Updated on 08.06.09

The Source of Frugal Misery

Trent Hamm

Kevin writes in:

Your examples of how to live frugally make it sound like your life [is terrible]. Why are you sacrificing all happiness to save a buck? If I had your life, I’d be miserable. Live a little, dude.

Most of the frugal advice I give usually revolves around some clever substitutions or the replacement of a few habits. A few examples: I stopped going to the coffee shop every day. I started making my own laundry detergent instead of buying it. I started using the library and using PaperBackSwap instead of hitting the bookstore all the time. I started using Last.fm and Pandora instead of buying piles of CDs. I sold off most of my DVD collection and started renting DVDs. I started shopping for clothes at thrift stores. I subscribed to magazines I bought on the newsstands and killed subscriptions to magazines I didn’t read very often. I started trading used video games.

For many people, at least one change on that list will seem really painful. “I can’t imagine giving up my daily latte – it’s the spice of my life.” “My DVD collection is awesome – I love it!” “Nothing excites me more than a new book that’s mine!” “I love freshly-cleaned clothes with that Tide smell!”

And they conclude that frugality is misery.

Here’s the thing, though. The examples I gave above are the things that I did, not necessarily the things that will work for you.

I took a very serious look at my life and asked myself what I really valued.

I enjoyed watching a movie once a week, but the DVDs on my shelf didn’t really mean anything to me, so I just sold off my DVDs and moved to occasional rentals. Maybe you do enjoy your DVD collection – a big row of DVDs brings some real personal value to your life because you’re a movie buff who loves rewatching some of the great films you own. But perhaps it’s the experience of watching a new movie that you enjoy and you rarely rewatch those movies that you’ve bought. So… why not just sell them off, stop buying them, and use Netflix?

I went to the coffee shop every day, but I realized that it was more of a habit than a true source of enjoyment, so I stopped. Maybe your morning latte really is a key source of happiness for your day – it wakes you up, provides that perfect little rush, and makes you genuinely smile with that first taste, every time. For me, though, I realized that my enjoyment came from memories of sitting around coffee shops with my friends, not from that cup of coffee in front of me, so I stopped going every day.

Aside from a few clothes kept for special occasions, I really look at clothes as being functional. I’m happy in an old pair of jeans and a scruffy t-shirt – or whatever else happens to fit well and is clean. So why should I shop at an expensive clothes shop? I am tall, which means it can be hard to find clothes that fit well, but I can often find good stuff for just a buck or two at a thrift store.

Tide is not a personal value in my life. You might find value in the enzymes in commercial laundry detergent. For me, though, if something gets my clothes clean to the eye and to the nose, I’ll use it. Nothing’s cheaper than homemade laundry detergent and it’s not hard to make – I can make it while talking on the phone or playing with my kids. So why not?

I love to read and I love to book browse, but a bookshelf stuffed with books I’ve already read does nothing for me. Perhaps a library of well-loved books adds aesthetic appeal to your life (it does for my wife), but it doesn’t do much at all for me. So I started going to the library and I found that their book selection was way better than I thought. I also started using PaperBackSwap, trading away the books I had hoarded and getting fresh ones to read for about $2.50 a pop.

To me, frugality is all about figuring out what you really value. I don’t value a bookshelf full of books I’ve already read. I don’t value the latest clothes. I don’t value a shelf full of DVDs I’ve already seen. I don’t value store-bought laundry detergent.

I value other things. I value quality food, especially produced from local sources. I’ll happily pay more for eggs from local farmers and milk from the creamery down the road and beef bought directly from a rancher and vegetables at the farmers market. I’m also willing to invest in good kitchen equipment to prepare it. I value my family and experiences that we share. I won’t even think twice about buying tickets to the state fair for all of us or investing in the best child care I can find for my children or planning ahead for life-changing experiences for them (like spending a summer or two living abroad when they’re older). I value my work. I want tools that make writing simple and efficient for me and I’m happy to invest in those tools. I value helping out others that help me. If I find a service that I use, I’ll happily shell out to be a premium user, even if it’s just to support that service, and I don’t hesitate to tip for good service at restaurants or at other places.

But if I run across things that fall outside my values, I’m cheap. I don’t hesitate to buy generics. I’ll find every way possible to trim my energy bill. I’ll look for simple behavior changes that cut my usage of everything from toilet paper to shower water. I carefully plot and comparison shop for most of the items I buy. I could care less about luxury automobiles – what vehicle can I get the most miles out of for the dollar with some degree of reliability?

In my eyes, frugal misery comes about when people try to apply cost-cutting tactics in areas that have a high personal value for them. They love their morning coffee, hear talk about the “latte factor,” and hide. They are movie buffs and they watch two DVDs a night – mostly from their own collections – so the thought of trimming that collection down to “save money” sounds nightmarish. They really value going out on the town with their friends, so cutting back on their “going out” seems like the worst thing they can imagine.

We all value a certain handful of things quite a bit, and don’t value other areas nearly as much. Frugality means figuring out those things that you value and then cutting back hard in the areas you don’t value.

Because if you don’t value it in your life, why are you spending anything more than the minimum possible on it?

My response to Kevin is simple. How exactly are you enjoying life by spending money on things you don’t value?

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  1. Joe says:

    Cheap in some areas, extravagant in others. The idea of a fast food lunch 3 to 4 times a week is not appealing ( to stomach or wallet ), but I would have no problem occasionally dropping some money in a nice Italian restaurant. Food, wine, dessert, with the company of my wife and some friends. The value of money is how you spend it.
    Better off spending on quality rather than quantity.

  2. Dave says:

    Frugality is about getting the most for the least, if you go to the coffee shop every day, it’s the norm, if you go once a week it’s a good treat, if once a month, you look forward to it, now lets say your daily cup costs $4.00 thats $20 a week, once a week if you got the realy good stuff say for $10 or go all out and get the best you can find for say $30 a cup what is better?
    I’ll go for the $30 cup once a month an realy enjoy and look forward to. and it’s still lest expensive.

  3. Mike C says:

    I don’t like the word “frugal”. Most people seem to think that it means “cheap”, and it is not the same.

    In your particular case, I don’t think you are “sacrificing” much: you enjoy good food and good beer, you spend a lot time playing with your kids, you take your family for a enjoyable vacation, you listen to good music and read good books; and to top it off you have a bunch of hobbies that you enjoy, from playing in your game console, to gardening or cooking. You are just smart in the way you do those things. And that does not mean that you don’t spend money in those things; you are just selective in the way you spend your money (you would buy good produce and good utensils to cook instead of going out). I don’t know if frugality is that, but to me it is just common sense.

    In the end it comes down to something very simple: you have a limited amount of money (well, most of us do), so you have to prioritize. If you prioritize having a coffee every morning or having a huge CD collection over saving for your retirement, that is your choice.

  4. Molly says:

    Love your reply of determining what is value for you !!! We are all different, so it refreshing to know that your values might not be the same for me. Don’t we have to ask ourselves….what do I value?

  5. Chelsey says:

    I definitely agree with this, Trent. My husband and I are expecting our first child in February and we have pretty much made the decision that I will stay home with the baby. It will be tight on my husband’s income, but because we value me being there for our child, we know the frugal sacrifices we make will be worth it. A friend of mine was trying to dissuade me from going home and said it would be too much stress to have to pinch pennies. But to me it’s not pinching pennies, because the only thing that matters is the well-being of my family, specifically our child. Giving up going out to eat as often or not having as much flexible income doesn’t bother me.

  6. Abby says:

    Thanks for this! I work hard to save money on groceries and lots of daily necessities, but happily spend $10/lunch out once or twice a week. It’s something that I really enjoy, and I’m supporting a local restaurant that I love.

    And having gone from in debt to having money in the bank? I can honestly say that there’s no misery like the not-knowing-how-to-pay-my-bills misery. I’d brown bag it every day if that’s what it took to never, ever be there again.

  7. M says:

    I talk freely about my frugality at work. My coworkers call me cheap and criticize the way hubby and I live. They dont realize how much fun it can be to live frugally.

    I ENJOY planning and having a $20 weekend with my husband going to the lake to swim and have a picnic, going to the local demo derby or race track, eating out with BOGO coupons, going to the drive in or dollar theater, and even making and drinking our home-made wine!

    I consider my life far from boring!
    Like you, I value time with my family over anything.

    Hubby and I had so many things we “wanted” and realized one day that it was stupid to waste the money. For instance, we like to drive through the country with the top down of a convertible. Instead of purchasing one that we can drive only 6 months out of the year (we live in the snow-belt), we save a specific amount of money every month called “fun money.” This way, instead of purchasing/storing/upkeep/insurance/etc. on our own convertible, we will have the money to rent one a couple of times a year. We have the best of both worlds.

    There is nothing like going to a garage sale and finding something you’ve wanted for years for pennies on the dollar.

    It’s the simple pleasures…
    My favorite quote is: “It’s not about how much money you make, it’s about how you spend it.”


  8. Misty K. says:

    I’m really glad i came across your blog several months ago. And enjoy reading your ideas, what works for you, and also the confirmation that we as a society do sometimes over do it on some things and I think that is one reason why there is so much debt nowadays.

  9. kev says:

    This exact attitude is what got my wife and I out of debt. We enjoy life more now, and because we eliminated all the other stuff, we reached a point where we are able to do things like drive that extra couple KMs to get to the shop that sells local food, where we spend slightly more money than we would have at the grocery store. Or buy her a dSLR so she can really enhance her photography skills without being frustrated by the limits of a regular camera.

  10. Harris says:

    Concur with prioritising where you spend your $$. My wife and I have cut down on eating lunch/coffee out, as we find that taking our lunches has meant that we are eating better. Similarly, we have an espresso machine at home that we use for coffee during the week, and then we have a routine on the weekends where we have a coffee at the local Italian cafe when we walk the dog. We find that we really appreciate the coffee much better and are saving money as well!

  11. kev says:

    @Abby, Brownbag it!
    That was my very first step towards financial recovery. I buy my lunch now maybe 3-4 times a year, and then only when I have to, and I don’t even enjoy it when I do.
    (Not counting, of course, when I have to go out of town, and then it’s on the clients tab)

    Here’s how to become a brownbagger who people envy:

    1. Resolve to become a better cook if you’re not good already.
    2. Choose a few meals you really like and plan to put them in rotation.
    3. On sunday or monday, always cook one of those dishes for dinner, and always cook enough for six. Unless you’re already cooking for six, in which case, ohhh…. maybe ten. It’s cheaper and more efficient to cook for more people
    4. When you serve up the meal, serve the extra portions directly into tupperware-style lunch containers at the same time, and put them right into the fridge.
    5. You might have to make a couple extra dinner portions on wednesday or thursday if you run out of lunches. Easy peasey
    6. Force yourself to try one new recipe every month or two for this process. It will get easier and easier
    7. If you DO find yourself at work without a pre-made lunch, go to the grocery store, you’ll find some incredible hot lunches for half the price of equivalent food at restaurants

    You’ll reach a point, as my wife and I did, where people come around to see what you’re eating, cause it looks and smells so much better than whatever THEY just spent $10 on. Suckers

  12. KC says:

    What happens is your priorities change – that’s why you don’t enjoy your daily latte or weekly DVD purchase as much. You would rather have that money for other purposes than the ones your currently partake in. It has nothing to do with sacrifice – it’s just a change in priorities.

  13. Mitch K. says:


    Agree wholeheartedly. I’m just a cheap son of a gun in nearly all facets of life. My one splurge: nice living arrangements. My furniture may be crap, but I have beautiful hard wood floors and marble in the bathroom.

    One piece of constructive criticism: if you don’t care about something, it’s “I couldn’t care less about luxury automobiles” not “I could care less about luxury automobiles”. I agree with the sentiment, but not the syntax.

    This web site explains it well:


  14. Meg says:

    That is how my dad and stepmom brownbag, and it works very well for them. But it really only works if you have access to a microwave (generally).

    I have to make sandwiches and stuff that works well for outdoor work, so in my case I prefer to pay extra and get nicer bread, deli meats, and cheese, etc. It still works out less than eating out, and is also healthier.

    I know that I save considerably more money than my coworkers that eat out all the time, and it also doesn’t take much more time in the morning to prepare.

    I also find more value in owning a book than owning a DVD and more value at staying home than going out on the town.

    It amazes me how many times Trent has to repeat the same message: find ways that work for you. I read TSD for the different ideas. I don’t implement the majority of them, but they are there to think about if my life changes.

  15. Sheila says:

    I get great satisfaction having no debt and watching my bank account grow. I enjoy seeing how much I can save by buying thrift store clothing plus I get the satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing something for the environment. It’s fun finding stuff I enjoy wearing and only paying a few bucks. I quit buying books because we ran out of room, and I hate having piles of stuff on the floor–we use the library instead. I looked at making detergent, but decided it wasn’t worth it to me. And I’d never spend three hours cooking a meal, but it’s something Trent enjoys doing (I’d happily eat the meal that Trent cooks, however) so more power to him. One person’s enjoyment is another person’s misery, I guess. Makes me wonder if Kevin feels the only way to be happy is to spend money. I wonder what constitutes “live a little” in his mind?

  16. Erika says:

    I didn’t start out trying to save money. I actually started out trying to clean and organize our home and life. However, I found that the neater our home got, the less I desired to shop for two reasons. One I could find things I need, so I didn’t need to replace what I already owned. Two I kept asking myself where I would place the item I wanted to buy in my clean home. It was often enough to keep me from buying. I was so surprised by how much I saved without even trying that now I’m trying to cut spending in other areas. In my case, frugality came as an aside, but has only increased my life.

  17. Michael says:

    Easy on the bold, please. Somehow you made this post harder to read by bolding the wrong parts of it, or at least bolding the right parts but putting those parts in the wrong places.

  18. bethany says:

    I really respect the way you express what might be important to other people that aren’t to you in this post. I think your attitude here is right on: save on the things you don’t really care about, so you CAN spend on the things you love.

  19. ChrisB says:

    Here’s the quick response to Kevin’s comment: things (which is usually what we spend money on) don’t make us happy.

    Pretty obvious, but also easy to forget, especially when we’re incessantly bombarded with the opposite message.

  20. TW says:

    If you are doing things that make broke people make fun of you, then you are doing it right.

    MOST PEOPLE don’t understand those of us who live a frugal lifestyle. MOST PEOPLE are broke. So sure, live a little, within your means. The problem is that MOST PEOPLE are LIVING A LITTLE with money they don’t have!

    Get out of debt and then LIVE A LOT, NOT A LITTLE!

    (this from a debt free ((but the house)) kind of guy who just dropped 100 bucks on something that everyone else would call crazy, but I can, and it didn’t hurt my pocket book one bit!)

  21. Eli Sarver says:

    No things don’t make us happy. Adhering to our values do. I think that’s what Trent does. He has a set of values and he finds personal satisfaction in following them.

  22. CP says:


    Postings like this one are the reason I continue to come back to this site. I do not agree with everything you say, nor would I initiate some of the steps you have to trim costs in your life. This is to be expected, because we are different people with different interests, etc. However, I agree with the general idea to spend (within reason) on items/services that are important while looking to save in all other areas.

  23. David says:

    Heh. I get odd responses sometimes because I drive a 1991 Volvo 240. Yes, it’s sort of a money pit, but I enjoy driving it and working on it and transforming what to the last owner was just a beater to a nice daily driver. It’s not about a full restoration, more just keeping the old girl in good shape.

    I don’t mind spending $1,000 on rebuilding the front end like I’ll be doing next week, because for the price of the cheapest, worst new car that will not last five years much less 18, I can rebuild mine twice over, and all of these big-ticket repairs won’t need to be done again for another 18 years.

  24. Once we’ve mindfully identified what truly makes us tick, our financial decisions can be guided into alignment with our value system. I’ve learned to craft my entire spending plan around my values and priorities.

    Problem seems to be that advertisers, the media and society influence how many spend their time and money — whether it’s a good fit for their personal values or not.

  25. spaces says:

    Down with laundry enzymes! That was funny. :-)

    “What are you saving FOR?” Sometimes the answer is “This.”

  26. I have to say something … I’ve been a long time reader of your blog & I have to say that this is THE BEST post you have ever written. So honest, so blunt, yet also very considerate. Your advice is fantastic & every person in America should read this!

  27. Maureen says:

    My family manages to dress very well (never scruffy!) with thrift store finds.

    Your laundry detergent recipe was what first brought me to this site. It was fun and easy to make. I worked my way through 2 large batches. Unfortunately I grew increasingly dissatisfied with it as our clothes got dingier with its use (particularly noticeable with my children’s school uniforms). My dh and children noticed too. Sorry, but I went back to Tide. I save money when doing laundry by washing in cold water and hanging clothes on my outside line when possible.

    Each person can choose what works for them.

  28. Jacqueline says:

    I hardly ever comment, but just had to say that I’m impressed with your ability to not only diffuse a negative and cocky question, but to make the most of it. Great writing and great point.

  29. Shellie says:

    Trent, I totally agree. This was an awesome response to a question I get asked all the time. I, personally would never give up my crafts willingly. If it came down to food or crafts, of course I would choose food, but cable or crafts – sorry cable! Life still has to be worth living. My family gets enjoyment out of spending time together crafting – and searching out cheap crafting stuff! :)

  30. I hardly ever find things I completely agree with, but this has to be as close as it gets. ;) It makes little sense to scrimp and save when there’s nothing else to do with the money found!

    What’s a “splurge” category to me: Cars, travel, eating out.

    What’s not: Groceries, hair cuts/manis/pedis, household furnishings, lots of clothes. (Do like some good clothes though, just don’t need a lot.)

    I do tend to spend a lot on my collection of diecast cars… Like today, dropping $14 that I wasn’t *totally* planning on. But it was a good deal, and a couple of cars that I would love to have in my (mild) collection. :)

    @David (17) – Try explaining to people why you just bought a 1990, that gets some raised eyebrows. ;) My old girl’s a blast, though, and I couldn’t imagine life without her anymore!

  31. Anne says:

    You’ve done a great job of articulating the way I live my life. My car is a 1992 Toyota Corolla for which I paid $800 five years ago, I rarely eat out, brown bag it,and don’t pay for cable TV. I love my homemade laundry detergent and thrift stores, too. I work full time and part time (the part time helps pay the bills but is also my passion). I have lots of friends and I love to entertain. I HATE cleaning the house. Left to my own devices, I really let things go and then hate my house and don’t want anyone to see it. I’ll scrimp and save on a lot of other things so that I can have someone come and clean my house every other week. This would be a waste of money for other people but it is perfectly in line with my priorities and values and makes it much easier for me to enjoy life.

  32. Mighty says:

    This is so true. If you have a hobby or luxury you can afford, that needn’t be the area where you cut back.

    However, does anyone get extra enjoyment out of spending extra on their utilities?

    I wrote a post about this called “Beautiful Thrift.”

  33. Ellen says:

    Yes! You need to pay attention and spend mindfully. Spend where you get the most bang for your buck, which will be totally different than your friends’ and neighbor choices.

  34. Rangzy says:

    Excellent post, Trent.
    The ‘habit vs enjoyment’ thought is top-class.

    Also, the sections on what we really value and the priorities are very well written.

    This article stands out as *the justification* for the fundamentals upon which this blog TSD is successful.

    Henceforth, whenever I discuss frugality (& TSD) with friends, I shall ask them to read this article first.

    Hats off to Trent. Your readers are really fortunate to keep getting such excellent articles everyday.

  35. Damester says:

    I’ve read your blog for quite awhile. And while I don’t adhere to some of your suggestions (making your own laundry detergent), I’ve never felt your frugality impinged on your “lifestyle” or your enjoyment of your life.

    If anything, you make being thoughtful and mindful in what you buy and how you allocate your money, something really rewarding.

    Being forced to be frugal, because one is deep in debt, now that’s a bit different. Because you aren’t CHOOSING frugality. It’s being forced on you.

    Another reason to be in a situation where you have money, but choose NOT to spend it on “stuff” you don’t need or want.

    So you can then, if you like, save it and/or spend it on what really matters (an education, a once in a lifetime trip, whatever).

    Being frugal is not inherently good or bad. It’s why you choose it and how you live it.

  36. kirstie says:

    Kevin is either deliberately trying to wind you up or hasn’t read any of your posts. I am not sure how Kevin spends his money, but he appears to get his kicks from sending strange e-mails to finance/frugality blogs. At least that’s a fairly low cost activity -way to go Kevin!

  37. Noadi says:

    I love clothes and food. However not having much money has led to 2 things:

    1: I buy a lot on clearance and at thrift stores but I’m picky about what I buy, picking stuff that isn’t going to go out of style next week. I’ll occasionally splurge on nice accessories that will last me for years. As an example I just bought a vintage red bowler hat, it’s gorgeous and hats last decades with good care (this one already has).

    2: I learned to cook and found that I love to do it. If you cook it yourself no matter what the ingredients are it’s going to be cheaper than a restaurant. So I can get something like a good imported cheese once in a while because I save so much by cooking at home.

    You can be frugal and still enjoy things.

  38. Kate says:

    Great post and so true. when we stop and really think about it, what do we really need and I mean really need.

    i am always clearing things out of my home and am constantly surprised at the things i have but have not looked at in years. It’s at this point you know you don’t need them.

    Kate from frugal Living tips.com

  39. DB says:

    I drive my colleague nuts with my frugal frolics and conquests and she keeps asking me Why ?!..Why?! . Last time I told her I was going to buy a new camera she nearly started to applaud and saying See…! you can do it ! I knew you had it in you ! And she wasn’t smiling when she said that. I think it says more about her then it says about me.

  40. I definitely agree with this idea. The way I live my frugal life might not be the way others would choose to live their frugal lives, and that’s ok. I cook from scratch, line dry laundry, make my own yogurt, and do all sorts of other frugal things, and I just spent $1200 on a camera lens. I wouldn’t have been able to spend that $1200 unless I’d been frugal in other ways, though.

    Personally, I’d much rather cook from scratch and have a lens than eat out and have no lens.

  41. deRuiter says:

    Great post Trent! Frugality isn’t poverty! Frugality is the antidote to poverty. Frugality gives one the freedom to do as one chooses. I like international travel, so, armed with frequent flyer miles, I travel. At home we’re frugal. Even the travel is frugal, but fun. Money’s a tool. Cutting expenses by food gardening, yard saling, fixing the old cars, doing home repairs, line drying clothing and sheets, renting out unused space, buying used books and dvds, renting them or borrowing from the library, using exhaust fans at night in summer to cool the house instead of AC, all save money for more important things like prepaying a mortgage, travel, paying cash for a vehicle, an emergency fund, paying bills on time. Trent doesn’t live like a miser, he cuts corners on unimportant things and has money to spend when he wishes. Frugality has enabled Trent to build up an emergency fund so he and his wife can relax. Living on the edge financially is uncomfortable. Poverty stricken people tend to make many bad financial decisions, to enable them to stay in poverty. “I want that new leather jacket / fancy car / $350 toy car for my kid TODAY so I’ll buy it and worry about paying the rent later.” is the kind of splurging on the part of the poverty stricken which has brought me to landlord tenant court 163 times, 162 of them victories, and one draw. The sad thing is that none of these people have not had enough money, instead they have not had the ability to prioritize spending and to be frugal.

  42. I have had people tell me the same thing Kevin said to you. I respond that there is NO better feeling than knowing I have money saved and am in charge of my own life.

    I do NOT feel deprived of anything–on the contrary, I control my life, and haven’t sold that freedom for a bunch of “stuff”.

    When my husband and I got married 32 years ago, we were right out of college and dead broke. We learned how to be super frugal so we could save and invest, at the same time having lots of fun! We continue those same habits and now buy the castoffs of all those people that bought all the expensive goodies. This stuff is practically brand new for almost no money!

    I recently had a man tell me he couldn’t give up his daily trip to the coffee shop for the $5 coffee “because that is the best thing in his life!” I said, then you need to take a hard look at your life!

  43. littlepitcher says:

    Why pay $4 a cup for coffee when you can purchase a pound for $10 and drink it with your shoes off and feet up?

    Why eat fast-food junk daily when you can freeze a good meal’s leftovers in a butter bowl and have it at work? I’ve been envied on the job for my soul-food, Oriental non-ramen pastas, and by landlords enthralled by the fragrances of those and my homemade condiments. I was called a fool in my three-job days when I spent my only day off canning sweets and relishes.
    Our wardrobes are not aesthetic entitlement programs for the Joneses and their ilk. If they, or our meals, appeal to the trendy, fine; if not, no big deal. We own our lives, not our neighbors, not our bosses, who own 8 hours of labor and appearance but want slaveowner privileges. I save money on the Jones entitlement items and spend it on personal enjoyment and a savings account, and miss nothing from frugality except the unpleasant companionship of snobs.

  44. Kathy says:

    You can still go out for coffee or go out for lunch or pick up a book or DVD, but when it’s a once in awhile thing, it becomes a treat rather than routine. And you can plan ahead and budget some money for this, too.

    I have a general rule about buying books and DVD’s. If the book is something I will get a lot of use out of, then I will buy it. Personal examples are knitting books containing patterns I know I will make, cookbooks with a lot of invaluable cooking information or recipes I will make, or books on writing technique(aspiring writer here). Otherwise, you can find a lot of this information on the Internet for free. There are some fiction books I will buy because of how much enjoyment I got from it or because it’s written by a favorite author of mine. For DVD’s, we will buy them if it is something we know we will watch a lot (Mystery Science Theater DVD’s). If a book or a DVD does not fit this criteria, then we borrow it from the library. Many times, I decide to purchase a book after I checked it out from the library.

    But I always look for the best deal.

    To requote TW #14: If you are doing things that make broke people make fun of you, then you are doing it right.

    So true.

  45. Anna says:

    Not only is this a stellar post, it has attracted one of the best collections of responses ever. What a great community this is!

    (@Michael #11: After reviewing the use of bold type, I find it entirely appropriate.)

  46. Julie says:

    Hi Trent,

    I’m not surprised that Kevin, and many people, think that living frugally is a happiness-sucking way of life. Our consumer-crazy culture would rather we NOT think about splurging or saving according to our values, but rather buy the biggest, shiniest, latest new thing. No human would ever “sacrifice all happiness to save a buck,” but it sure gets blown up to that proportion in all the advertisements we see everyday.

  47. Empty Nester says:

    I have done all the things you mention on a regular bases. I do not think of them as cheap, just the way I run my life. I have just so much money and I have to make choices as to how to spend it. I am not cheap, I am frugal. Frugality is a virtue, cheapness is a vice. Cheap is when you tell your kids, we can not afford ice cream. Frugal is when you say sure lets get a gallon and bring it home.

  48. Ann says:

    Good point, and one I used to make with my son: money is traded for things, and money is finite (when he wanted something, he’d say “But we can just beep the money!” at a cash machine)
    Spending in an area you don’t enjoy takes away from spending on things that bring you great joy. It’s a balance that works for everone. I love money saving tips and easy ways to scrimp for the vacations my family loves.
    oh – and I joined a green coffee buying club and roast my own so my coffee addiction is about $3/pound for exquisite beans!

  49. Lori says:

    I love how you say the same thing in so many different ways, and lend insight to another facet of it… as I read through this, I wondered if Kevin read through the 31 days to financial freedom, and if he did, how he missed this point.

    We have a saying “We’re too poor to be cheap.” Which is just another way of saying this. :) If we value it, we’ll make sure it’s what we need. (Want!) If not, *shrug*.

    We have a reminder on our wall; We are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true. You may, however, have to work for it.

    The trick is having our dreams be our own. While its easier to go along with the crowd, it is never as satisfying.

  50. Annah says:

    The thing is, you ARE “living a little”, in fact, living a lot. Trying to live a more conscious and self-directed life is fulfilling in ways that those who do not value those things can not understand. It’s not just about the money you save, hopefully Kevin will see that someday!

  51. Sunshine says:

    I like this post and the idea behind it.

    Lately, I’ve been ramping up my spending on my bellydancing hobby – costumes and classes cost money! And I totally enjoy it. I also spend money on certain higher quality food items. We eat out regularly, mostly for convenience, but I would rather be able to enjoy several relatively good lower cost meals than 1 amazingly awesome expensive meal (which is backwards to many). As long as I enjoy the meal, that’s what matters to me.

    On the flip side, I buy most of my clothes at the thrift store and I find my furniture my curb-shopping.

    So, it’s all in your values and priorities.

  52. Fenton says:

    Our downfall was always food, whether we ate out or stayed in (usually ate out). My wife would have to have a starbucks iced latte once or twice a day. We were bleeding our bank account dry. So what did we do? We started using our kitchen. I began making dinner, making extra for lunches. We even bought a $40 espresso maker for her latte fix, and have been banking the savings ever since. The machine paid for itself in a week.

    It’s amazing that after only 2-3 weeks of really brown bagging and sticking to our budget that my wife and I are seeing our ability to spend less than our budget, and thus save even more. We’ll see how it continues.

    Excellent blog, Trent, as usual.

  53. mellen says:

    Trent, I mean this in the most platonic way, I love you; you are seriously a kindred soul.

    I completely agree with you that you need to spend your money where your heart is; my husband and I love coffee, he goes to coffee shops more often than I do but I still indulge once in a while. We used to have a pretty standard espresso maker (Starbucks, $200) which we used almost every day. What we found though was that if we were in a rush, it just took too long to make coffee and we’d find ourselves going to Starbucks at least a few mornings a week. So, when our old machine started acting up, we started doing research. We upgraded to a semi-automatic machine which got great reviews which cost $700 and everyone teased us about it (especially those people who aren’t frugal at all) but to be honest, that machine has paid for itself twice over. Not only that, but usually we get a better coffee and we aren’t throwing away all those paper cups; which always makes me cringe. So to recap; saved money in the long term, got better results and in line with our core values. The only thing I miss are the baristas at my usual coffee shop (but not the coffee, mine is way better).

  54. EVE says:

    I am proud to say I am frugal. I am also proud to say that every year I take my family on a great vacation and we really enjoy ourselves. I go back on my frugal ways once home and the kids know when they ask for something that we try to determine if it is a want or a need. I had a wonderful vacation and next year i am going to Hawaii in 2010 . my co-workers cant believe that on my income that I can do these things, but as I am drinking my coffee from home, eating my lunch that I made, and determining what I am going to cook for dinner I try to tell them that they just have to make better choices. I try to tell people that less is more, but hey we live in the U.S.

  55. Eden Jaeger says:

    You’ve nailed the heart of this problem perfectly.

    For me, I gave up cable TV because it was the ‘frugal’ thing to do. I was fine without it for a while, but I found myself miserable during the NFL season trying to pull in reception with rabbit ears and missing some of the games on cable that I really wanted to see. It was a dumb move for me, I’m a huge NFL fan and that’s a huge part of my favorite time of the year. I discovered it was worth it for me to pay that cable bill and get my football back.

    As an example of how I save money to pay for this, I don’t go to the movies and don’t even pay for Netflix anymore. I just don’t get any value from those activities.

  56. Fiona says:

    I am glad I finally got my husband to join Netflix. He is a movie buff and it used to drive me nuts how much he would spend on DVDs just to watch them once.
    The one thing I can’t do is buy my clothes in thrift stores. I spent a large part of my childhood in hand me downs from wealthier relatives. ON the other hand, I hate clothes shopping and so buy at a couple of very specific places maybe once a year at very low prices. Same with shoes – I buy all of mine from Payless and the funny thing is that all of my friends with money regularly admire my shoes and ask where I got them.

  57. Paula says:

    You’re right, it is personal. Everything won’t work for everyone. My example is music. I have two teenage sons, and we all three love good music. Rather than buying the new CDs, the boys and I have reasonably priced MP3 players (not expensive iPods!) and we have a monthly subscription to Rhapsody. All three of us have access to all of the music we can possibly listen to – and it’s a lot – for the cost of one CD per month. For us, that’s a cost savings, especially given how much teenagers’ tastes change and the wide variety of music that we like.

    The Netflix example is good too. We scaled back our cable to basic, and added a Netflix subscription. We can watch on-demand on the computer or have the DVD delivered. Cheaper than renting or buying DVDs and MUCH cheaper than the cable subscription.

    As you say, the key is finding what works for you.

  58. Dawn says:

    One thing you have mentioned in other posts, and it certainly fits in here, is that frequently frugal habits are just plain fun!

    I shop the thrifts for clothes occasionally, and let me tell you, there is nothing like scoring beautiful name brand clothing for just a couple of bucks. I love watching my grocery bill drop as I become a better consumer, and my electricity bill keeps getting smaller, thanks to little changes. Not only do I not miss the more expensive options, but the alternatives are enjoyable. If your commentor would just pick one thing he could easily live without, he might see how great it can be.

  59. DivaJean says:

    It really is about making the small “sacrifices” for the big picture. But once those sacrifices become habit, its not even noticed anymore.

    We gave up the second car 15 years ago- out of my car’s sudden demise (more expensive to repair than it was worth). We took a long hard look at what it was really used for- commutes to & from work and NOTHING else. It was hard for me those first few months to not be able to jot off to the store or take out food on the way home— but 15 years of not having a second vehicle have enabled us to do so much more with the money it would have taken up! And having my down time on the bus between work and home is an important part of my day. I love to embroider, read, play hand held games (the $15 hand held Tetris has kept me busy for months!), or visit with other regular commuters.

    At my old job, a cafeteria and mall were conveniently located. Easy to walk to and spend for coffee, lunch, etc. Getting let go in February, it was apparent that this was a sneaking up on me habit- because I missed it. Now at my new job, coffee is available free. I can hardly believe that so many others still go to Starbucks or other such shops. I just brew a nice pot once or twice a day and share with others. I bag lunch almost everyday- walking to the nearest shop is far enough away to be a deterrent. Its definately a once in a while thing to do— and when winter comes— less often than that!

    Clothes are nice, but freedom is nicer. We dress in the best quality secondhand and eBay purchases and have elaborate clothing sharing plans with other families for kids clothes.

    Toys are rotated in and out of use to keep kids interested in them.

    And I’ve said it a million times before— all these little choices have made it possible for my family to live off my income alone. 6 people (2 adults- 4 kids ages 10, 7, 4, and 2) on an income of $54K before taxes is no small feat. AND our home is only 6 years into a 15 year mortgage and we only have $28K left to pay off.

  60. I think the problem with isolating and eliminating areas of wasteful spending comes from the fact that many people don’t have a life plan, an ultimate destination that they’re WORKING toward achieving.

    We all have dreams and wishes for our lives, and we can have those without doing anything, but a plan involves executing a set of initiatives that may force us to stop doing certain things while emphasizing others.

    Having a concrete plan, complete with action steps and behavior alterations would take a lot of the misery out of these spending choice issues.

    TV doesn’t help either because everyone on TV can have and do what ever they want, and they’ll never be poor, fat or ugly. Spend too much time in front of the tube and you’re toast. There’s a perspective problem there.

  61. Karen Tindall says:

    Hi Trent,
    I agree with everyone, you nailed it! I wish I could have understood those principles years ago, mine and my families lives would have been so different. But better late than never. I am learning frugality and right choices and good sound decisions about everything and it is a wonderful feeling to feel in control and getting on a “level playing field”.
    I am learning(something my Mom used to tell me to do, that I never did, thought it was wasted time), to make menus’, cut coupons, checking out Goodwill for bargains, thinking twice before making a money decision and getting priorities straight and in-order.
    It took a lot of years(I’m 52) and hard knocks to finally reach this plan in my life, but I am sooo thankful to be here and coming ahead in my life.
    You have given some wonderful advice and testimony to the importance of wise decisions. I hope, everyone, but especially the young people who might read this, will heed your wise quidance.
    Thanks so much for the “re-fresher” on what’s important in life.
    You don’t have to give up the most important but you do have to make right choices.

  62. Gwen says:

    Trent, you have written about frugality many times from many different aspects, and I think this is the best article on the topic yet. It cuts to the heart of the matter and it goes a long way in helping people realize how frugality and money management can work for them. The key is knowing what your values are and not wasting money on things that you don’t value so you can get the most out of what you do value. Frugality isn’t about slavery, it’s about freedom.

  63. Amanda says:

    I too tried the home made laundry detergent. I didn’t like the globbiness of it. So I tried the Duggar’s dry recipe and grated Fels-Naptha as well as my fingers… I wasn’t impressed with it either. Here’s my laundry tip. Go to the Dollar Tree – they have LA’s totally awesome laundry detergent for $1. It has 21 loads per bottle. If you have a high-efficiency machine that’s 42 loads of laundry for $1 and no grating or shaving is required. Plus, that brand is really awesome. Their stain remover will clean damn near anything, even removing scuffs off of your car doors and stains in upholstery or carpet!

  64. jan says:

    Great Post Trent. Words to live by!

  65. Kim Hines says:

    I agree so much with everything that you have said.I have had to cut back a lot this year and it is amazing what you can do without.
    Don’t think many people know what their true values are!

  66. anne says:

    #28 kirstie- you are so funny! “he appears to get his kicks from sending strange e-mails to finance/frugality blogs. At least that’s a fairly low cost activity -way to go Kevin!”

    and dawn, #46- you reminded me of a lady i met in the thrift shop i frequent. i drop a lot of stuf off there, and i also buy a lot there, too.

    it’s like looking for treasure, and it’s so much fun.

    anyway, this sweet little old lady was standing in line w/ me, and we were both smiling w/ our arms full of great finds, and she leaned in and said to me “now i know where i want them to scatter my ashes!!”

  67. Evangeline says:

    Frugality is not a form of misery and punishment. It is a way of getting the most value for your money. If something, such as the latte everyone mentions, is important then by all means knock yourself out. If it doesn’t give you a sense of ‘true value’ then spend your time and money elsewhere. Frugality allows you the freedom to afford what truly means the most to you. And that is a very individual thing.

  68. Christina says:

    I gotta agree with Dawn (#46): I LIKE doing things myself. I get immense personal satisfaction when I can rely on myself to make or fix things. Not everything I do myself is necessarily cheaper – knitting, while fun, can be a pricey hobby (though it doesn’t have to be). But many times, you pay for convenience, so willingness to do it yourself is the cheaper option. Not to mention, fixing is often cheaper than replacing.

  69. Kenny says:

    Frugality is a Choice.

    Problem with human behavior is that Spending = Good and Frugality = Bad

    I have friends who define it this way, and then they make compromises since they do NOT have money to make ‘good choices’ for the family.

    If Latte = Happiness then do it. If Latte = Habit and that is leading to more and more, then it is a Bad Habit.

    Money Does Not Buy Happiness. Everyone knows that. So, then what is the formula. Not a lot of people can make a new formula. I will give it to you………

    Money Buys Freedom, and Freedom Gets You Happiness

    So, Money = Freedom of Choice and
    Freedom of Choice = Happiness

    The person who started this said

    Saving Money = Misery

    How can Misery be Equal to Happiness

    He had the formula all wrong! His math is wrong.

    I have done a lot of thinking and I do many more compromises in life than the writer of this Blog, but then, we have pleasures of life that bring us happiness that not too many enjoy in life. Not worth describing here but it is much more than living debt free in a great home with nice cars, enjoying good times with family, doing things together, dreaming dreams and accomplishing them and having great family vacations…..


  70. getagrip says:

    Good response, Trent. Sometimes when I see these kind of questions I’m reminded about some discussion I saw on TV years ago with respect to drugs. One guy stood up in the audience and said the reason he liked to use drugs was so that he could stay happy all the time. The audience and host went at him, but he countered all their reasons by asking what’s wrong with being happy all the time? In the end it was clear he was convinced his way was fine and all their points were wasted.

    To me there are misers who just can’t see their way to loosening up, and there are spendthrifts who always act like they’re going to die tomorrow so why not spend it all today. The die hards in either camp will never really be able to see the other’s point of view. Fortunately most of the rest of us span the spectrum between the two and are likely to move along that spectrum one way or another as we move through life.

  71. Its all in your mental outlook. Completely. Anybody who has financial issues and is not willing to scrimp a little, I guess would rather struggle financially their whole lives.

    That would be miserable to me, dude!

  72. Caroline says:

    Sounds like you live a lot, instead of just a little (like that guy suggested).

  73. Anna says:

    Let’s hear it for Kevin — he inspired a wonderful post and a fine discussion.

    Yaaay Kevin!

  74. Catnip Gypsy says:


  75. Brittany says:

    EXCELLENT POST! Hands down, the best post I’ve read in a long, long time on this site. (Not to say others haven’t been good, but this one was particularly outstanding!) I think you capture the nature of frugality very well here–live small where you can so you can live big where it matters!

    I was trying to explain this to some co-workers the other day who were shocked that I had paid cash for my car (a very nice used 2003), living first on part-time minimum wage and then on my Americorps stipend. This is everything I was trying to say, just worded better and not at all judgmental-sounding (which I’m always afraid of when I try to advocate living frugally). I think I’ll have to send them the link.

    Thanks again for an awesome post!

  76. Leah says:

    I love this post! It reminds me that I need to trim my personal DVD collection. There’s a few I watch over and over (and over — see “When Harry Met Sally”), but most of them just languish on the shelf. Plus, my boyfriend and I just discovered a local rental store that is insanely affordable. We maybe watch a movie every week or two, so we figure that renting the DVDs from our local store will be much more frugal than even getting netflix. Yes, paring down is sounding better and better in this area :-)

  77. Jen W says:

    “Live a little, dude” — ?!?!?!?! Really?

    Frugality doesn’t mean deprivation or being “cheap” — it’s about supporting your values with your energy, whether that energy comes in the form of DIY, finding a different way to do something or spending money for someone else to do it for you.

    For me, that means making my own meals from whole foods, locally grown where possible and making my own cleaning products (which I started doing around 1992 long before it became “trendy”) among other things — why? Not just to save a buck, but b/c it’s better for my health, and the health of the planet.

    I find it personally satisfying to know I’m not being wasteful and to score a great deal on something — like a pair of $300 leather boots I really wanted and waited for — saving me a hundred dollars. That purchase was not me being cheap, depriving myself or “not living a little.”

  78. Nadine says:

    Frugality is cutting back on things that you don’t care about and spending on things that you do care.

    This being said, I own a very comfortable real black leather couch for 4000 USD (paid in cash, of course) and it’s sitting right next to a 150 USD couch table (that is hidden under the table cloth anyway because I wanted one with a huge drawer to store things). Above them is a 20 USD lamp. All of them serve their purpose perfectly.

    Yesterday I was wearing a 30 USD pants, a 7 USD blouse bought used and a 130 USD pair of elk leather shoes because cheaper shoes make my feet hurt.
    Buying five pairs of shoes made of synthetics (for 25 USD each) just doesn’t help my aching feet, so the 130 USD pair is worth it.
    The last pair of elk leather shoes lasted around two or three years and it felt like walking barefoot all the time.
    That’s value to me.

    For the next person in row it might be something totally different.
    Maybe they don’t own a car but use a 1000 USD bike.
    Some people don’t have a TV but own and play a beautiful piano.
    The next guy saves on groceries and spends on electronic gadgets.
    The other uses a five year old mobile and would never consider an ipod but splurges on organic vegetarian food.

    The only difficult thing that we need to learn is to find out what matters to us.

  79. Kimbery says:

    What an inspiring post. You summed up exactly what I am trying to achieve in life. For me, the daily coffee symbolizes something–mindless spending that gives little enjoyment. Once we started making coffee at home, we started REALLY enjoying the occasional Starbuck’s trip. Plus, we now save about $110 dollars a month by making our own coffee and enjoying Starbuck’s once every couple of weeks.

    I am trying to make changes like this slowly. It is taking me a while to figure out exactly what I value and what I can cut. Good food is one of the things I value, but eating out–not so much. Again, I appreciate a dinner out when I haven’t had one in a while.

    I really like your ideas about balance and picking and choosing what works for each individual.

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