Updated on 04.23.10

Why Do I Talk About Frugality?

Trent Hamm

Adam writes in:

I’m not feeling the vibe from your recent posts about how to save a few pennies washing Ziploc bags. This won’t get me rich.

Getting rich isn’t the point.

One of my favorite people in the world, Rachel, currently works for a non-profit organization in the Seattle area. She works there because the work she does deeply fulfills her and matches what she views as her purpose in life. To put it simply, she values greatly the work she does with developmentally disabled people. She has a set of natural gifts (patience, communication skills, energy) that suit her very well and it’s a type of work that not only allows her to feel like she’s gaining something of very personal value from the work, but that she’s actually having a transformative effect on the lives of the people she works with and their families.

That’s an absolutely fulfilling job, one with personal meaning and value for Rachel as well as providing value to the world.

The only problem? It pays peanuts.

My position is a similar one in some ways. I had a good, secure job with a very nice salary. I walked away from that job – giving up quite a bit of salary – to pursue writing. Writing is an often thankless job with extremely uneven pay, but it’s fulfilling work – for me, at least. I deeply enjoy the time I spend writing and I deeply value how the things I write have positive effects on other people. I also have an insanely flexible schedule, one that allows me all the time I want to spend with my children.

In both of our cases, we walked away from career paths that offered excellent pay for careers that offered much less pay. We did this because the lower-paying jobs reflected our personal values well, matched our skill sets well, offered deep personal fulfillment, and allowed us a sense of professional freedom and enjoyment that we couldn’t find elsewhere.

In exchange for that, we had to give up some material trappings and make some hard choices along the way.

This means not buying every electronic gadget that comes along or every hot newly released book that appears in the bookstore.

It means figuring out how to replace the shower head yourself when it stops working and shopping at thrift stores.

It also means doing things like washing Ziploc freezer bags for reuse or hanging up laundry instead of using the dryer.

To me, that’s a trade I’m happy to make. My life is not defined by owning an iPad or the type of laundry detergent I use. My life is defined by the fact that almost all of the time, I’m engaged in activities that personally fulfill me, whether it be writing or reading a book or holding my wife’s hand or rolling around in the grass with my children.

I don’t have a pile of new releases on my bookshelf or DVD shelf. But I also don’t have a bunch of job stress and I don’t have a sense of being out of touch with my children and I don’t have the worry of a pile of debt or other bills that I have no idea how I’ll pay.

Every time I discover some little, simple new thing to do that saves me a few bucks, I don’t just see some lame frugality tip. I see another brick in that beautiful yellow road leading to an Emerald City where I don’t have to worry about income at all. I see another avenue that keeps me securely in a life that I’m happy with and that fulfills me deeply.

That’s what frugality means to me.

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  1. As often as you bring up not owning an iPad recently, I wonder if your life is not defined by it in some way…

  2. brad says:

    unfortunately, while your life may not be defined by the brand of laundry detergent you buy, it may be defined by the fact that you make your own.

  3. Wesley says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I typed “regardless” instead of “regard.”

  4. wanzman says:

    Why is it that every person that has a normal job is suddenly a bad guy here? You said:

    “I don’t have a pile of new releases on my bookshelf or DVD shelf. But I also don’t have a bunch of job stress and I don’t have a sense of being out of touch with my children and I don’t have the worry of a pile of debt or other bills that I have no idea how I’ll pay.”

    I don’t make a ton of money, and I don’t really follow any of the far flung frugality ideas you talk about so much on this site.

    We all get that you enjoy living a very minmalist life. Good for you. But good lord, your constant taunting of people who choose to own anything is really rediculous.

    Maybe the people who look to watch movies and own a lot of DVD’s would find purchasing a brand new Prius an outrageous expense. You certainly could have purchased something cheaper there that would have gotten you where you needed to go.

    Remember, if everyone in the world sat at home all day and just bitched about “normal people” and the things that they spend there money on, pretty soon we would all just be sitting inside, and nothing would ever happen.

    Just because someone has a normal job that requires them to go to an office each day doesn’t make them “out of touch with their children”.

    Maybe you just failed to achieve a balance between your family and the real world. That doesn’t mean that other people cannot handle it.

  5. wanzman says:

    Maybe you should write a post with the following title:

    “How many ziploc bags must I wash and re-use to offset the cost of purchasing a brand new Toyota Prius”.

    Trent, I have to say, you come accross as a hypocrite when you get off on these type of tangents.

  6. Skeemer118 says:

    Geez…Trent’s talking about HIS experience & outlook on life. Put the stones down folks. Everyone’s happiness & priorities in life are different. I agree that a working mom/dad can still be very committed to their kids. It just makes it a little easier when you work from home.

  7. Skeemer118 says:

    Live today like no one else Trent…and you know the rest I’m sure. :)

  8. thisisbeth says:

    We have no problems justifying people who take promotions and higher-paying positions. It’s easy to see why. It’s a whole lot harder to understand people who take lifestyle cuts because they take monetary cuts. Each person needs to find out where they stand on the issue, and work from there. I’m willing to give up an iPad (which I *want*, but I know I’m not willing to work for). I’m not willing to give up my season tickets to professional baseball. Because of that, I need to find a job that pays well enough for the season tickets (and life expenses–mortgage payment and food), but it doesn’t need to be well enough to always have the latest, greatest gadgets. (I envy those with fancy cell phones and internet on their phones. I’m not willing to pay for either.)

  9. Tammy says:

    I miss how this blog used to be about making the most of less, truly being frugal and making good choices. Lately, it seems to be more about the quest for greater income, chasing the almighty dollar (and how GREAT you’re doing financially – big new house, fancy new car, wife able to take all that time off work, $50 designer blocks for the kids yadda yadda yadda), and that saddens me. You do bring up all of the things that you’re *not* lusting after quite a lot, which, like several above posters mentioned, seems to call out how much you really want them, and while I can’t fault you for getting a Prius (fwiw, we have one too for reasons completely different than yours) your justification for it (and pretty much any major purchase) always seems, well, show-offy, not truly frugal.

    It seems like your attitude has changed from the early months of this blog. Maybe it’s because you’re no longer struggling, I dunno, but I miss the old, humble, curious Trent. He felt like a neighbor that I had a lot in common with. I don’t like this rich guy very much.

  10. Steffie says:

    I work outside the home and do not feel out of touch with my children. I pay attention not only to what they say to me but what they say to each other when they think I’m not listening. I listen to their music and read about their movies/tv programs etc. I give them each time with me by themselves, sometimes it is just 5 minutes in the car but it shows them that I value what they have to say. Personally I know that I couldn’t stay home all day, I am not that kind of person, I tried. I am a better parent because I go away and have my grownup time. I am not negating those parents who can stay at home, the same thing doesn’t work for everyone. Just like I will not make my own soap or wash baggies but I will grow and can my own vegetables.

  11. marta says:

    Again, a post where you pat yourself on the back because you took the less traveled road and don’t buy every new gadget/book/DVD/etc (which you used to do before your “financial turnaround”). The biggest sinners turn into the worst kind of zealots, or so it seems.

    Also, you *do* buy some expensive and trendy stuff: Prius, etc. How convenient it is to ignore such purchases in posts like this…

    Not everyone who works outside the home is stressed, or miserable, or disconnected from their kids, or whatever. A lot of people manage to find some sort of balance.

    The minimalist lifestyle is fine (I don’t enjoy a lot of clutter myself either) but jeez, it’s okay for people to own books or DVDs! For example, you own loads of games, so just remember: different strokes for different folks.

    (On a side note, there *must* be some word other than “deeply” to convey the same meaning… holy word overuse, Batman!)

  12. chacha1 says:

    I do believe wholeheartedly that since this is Trent’s site it is entirely up to him what and how he chooses to write for it. I don’t think it’s fair to call someone smug, or rational to call them a hypocrite, just because they are happy with the choices they’ve made.

    I will say, though, that there is a danger of appearing so pleased with a relatively narrow experience of life that the writing ceases to appeal to many who might benefit from it, but who don’t share that experience.

    What we’ve seen recently is a sort of defensive reaction by Trent to critical comments on what he’s choosing to write. This could be just because his mind is on other things right now; he has a lot going on. He might benefit from taking a break. However:

    No doubt there is a lot to be said for frugal living while working at home with multiple kids in the semi-rural Midwest, but using that life experience as the sole basis for PF advice means the advice will not resonate with the many, many readers who do not share the experience.

    Whether or not Trent is meeting your personal needs, there is no justification for being mean about it. He’s giving you content for free. If you don’t want it … don’t read it.

  13. DOTTIE says:

    I’ll have to wash 195 bazillion ziploc bags until I am 150 to pay for the new $38,000 expedition I purchased last year for cash. I love being frugal. I am not tied down to debt and I can spend money any way that makes me and my family feel good.
    Trent, I took this post to mean that it is possible to fore go certain unfulfilling things in our life in order to acquire things (or time) that are satisfing to us and bring our lives balance and meaning. No right or wrongs.

  14. wanzman says:


    I think, perhaps, the issue is that people do not understand what being frugal means.

    Being frugal does mean saving all your money in 99% of the areas you can, and then blowing all your money on a huge gas guzzling SUV.

    That is not being frugal…you simply re-prioritized your spending.

    If the whole point of “being frugal” is just so you can buy crap elsewhere, then you are not really frugal.

    It becomes very cocky of someone like DOTTIE to claim to be frugal, just because they are a cheap ass 99% of the time, and then blow $38k on a vehicle.

    You might be in the same boat as someone who eats out for every meal, doesn’t make their own laundry detergent, and doesn’t re-use ziploc bags. In fact, this person is probably in a stronger position financially, all other things being equal.

    Really the only goal of frugality would be just to have a stack of money which generates income (and theoretically would eventually replace your income from working).

    But if the goal of your so called “frugality” is just to free up money to spend on other stuff that you want, you aren’t really frugal, just selective.

  15. SEC Lawyer says:

    Here’s my reaction.

    Very good columns include: how to make major purchases; and the series on how to shrink each element of the average family’s expenses (that series plus edited responses from readers could become a book).

    Not-as-good columns include those with heavy editorial content.

    Columns I ignore completely include: the washing and re-use of plastic bags; how often to flush a toilet (a nauseating topic).

    Your mileage may vary.

  16. sbt says:

    Who puts SMALL loads in the dryer?

  17. Roscoe Casita says:

    Before you try to get to Emerald city.. you know that the Wizard of OZ was a fraud right?

    Wicked Witch of the East: Deflation
    Wicked Witch of the West: Inflation
    Scare Crow: The Common Farmer who just needed a brain to understand what happened.
    Tin Man: The Industrial Laborer who needed some oil to help make his home & life whole (time/money).
    The Lion: The small business owner who couldn’t stand up to the government.

    The Yellow Brick Road: The Gold Standard
    Dorthy’s shoes were Silver not Ruby: The silver standard.

    The Emerald CITY was FIAT Currency.

    The Wizard of OZ (for the OZ standard of Gold back currency) was…. wait for it…

    THE FED RESERVE CHAIRMAN. … Pulling the strings and levers behind the scenes.. bringing ‘prosperity’…

    But really, we didn’t need them and could kill the entire inflation debacle with a Bucket of cold water to the Face.

    “When you won’t have to worry about Income at all.” Good Luck with that.

  18. rosa rugosa says:

    I’ll just toss in my 2 cents that this site seems to draw more venomous comments than other PF blogs that I read, and I think that might be a result of a sometimes “holier-than-thou” tone from the blogger. Overall, I think I’ve gotten some useful content from the blog, which is why I keep returning. But I think #12 Chachas’ comment was a good one, really constructive and on-target. Trent does have a lot of readers with way different lifestyles who don’t want his life, with all due respect, but we appreciate the financial tips and advice that he is offering. Sometimes it does seem like he’s a bit contemptuous of those who haven’t “seen the light” or something. I don’t have the following because I don’t want them: kids, iPad, Prius, cellphone, cable TV, board games, a flat screen TV. But I think our time here is best spent discussing our common ground in the PF realm, i.e. not wasting money on what we don’t want so we can have what we do want, and of course the particulars will vary from person to person (that should go without saying).

  19. Gretchen says:

    I tend to agree with 9 and 18. But I return because of the comments.

  20. Gretchen says:

    Also, I have trouble beliving this sentence:
    “I deeply enjoy the time I spend writing and I deeply value how the things I write have positive effects on other people”

    when you never seem to spellcheck or proofread.

  21. Nicole says:

    I 100% agree with Gretchen.

    I think comments are more negative on this site than others because Trent doesn’t respect his readers as much as other PF bloggers respect theirs. That includes proofreading, spell-checking, and correcting errors when they are pointed out.

    But, I enjoy reading what Chacha and Johanna and Gretchen and many others have to say.

    I have to admit… sometimes (like in this case) I don’t actually read Trent’s post… just the comments. If the comments make it look like the post is worthwhile, I’ll read through it and deal with the half-completed sentences or whatnot. This post doesn’t look worth it. But I enjoyed the comments.

  22. Johanna says:

    @Nicole: You contribute some pretty great comments yourself. Especially that one. :)

  23. et says:

    I’m with #12 – & can honestly say that if I don’t like the tone or focus of a blog, I don’t read it. I certainly don’t keep returning to it to make negative comments or criticize the blogger.
    The point of the comments section is to comment on the topic, provide more insight on it or ask more questions – not try to direct the blogger on what/how to write. More & more sites are switching to screened comments (including our local newspaper) because they (the comments) deteriorated as the ones here seem to be lately (& I welcome their decision to do so). I want info, not sniping.

  24. lurker carl says:

    Amy Dacyczyn talked about frugality and based her writings on what did and didn’t work for her. She stuck to that basic premise, no “Dear Abby” style rambling over to financial constructs in which she had no expertise for dispensing accurate advice.

    Quoting the disclaimer continuously reiterated at the bottom of this web page, “This site is for entertainment purposes only. Trent is not a financial advisor and no information found on this site should be construed as financial advice.” This seems counterproductive to me, considering the volume of financial advice versus frugality advice being dispensed here.

  25. Sandy L says:

    I love the comments as well. I enjoy the sense of community and debate pf blogs seem to offer.

    I am a working mom and I personally stopped reading all my favorite mommy blogs because there was always this SAHM, holier than though, martyr undertone. We could live on 1 income but I made a choice to go back to work after kids. I enjoy my job and my high income…and I was tired of people eluding to the fact that somehow working is for cowards or spendaholics.

    I do get a little of the same vibe on this site, but it’s not detered me from reading. Instead I find it amusing that some of these frugal methods are considered chic now.

    I grew up in poverty and although I still have many frugal ways, I would never choose that lifestyle again if an alternative is available. Washing bread bags and using the same bathwater to wash multiple family members is not something I want to go back to. I’m glad I have the extra #1.08/month for ziplocs.

    Okay..off my soapbox now.

  26. Don’t let these folks get you down:) I love being frugal just because I know I’m being responsible with what I’m blessed with.

    I work a 8-5 job that I don’t like much but am going to become a stay at home mom despite the income cut and I feel like in this instance the experience is far more important than money.

  27. moom says:

    I think Trent is saying that he personally was stressed etc. in the job he held and this works better for him. I don’t think he is saying that about everyone else. OTOH he does seem still very defined by the new books, DVDs, iPad stuff. But that was him till recently and it’s a learning process to gradually let go if that is what you want to do.

  28. Jules says:

    If only I could spend as much time as wanzman kvetching about how terrible Trent’s posts are…

    j/k. Actually don’t really have much to say about this post, except to say that I’m puzzled by the amount of ire it’s drawn. It’s a perfectly reasonable Trent-post. You’ve got to remember that this is about TRENT’s life and not your own. If you want something about your life, start your own damn blog–and quit wasting your time reading blogs that you don’t agree with.

  29. Now that’s putting it all in perspective.

    Its the same with me–I live my life the way that I do (frugally) so I have less stress trying (or dying) to get ahead at work, so I can make that next bigger paycheck, so I can afford all the crap I either just bought or need to buy to keep up with The Joneses.

  30. deRuiter says:

    Gretchen #20 has a point. All that passion for writing ought to include spell check and proof reading. That said, this IS a blog about Trent’s life and experiences. Trent’s relatively young, not super sophisticated, and lives a certain lifestyle in a nice, safe, homogeneous part of the country, which is a fine idea, especially if you want to raise children in a safe environment. If you don’t want to hear about HIS ideas, his experiences, and what HE’S doing, then don’t read the blog. Lurker Carl, Trent HAS to have the disclaimer at the bottom of the news letter so people can’t sue him for giving bad financial advice. Dave Ramsey, and all the other PF people have a similar disclaimer. TRENT’S WORK IS ON A PAR WITH WORKS OF FICTION. He’s not a for fee or for commission financial advisor. He’s a man who spent himself broke and unhappy and has redeemed himself, reformed his spending habits, and started a blog which went viral. You read the blog, you think about it, maybe you say, to yourself, or in the comments section, “Yes, this is good for me.” or “No, this doesn’t suit me.” You can comment on how the blog struck you, and then you move on to other things, other blogs, other projects. The whole idea of PF blogs is to help people to see how to manage money and life better (and to make money for the blogger.) You select the ideas which help you to your goal, and discard the other ideas which don’t help or which make you uncomfortable. Frugality is being thrifty and careful with money. If the frugal person chooses to spend $38,000. on a vehicle, they are STILL a frugal person, with a fancy truck. Frugality doesn’t mean depriving ones’ self in all areas, fruglatiy means saving money in some or many areas, while still buying what you want. Of course fruglaity and buying depends on prioritizing spending. There is nothing inherently wrong with spending.

  31. MP says:

    #30 – I’m with you. It’s his blog, he can write whatever he wants. If I don’t like what he’s writing about, then I’ll stop visiting and move on to someone else’s blog.
    The posters can sometimes be more holier than thou themselves. Who cares that someone spent $38,000 on a truck? If that person saved up their money to buy it why should anyone care? I’m interested in how they saved up their money to buy it.
    I think frugal is a lifestyle that keeps you out of debt and allows you to plan and save to do the things you want to do, to buy the things you want.

  32. Geoff Hart says:

    The point is not to try to only take frugal actions that each save you a ton of money, though that’s great if you can find a way to do it. Instead, think of it this way: If you can save $0.01 for each action you were going to do anyway, and do 100 such actions per day, you’ve saved $1.00 per day ($365 per year) without thinking about it… because those actions are habits you’d do anyway.

    You’d be amazed at how quickly those actions add up. I use about 10% of the toothpaste they show people using in the TV ads, and that’s got to save me a couple pennies per use. Brush 2-3 times per day and you’ve already counted 2 of those 100 actions. If you find yourself chugging the last half inch of juice in your glass, pour half an inch less next time; that’s another action. And on and on. The point is that simply by avoiding wasteful activities and not even taking heroic measures, you can save a surprising amount of money on an ongoing basis.

  33. Nancy says:

    In regards to being able to leave a well-paying job to follow your passion–it also helps when you have a spouse who has a steady job with benefits.

  34. Esme says:

    I’m pretty sure that many of the critical bitchy ‘waah Trent is being meeaan to us’ posters on here go to this site every day just looking for some way to criticize him and cut him down. I’ve noticed its often the same people every time.
    And if all those who are critical of his writing style didn’t notice, he was answering one particular person with his own experience. He wasn’t putting anyone with regular jobs down -just saying what works for him. So much insecurity floating around here., and if it seems like he doesn’t respect his readers, I don’t blame him. Who would respect whiny critics who cant seem to ever find a good thing to say about you, no matter what you say, how you say it or how honest you’re being?

  35. Telephus says:

    I agree that this site has changed. I mostly lurk (I think this is my second comment) and lately I find myself checking in once a week instead of daily. While my financial goals are different than Trent’s, they are also different from a lot of PF bloggers. I visit many PF blogs because I like hearing about things from another point of view. What I find with this blog lately, is that a lot of the posts do come off as “my plan is best” – so if you’re not pursuing goals for a minimalist lifestyle and making your life’s passions into a career, then you’re somehow not “getting it.”. There are many other PF blogs that write the same sort of content without giving off that attitude – I’m not sure what it is specifically about Trent’s articles, but everytime I read one with comments about “But I also don’t have a bunch of job stress and I don’t have a sense of being out of touch with my children ” I suddenly feel the need to justify why I chose to work a 8-5 job and not be a SAHM. I don’t like to feel guilted into justifying my choices.

    Like others have said, it’s his blog, and he’s welcome to write what he wants, I am choosing to read it less often, because I just find that instead of feeling enlightened by reading someone else’s viewpoint, I feel like I have to defend myself.

    On a positive note, I feel that the reader questions have gotten a lot better over the years. Those are the few posts I do actually make sure I read.

  36. JT says:

    Wow, lighten up peeps. No need to take everything so personally. If you work and are happy with the choice/income, great.

    I don’t follow every bit of advice he dispenses but I don’t feel the need to attack him personally either.

  37. Nicole says:

    I like the reader questions too.

    I do visit several PF cites and never leave critical comments on those. But one big difference really is that they proofread. They also are responsive to reader comments in a way that is not so defensive, even inappropriate reader comments.

    Maybe you’re right and I should take another TSD hiatus. I’ve been really enjoying Funny About Money recently, and her life is nothing like mine. But she’s intelligent, respectful, responsive, has insightful posts, and as a professional editor she never makes me cringe.

  38. littlepitcher says:

    Someone out there, and not Trent, has forgotten that 10% of America’s population is unemployed, another statistically significant and unquantifiable percentage are employed in part-time or underground economy work, and many of the re-employed have taken pay cuts but have not been able to negotiate bill cuts.

    After some bad droughts in this area, I’m ambivalent on the value of washing recyclables and certain other objects, but someone who has made their decision has the right to publish the economic value of their decision. The money saved on washing bags may well be an asset to the underemployed and others who live on a micro-managed budget to attain their personal goals.

    I don’t want the iPad and can’t afford the Prius, but I’m thoroughly delighted that Trent and his wife can have these things if they want them, thanks to his passion for solvency.

  39. Daria says:

    Amy Dacyczyn didn’t just write about what worked for her and what didn’t work for her. Many of her articles were in answer to reader’s questions about a subject that she was not interested in. Many readers took her to task for too many articles about saving money on children because they were single or childless. She was put on the defensive many times because people thought she was depriving her children or that some of the savings she suggested were not really things that she did herself but were tips passed on by other readers that she thought had some value. while she talked a lot about volunteering in her church or donating unwanted clothing that her children had outgrown or were not going to use at all to the church thrift shop, she did not talk about tithing. Never mentioned it pro or con. Therefore, Christian Financial groups (Christian Financial Concepts, Financial Peace University, Dave Ramsey) who have as their mission to help people with their finances never mentioned her or promoted her as a resource. I would never choose all of the strategies that Amy chose or make the same life choices (I like working)but she has been and is still a valuable resource for me and so is Trent.

  40. Vtcouponqueen says:

    Wow Trent, you sure have gotten an earful! Welcome to a world of transparency mixed with unrestrained lurking tongues. Take the best, leave the rest. You clearly have a passion and skill for writing every aspect of your life. How you choose to live it and who it affects should be between you and God(assuming you believe and you’re not performing illegal activity:)

  41. J says:

    I agree with #20 and #30, the spelling errors, grammatical errors and typographical errors that go uncorrected are annoyances. I know that there are different dialects of English everywhere, but it’s the things which are things which would be deducted on a high school paper that I’m talking about.

    A thanks would be nice.

  42. alilz says:

    I’ve read this blog for awhile, I stumbled on to it.

    At first it was interesting to read but lately it’s been so much repetition, maybe because he wrote a bunch of posts to go up before his child was born.

    And while I get his is Trent’s blog and he can write whatever he wants, it seems that he wants a larger audience (at least he’s writing books for that) but at the same time his writing is becoming more and more narrow.

  43. DiscoApu says:

    Trents battle with laundry detergent is truly comical. His next book should be Tide Free = Poor House

  44. Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says:

    The price we often have to pay to start a job that we love is low pay at the start. It just strengthens your will and commitment though. It’s a good thing.

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