Does frugality have to hurt?

thI’ve been mulling over a comment left on yesterday’s post, “Beware false economies,” which included examples of frugality that could actually cost someone money, health or reputation. A reader posting as “ImJuniperNow” said these examples confirmed that “people believe ‘frugal’ or living within or below one’s means equals doing without.

My immediate reply: “Good point! Just as some people believe that dieting or exercise must be unpleasant if it’s to be effective.”

After some reflection I believe it’s more than the “no pain, no gain” mentality. The attitude is more one of crime and punishment:

If you gain weight, you are bad and must suffer in order to take it off.

If you don’t have enough money in this Land of Opportunity, you are less than worthy and must endure privation. That is, until you can get another line of credit.

We’ve been exposed to hyper-consumerism for so long that we forget there’s another way of living in the world. Specifically, we forget that a large population of the world lives without the things we believe are our birthright: the latest e-tech, the hottest cars, the biggest cable package, the trendiest foods, the flashiest clothes.

Spending should be a choice

Here’s the thing: You can be frugal and still have some or all of those things. You just have to be intentional about how you obtain them. (More on that below.)

I’m not against buying. What bugs me is blind consumerism, the “See it? Want it!” attitude. I fight it myself, especially as regards gifts for others. “It’s only $2.99 and it’ll make (whoever) so happy,” I’ll think.

Sometimes I’ll spring for the $2.99. Most of the time I walk away. Or, as I tell myself, “I’m saying ‘no’ this time.”

That’s the crux of the matter: My spending has to be a choice, not a tropism. I don’t want to automatically gravitate toward a hot deal like a seedling toward the sun.

Frugal hacks that work

That said, plenty of ways exist to get what you want without spending a lot. Among them:

Deal-a-day sites: I’m no fashionista, so I tend to stick to sites like Eversave and MyBargainBuddy.com – both offer a wide range of goods and services. I’ve bought gifts this way, too.

Thrift stores: Your mileage may vary, of course. I’m already missing Seattle’s thrift stores because their wares are based on a much bigger population. But I’ve found some decent deals and some outright steals at Anchorage segundas over the years.

Cash-back shopping sites: When I make planned purchases through Extrabux, Ebates, FatWallet.com or Mr. Rebates, I get cash refunds, online coupons and usually free shipping. The rebate checks are always a nice surprise – and they go directly into savings. (Note the use of the word “planned.” It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it/can’t afford it.)

Social buying sites: These aren’t just for massages and manicures. Groupon and Living Social offer vouchers for health care, home services and auto repair. That said, they’re also a good way to get treats/give gifts on a budget. Note: You can access these deals through

Rewards programs: Through Swagbucks and MyPoints I get gift cards for restaurants, movie theaters, department stores and Amazon.com. Some I use and some I give as gifts (which means I can redirect the money I’d planned to spend for holidays and birthdays).

Yard sales: Some are great, some awful. Be willing to wade through a lot of junk and you just might strike gold, either for yourself or for birthday/holiday shopping. (Hint: A whole lot of unread books and unopened gifts end up with 50-cent tags on them. Imagine taking care of half your Christmas list for $5.)

Discounted gift cards: I use these like cash at theaters, restaurants, department stores, pet supply warehouses and even the hair salon. Search for the deepest discount through the aggregator site GiftCardGranny.com – and when possible, buy them through one of the cash-back sites noted above for another 3% to 5% in saving.

Believe it or not, I do buy retail – just not all that often. Being intentional about my spending most of the time means less pain when I do pay full price.

This is especially true for big-ticket items. Next week DF and I are splitting the cost of a new water heater because the old one has become incontinent.

A certain amount of sticker shock exists with any major home appliance, but once again having saved where I can lets me spend where I want. You can be frugal and still look good and give great presents – and take hot showers, too.

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  1. I love the items in yard sales with the tags still attached!

    I shop yard sales with resale in mind. The item has to be small enough to fit in my car. It also has to be waaaay underpriced. Then, I stop at the next antique shop and sell it. That way, I get other things I bought that I wanted, gas is paid for, and a tidy profit usually sits in my wallet. AND, I can call it entertainment. I bought a light green male urinal with the manufacturers sticker on it, never used, pristine condition, pre-1964 for a quarter and sold it less that 24 hours later for $8.

    Of my three children, the youngest is the only one who really took to yard sales and bargains. When she got her first apt after getting a teaching job, she proudly told me about the torn new sofa and dented/scratched new refrigerator, really proud that neither defect was even visible and both items were not used. I hope you find a scratched water heater. The two older are not spendthrifts, just not proud and joyous about bargains.

  2. GoodWill (less than a mile) is my go to store.

  3. Goodwill and Salvation Army are always some of my favorites when I’m stateside. I hate paying full or even sale price for jeans and I can usually find some almost new ones at either place. I love the links in your post today. I know you’ve had some of these before, but I slowed down enough to have a look this morning and really appreciate the possibilities for good value on a planned purchase.

  4. mrs short

    Somewhere along the line, frugality became a bad word. My father-in-law associates it with being cheap. He thinks that unless you’re struggling, coupons and discounts are for suckers. Luckily my husband didn’t inherit that gene. We just cut the cord (to the cable company) – a joint decision, that we’re very happy with. FIL shook his head and said “Boy, you guys are cheap!” You know what? So be it. The $1200 we’ll save over the year will make a nice vacation or three (because we travel cheap!), which will bring us more happiness than watching tv. Plus, the money we originally put aside for fun can be socked away for a rainy day.

    • Donna Freedman

      If you’re feeling confrontational, or just tired of being called “cheap,” try this: Look at him thoughtfully and in a gentle tone say, “Why do you say that? What does ‘cheap’ mean to you? Why does a choice that’s right for us upset you so much?”
      Sometimes when people are called on rude behavior they sort of sputter and stutter and then drop the teasing for good. And if he does answer along the lines of “Well, I couldn’t live without my TV” or “I just think you’re missing out,” then you can repeat, “I appreciate your concern, but this is a choice that works really well for us.”
      One acquaintance who occasionally twitted me about being a cheapskate ultimately asked for money advice — turns out that family was living way beyond its means and the credit card debt was eating the couple alive with worry.
      Myself? I sleep pretty well.

      • I really love this. I’m all for calling people gently out on rude behaviour.

  5. ImJuniperNow

    Fame at Last! When do the residuals start pouring in!

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for your regular and thoughtful comments.

      • ImJuniperNow

        No, thank YOU for the opportunity to speak to a group of people who obviously get it

  6. Sandra Gonzales

    Cool. You know the word “segundas”.

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep, I do. I think it’s a fun way of saying “secondhand store.”
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. jestjack

    What I struggle with lately is a world out of “kilter”. While running errands, I stop in at Goodwill the other day and find two pair of PERFECT cargo shorts….less than $2 each. AND the money is going to a good cause. Went a block away to the grocerty store and while in line look down and had “a Rip Van Winkle moment”. A candy bar more specifically a Mars bar….$1.25…plus tax. When did candy bars go over a $1…they used to be a nickel… Frugality doesn’t have to hurt….it actually feels pretty good!

    • Donna Freedman

      Yes! Candy bars! When I see tags like “two for $2 or $1.69 apiece,” I have to look twice to make sure I didn’t misread it. Gee, I’m old.
      Frugal feels pretty good to me, too. When the water heater guy shows up, I’ll be able to pony up my half of the cost without thinking “which bill can I pay late this month?” or “looks like another beans-only month.”

      • jestjack

        Man….water heater!!! It must be in the water…LOL…I installed seven …yes seven last year between the rentals and my place. Boy hope it doesn’t sting too bad …I’ve heard some crazy quotes. Good Luck!

        • Donna Freedman

          Seven? Good grief!
          DF knows this guy so he’s confident we will get a fair price. Still…ouch. At least it’s an item that doesn’t need frequent replacement.

      • When we had to replace our furnace, the guy from the gas company talked about financing before anything else. I didn’t want to say to him “Don’t worry, we’ll pay cash.” because I knew he was being nice, thinking we’d be worried about it…but it hurts my heart, to think that’s the standard issue. Not efficiency, not long-lastingness, not a contractor that pays their labor well…but financing.

  8. Ro in San Diego

    Following your advice surely works for me, Donna.

    When my stove decided it was done being a stove the day after Thanksgiving 2012 I had to replace it immediately. Luckily it crapped out the day AFTER my biggest cooking day of the year.

    Anyway, I remembered my Upromise account had some money in a linked savings account. To my surprise, I had enough for the fancy, top of the line stove I decided to purchase including athree year extended warranty. Upromise is a very handy cash-back site.

    I smile every time I cook/bake with my “free” stove.

    The best part is that when my cell phone decided it was not going to be useful any longer about 30 days after the stove purchase I had earned enough points at the store I purchase the oven at to pay for half of the fancy smart phone I am enjoying (prepaid on an el cheapo plan). The phone was even cheaper because they price matched a website so I saved an additional $100 off their sticker price.

    Being frugal can be fun! And my savings go toward trips I wouldn’t be able to take if I paid full price for anything.

  9. Frugal not cheap

    I agree with mrs short that some people equate frugality to being cheap (hence the name I chose for leaving a comment last week). I have been teased for my frugal ways (repurposing free items, combining coupons with sale items, etc.) The teasing does not deter me in my efforts, it usually has the opposite effect. I do find it odd that people feel they have the right to call others cheap. Do I have the right to ask them how much debt they’ve incurred and then call them financially ignorant? Of course not. Some of the teasing is meant in fun I suppose but the materialistic mindset that seems to run rampant in our society surely correlates with the number of anti- anxiety prescriptions written. There’s a lot of stress that comes along with keeping up.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’ve gotten the same sorts of ribbing — sometimes it’s meant in fun, and sometimes it’s the result of the teaser being financially insecure. Someone being careful with her money must feel like some sort of reproach.
      It’s a bit irritating — but nothing like the “stress that comes along with keeping up.” That would be nonstop anxiety for me (not that I would ever choose to play).
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. Sharon

    I have been following your posts since nearly your first writing with MSN and I really appreciated them during an extended period of unemployment a couple of years ago where you somehow always had the right message in the dark times to just frugally forge on, find creative solutions and hope for the future,(thank you for that)which of course improved. Now I have the best working situation I have ever had and although I always felt I was frugal, it left me much more so, with a better vision for the future. This is the first time I have left a comment but I had to today. You have a talent for words and sometimes what you say is absolutely priceless. An “incontinent” water heater? I have been laughing since I read it. It may be cold in Alaska, but do you really miss the dreary rainy days (like today) down here in Seattle?

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for your kind words. So glad you’re in a better situation work- and money-wise after unemployment.
      If you saw the small puddle under the water heater, you’d know what I mean. As for weather, it gets pretty dreary here as well — and at least you don’t have to shovel rain.
      Thanks for commenting. Hope you’ll weigh in again.

  11. I differentiate “cheap” and “frugal” as follows:
    “Frugal” is finding unique ways to save money.
    “Cheap” is saving money at someone else’s expense.
    For example, going to a sit down restaurant and not leaving a tip is “cheap”. If you can’t afford to leave a tip, don’t go to a sit down restaurant.

  12. I quite liked this post but have to politely beg to differ on the absolutely excruciating pain of trying to lose weight.

    As a well into middle age woman whose metabolism has ground to a complete halt I find I have to eat at concentration camp levels to move the scale the tiniest fraction.

    Oh, the pain of remembering my joyful teenage appetite.

    • Donna Freedman

      Oh, Anne, I feel that pain — I too am middle-aged and the pounds have crept on and cling tightly. It isn’t fun.

  13. Vicky Fox

    I just stand back and shake my head when I see others I know that feel they have to buy things they can’t really afford to pay for to impress people who don’t really care.

    Society has it all turned around. Some think “spending their way to saving” works, but it actually doesn’t. I’ve learned that money is way better off in my pocket than in someone else’s.

    Screw fashion. I’d rather have a month’s worth of lovely hot showers and baths than a $200.00 piece of clothing:)

  14. I call myself “money smart”!

  15. Katherine

    Some billionaires are frugal. Frugality is about making choices. We choose to wait on large purchases and save the money so we can pay in CASH and not go into debt. We choose to work on the house this year and have more “staycations”. And not be in debt for any of it. We choose for our daughter to commute to college in town, live at home and she will graduate WITHOUT student loan debt. So do we sacrifice? YES. But the longer term payout is so much more worth the short term satisfaction. Paying debt back in tens of YEARS with interest is hefty overhead for a sofa, a vacation or 4 years of college. Making the sacrifice now means that we won’t live with years of payments and regrets later.

    Be wise with what you have. Be smart with how you use it. And choose wisely. Stay frugal my friends.

    • Donna Freedman

      Hear, hear!

    • Vicky Fox

      I second that Katherine about paying interest. Now that I am able to say I owe no debt other than my montly bills, the freedom that goes with it is priceless. I buy nothing on credit, and I focus on what I want and save for it until I can pay cash.

  16. No pain, no gain that’s what my motto has always been!!

  17. Donna, re: the new water heater … When our old one died, we replaced with a tankless in-line on-demand model. Yes, it was a fair bit pricier than another standard tank, but our gas bill dropped by over 40% IMMEDIATELY. It’s an investment that took a little under three years to pay for itself – instead of paying to keep forty gallons of water hot 24/7, we only pay to heat what we’re actually using. I highly recommend it! Plus, we gained a fair bit of extra basement space – the new heater is shoebox-sized and wall-mounted, and vented to the outside to prevent carbon monoxide in the house.

    • @Kate, thanks for the comment on the tankless water heater, our w/h is still operating (it was a replacement) but we have since been considering a tankless should we need yet another one. You just confirmed for me that it would be a wise choice..

  18. You are a smart woman and I love your attitude about money etc. A lot of millionaires live frugally. How do you think they became millionaires. I think it is a balance most of the time I am frugal so that if I want to splurge I can!

  19. JustAGrandma

    I live in an area where “frugal” has a halo. A remote area where water must be hauled from a distance and fill a water pump. A place where grocery stores are non existent and food is 65 miles away. Likewise, clothing or any other item needed. Gasoline is precious and preserved. Frugal goes beyond how we spend our money but also what we do with our goods. And, the definition of “neighbor” goes beyond the dictionary. Lazy is disasterous and rural means a long way from anywhere (or anything). One becomes extremely conscious of priorities and the difference between “need” and “want”. BIG culture shock for the masses.

    • Donna Freedman

      Do you live in Alaska, by any chance? If so, where?

      • JustAGrandma

        I live in a small locality inside the Joshua National Forest near the Grand Canyon. About 26 driving miles from the Skywalk at the West end. Corner of Grand Canyon meets Lake Mead ; )

        • Donna Freedman

          Then water certainly is a precious resource. I think people who gripe about their water bills should try using water as though they had to carry it. That would cut down on a lot of faucets left running.

  20. Hi Donna, I first found you on MSM and have been reading your blog since, Love it. My friends & I call GoodWill the Boutique. That way if any are shy about where they bought the article they don’t feel embarassed. We think it is funny.
    My g-daughter is on the state and having such a hard time, so I’m copying some of these blogs to give her and perhaps it will help her. It is a whole “Days of our lives” that I can’t go into that keeps her there.
    Was it through your blog that had a list of different at home jobs one can get such as doing secretshopper, Estes? etc. Can’t even think of the names. If it was you could you print it again please
    There was about 10 different Com you could apply to.
    Keep up your good work. It is such a help and the comments from others give other good ideas as well
    Thank you.


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