The Frugal Traveler and the Varying Definitions of Frugal

Recently, I’ve begun following the Frugal Traveler blog, hosted by the New York Times and written by Matt Gross. The title of the blog is reasonably accurate – it focuses on how to cut costs while traveling. For me, though, the most interesting aspect of the blog is that it clearly shows the wide diversity in what people think of as frugal.

Take two recent posts. The first is an interview with Leon Logothetis, who hosts the “reality” show “Amazing Adventures of a Nobody” on the Fox Reality Channel. The premise of the show is simple – Leon attempts to travel from point A to point B on just $5 a day (or five euros a day or five pounds a day, depending on his exact location). In effect, Leon’s approach to travel (at least in the context of his show) involves hitchhiking and relying on the good will of others in order to get around – riding (and sometimes crossing) the fine line between frugal and cheap, from my perspective.

The very next post? How to skim off a bit of money on your Vermont resort skiing trip by using the bus. For me, this goes in the opposite direction – a skiing trip at a resort is pretty much the opposite of frugal.

Yet, from reading the comments, it was clear that each article appealed to some people and drove away others. Many people argued that the article about Leon was simply way too cheap, while some others stated that the advice about Vermont ski resorts was simply out of their price range.

So, what’s the take home message here? I came up with three conclusions.

First, frugality means different things to different people. My personal sense of what’s frugal and what is not is likely different than your sense. I consider it worthwhile to make my own laundry detergent, for example, while others consider such an activity a complete waste of time. On the other hand, I know some people who are diligent about using only one sheet of toilet paper, calculating that every wasteful use of the toilet costs them money – I consider that cheap, not frugal.

Just because someone has a different definition of frugality doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong – just different. Our personal idea of what it means to be frugal – or cheap or a spendthrift – comes from a lifetime of experiences – and none of us have identical experiences. In my childhood, for example, I consumed a lot of wild game, simply because it was very frugal for us to catch it and use it ourselves. That’s an experience that many people simply don’t have – and thus they process such things far differently than I do.

Instead of calling someone “cheap” or say that they’re wasting money, look for ways you can apply some of what they’re saying. When I leaf through The Complete Tightwad Gazette, I don’t necessarily jump on board with every idea that I see. Some of the ideas simply warrant a simple “no” from me. Others seem right up my alley, and yet others make me stroke my chin and think for a bit. Not all of Amy’s advice – or anyone’s advice – is going to apply to me, but if at least some of it appears to be applicable to my life, I’m going to be rewarded by reading the whole thing, even if I don’t use all of it (or even most of it).

And with that, I think I’ll go curl up with The Complete Tightwad Gazette again and see if any good ideas come to mind.

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