mouth watering pic of a homemade muffin for your kids to take to school etc. Paradoxically, shift focus away from frugality and you may find that you will attract and possibly convert a whole new type of reader. Not convince them with the idea, but with the positive life effects the idea may have.

    Also, hope this doesnt sound silly, have you tried contacting the Oprah show? She has me believing that she is committed to helping individuals conquer their personal credit crises. I can only guess what mention of your blog on the show could do for your traffic…

    Hope this makes sense, keep up the good work!

  26. Stars says:

    I’ve been reading your site for a while now. It has truly motivated me to get all of our debt consolidated, which won’t be that hard. I have been buggin my DH to be have the money talk, and your site has really opened my eyes to so many things. I love the idea of this book.

    When I seen the title, I laughed and I realized it’s exactly what I’ve done in a prev job. I wanted to “Go Green”, to support a local business and to help the corp company look good in the community (it’s all ready got a great image) I’m no longer there but I know my efforts are being kept up.

    I am with a new company now and I’m going to be pitching more recycling ideas (plastic bottles mostly). They have a promo going right now, to do with Going Green, working ten hours shifts, riding the bus, etc. Do you have any creative suggestions for me?

  27. Uncle B says:

    Shanty- towns, all warm and cozy, are being built from the remains of the McMansions, all along the edges of small towns, and scavengers run city streets and dumps at night collecting anything supporting survival in the new underground, fringe society economy. Good cloned German beer home brew is for sale,cheap, and, if you know who to see, fresh, humanured to be sure, but fresh, (washed) veggies are often cheaper than supermarket stuff, and the stolen goods market rages ahead as always, fueled on by shortages of work and cash! The Van is King in this new economy, and transports all things, legal or otherwise, using chip-oil for fuel. The new currency is “swapping” or dope, grass being a favorite, and it grows everywhere you don’t expect! Used clothes are the mark of the true survivor, they don’t show the opulence that closes the market to some, and bestow a trust often only given to close friends, like a uniform once did, for those in the know! America is changing, the GRD great republican depression runs on, the greedy neo-cons started it. The common folk will finish it, tax free, no paper records, and without a shot!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *