Frugal Definition – What Does It Mean To Live Frugally

frugalWhat does it mean to be frugal?

Here’s a definition by Merriam Webster Online:

Frugal – characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources

(…from Latin frugalis virtuous…)

For me being frugal  and living frugally is all about the choices I make. It isn’t just saving as much as I can on every little item and never spending money on anything I want.

It’s spending smartly and saving where I can so I then have plenty of cash leftover for the things that are important to me.

Anyone can save money by not spending it.  Misers and scrooges pinch their pennies and have a perfectly miserable life to show for it.  The frugal life, however, is not just about saving money.  It is about making choices to enhance your life.

There are always ways to spend your money – no matter how much you have.  You can buy your lunch at work or you can buy groceries to make your lunch to take to work.  The frugal person will make her lunch and then save the rest of the money for something else (a vacation, paying off the mortgage early, a spa day as a treat, or a new pre-owned car).

Income tax checks are a great chance to be frugal.  You could use the money to put a down payment on a new car or to buy that surround sound system you always wanted.  A frugal person will save a portion, pay off any outstanding debts with a portion, and use the rest for a treat that they have desired for a while (maybe a professional hairstylist or a new outfit for business meetings).  The money will be used or spent, but it will go towards things that have lasting value (credit knighton at dhead inc).  Splurges are allowed, but they are controlled.

Being frugal is about spending money the best way it can be spent.  You learn to compare items and opportunities and decide which one is the best choice for you.  It requires a willingness to do some research, a boldness to ask questions, and the ability to walk away until another day (or for good).

It takes a special mindset to live a frugal life.  You have to understand the bigger picture and be willing to sacrifice a little now in order to gain a lot tomorrow.  The trick is that you may not be able to see the gain for some time.  It’s a walk of faith that in the end it will be better.

A great way to start on the frugal path is to meet some truly frugal people.  They will be the happy people who have no hefty bills weighing them down because they have paid them off.  Talk to them about their walk and see if they will help you along your own journey.

Learning to be frugal will help you to save money, but it is not just about the money.  A frugal person learns to make the best choice in financial situations so that he can enjoy his life to the fullest.

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Bill in Houston - September 23, 2009

As a comment, I would advise against getting any kind of tax refund. What you’re doing is giving the government an interest free loan with YOUR money. Wouldn’t you rather have that money working for you during the year? I always owe just a little bit at the end of the year, maybe $200.

Say you get back $1200 in a refund (that isn’t unusual for a lot of people). You could have had that money working for you, or it could have been added to a car payment, house payment, credit card payment, et cetera, instead of sitting as a lump in the government’s coffers. Say you have no payments like those listed. Even in a CD paying 1% interest, that’s still making money (even if it is only twelve bucks). That extra hundred bucks a month could be applied to the principal of your mortgage. That could pay your mortgage off years earlier!

Diana - September 25, 2009

Well said, Bill. That is absolutely right. The frugal person would want to be the one to decide what to do with that money, since it’s their money.

Lori Fulton - January 21, 2010

I love the spirit of this post. You summed up perfectly what “frugal” means. Some people may not feel that the purchase of a grain mill that I made 6 years ago was a frugal purchase (I bought new but waited for a good sale). However, in the past 6 years I have almost exclusively baked my own wheat bread which is less expensive and much more healthy than store-bought bread. A large up-front expense that has yielded constant dividends and has undoubtedly paid for itself. That’s the essence of what you wrote here. Thanks for your words!

Old Virginia Joe - April 6, 2010

Yes, I live frugally, and always have. Hey, we’re Scottish after all! It’s fun! My wife and I like to brag to each other often about how we saved our family a few dollars here and there. I am concerned, though, that this positive value (thriftiness, frugality) may be dealt a knock-out blow, now, in Amerika, as the left has made it possible for those who don’t care a whit for delayed gratification to have everything they ever wanted! Don’t pay your mortgage, don’t worry. Don’t want to get insurance (home, health, auto, etc.), don’t worry. Want to get those cool tattoos and piercings instead of providing your kid lunch (and now breakfast) for school, don’t worry. Be happy! Uncle Sam will bail you out regardless of your financial choices.

    Tawna - January 12, 2011

    I share your concern with people not being held accountable for their over spending. I also worry very much that the banks have not been accountable for this mortgage mess. I agree that the borrower is responsible but I also think that some of the time they were duped by “mortgage professionals”.

Denise - April 7, 2010

“It’s spending smartly and saving where I can so I then have plenty of cash leftover for the things that are important to me.”

Wow! Thanks for this article. I have been feeling like I’ve “failed” at being frugal when I spend money on non-essential items, or when I am a little “extravagant” with gift giving (I put extravagant in quotes, because for me this means spending $25 on a birthday gift when our budget says limit 15-20 on gifts — NOT buying $300 electronic game systems for the nieces and nephews). After reading this article I can say that I really am leading a frugal life — it is all about making “choices” on where you spend your money. I choose to buy my clothes at goodwill and rummage sales, so I can buy sunflower seed to feed the birds! I’ve never enjoyed clothes shopping, and as long as I’m neat and “presentable” who cares about fashion? But I really enjoy watching the birds/squirrels at my feeder. I know they would survive just fine without me feeding them, and always felt it was a little “wasteful” to spend $25 a month on sunflower seed. Going over budget on gift buying once in a while is okay because I am a complete “nazi” when it comes to turning off lights and controlling the thermostat to save gas/electricity.

Kimberly - September 30, 2010

I am new to this site, and I’m actively reading all the articles herein. Information about how to save money is important, but the philosophies about living within, or, better yet, beneath ones means are so refreshing. I cannot imagine how much work it is to maintain Hillbilly Housewife, but I truly appreciate what you’re doing, Susanne. In today’s economy and “cult of consumerism,” people are literally starving for alternatives. We have choices, but I think most of us are so over extended due to church, family, school, and work obligations that we forget that. I’ve always been able to live on what I made, but my husband and I have had many conversations lately about what I’m reading and learning here, in particular, and we are embracing the frugal life philosophy! :-) And it’s encouraging to hear how others are managing…

Krista T - October 4, 2010

Thank you SO much for this article! It’s my husband’s philosophy, wrapped in a way that I, as a woman, can understand (and embrace)! He has been trying to pound this into my head, but all I kept hearing was “don’t spend money”…when I’m the one who does all the grocery and household shopping. Kinda hard to spend NO money, but this is what he’s been telling me all along – just spend it FRUGALLY! *light bulb* LOL!

Thanks for putting it in a way that I can really start to embrace in MY daily life to work toward OUR financial goals!

Pat A - December 6, 2010

Again, a very good post. So many people hear the word “frugal” and immediately associate it with “cheap.” They are not the same thing.

I tend to save by buying store brands on some items, I use coupons, and check the unit price on each item that I buy. (Coffee in particular.) If the store brand works or tastes as good (whichever the case may be) why not save the money? When it comes to clothes, (which I seldom buy) I look for the sales and discount stores! Saving that money allows me to do a number of things, such as buy a better, healthier brand of food for my animals, and maintain a high-speed internet service (to name a couple).

“Cheap” or “Miserly” people are those that count every cent, and focus on money. (They are usually obsessed with it.)

denimflyz - December 8, 2010

Very wisely post. And since the times today reflect this, it is even more important. It is sad though, that some people did not follow the principal until now, when things are in dire straits.
Frugal is, like everyone posts is not cheap or miserly. I know people who are rich beyond anyone’s dreams, and have money they will not spend is several lifetimes, BUT, they are hateful, and so very unhappy. They have a big beautiful home and a several car garage full of new cars and still so very unhappy.
I am frugal because I have to be, but I do not go without. I grow most of my own food, can it, dry it, buy other provisions on sale, go to GoodWill to buy what little clothing I need, wash it, and wear it til it get wore out. I save seeds for my garden, and swap seeds with my blog friends around the country. BUT then I have money to have my internet, which is so very important to me as I pay my bills, and my elderly parents bills with it, it is a tool for me,and I use it to run a blog for disabled persons living on next to nothing and a connection to the outside world through blogs and news that I stay abreast of.
Frugal fits everyone’s life, it is just a little bit of a twist for each and every person. Each is different.
And of course, it’s fun too.

Franny - January 12, 2011

My Grandmother had a saying hang in her kitchen that says it all about frugal living.

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Then do without

I embroidered the same saying and it hangs in my kitchen. Just live by it. Franny

Tawna - January 12, 2011

Wonderful post which matches the way we try to live. What I have been struggeling with recently is where I put money in importance in my life. Do I spend too much time mannaging it? I am relating this to the biblical premmise that the love of money is the root of all evil. I am not miserly with charities but I do spend a lot of time bargan hunting.

Julie Lindgren - January 12, 2011

Frugal means freedom. Freedom from consumerism. Freedom from keeping up with the Jones’s or the Kardashians. Freedom from consumer debt too. Check out Dave Ramsey and his book The Total Money Makeover. We are recently free from cable TV even. We gave up our cable 10 days ago. It was a choice not a requirement. We now find ourselves with more time and more motivation. Freedom to blaze my own path. We will be debt free in 11 months. Then the freedom exands even more. Maybe freedom to make a totally different career choice. Frugal is making sacrifices today with a goal for tomorrow in mind. Because the goal (fincial security, freedom to make different choices with my time)is worth more than the temporary discomfort of denial. As you walk the path you learn quickly it doesn’t have to be denial at all. You simply find new ways to satisfy your heart’s desires. Changing your value system is inspiring, rewarding, edifying, and certianly freeing!! I love blazing my own new path and finding all the treasures along the way.

Julie Lindgren - January 12, 2011

today’s frugal tip – store your disposable razor with the blades in mineral oil between uses. 1 disposable razor will last up to 3 months with this technique.

Kathi - January 12, 2011

I, too, love this site! I don’t even know where to begin about what ‘frugal’ has been to me over the last 3 yrs. Because I chose to leave the corporate world and work at a job much more satisfying, I needed to make adjustments. I bartered for nearly everything I needed. A friend who needed mucking out gave me a winter’s worth of wood from trees that needed to be cut down. I also got leftover eggs from his prolific chickens, and pork from the pigs. I bartered with another friend when she and I put in a huge garden together. I did all the weeding, watering, etc., and then was able to carry baskets of fresh food home. I discovered thrift stores and the library, gave up cable tv and a landline. My laptop is now used for the movies I get from the library or for journaling. I have a prepay phone that has unlimited long distance etc. Nearly everything I make these days from soup to breads to jellies are homemade. All the processed foods have been thrown out, and my family is healthier. Since I can’t afford insurance now, I take care of my family’s need with herbs and other homemade medicines, and either barter or go on a payment schedule for what is owed to a doctor. I’ve become more aware of how materialistic I was and how much happier I am now having just what I need. As the saying goes: your needs and wants are very different! Many thanks.

    The Hillbilly Housewife - January 12, 2011

    Thank you, Kathi, for sharing your personal experiences traveling down the frugal path. It means a lot to me that you would open up and grant us a glimpse into your life. Thank you.

Christina - January 12, 2011

Frugal living means to me getting the most out of my money for things that matter and avoiding the traps of things that don’t matter. I love that because I save on groceries that I can afford to pay for my books for school and good work shoes that help my back feel good at the end of 10 hours standing and walking on concrete.

I come from a farming family and I grew up farm poor. I have always practiced making a penny squeek. I find that this blog is such a support for living frugaly. My coworkers, friends and of course the media all tell me to satisfy now, buy, buy, buy, of course you need this thing and honestly it gets me down sometimes. Coming here to hear a like minded person who offers me not only support but also tips helps ease the sting.

Janeinthemtns - January 13, 2011

Frugal is making sure all the stock is fed and taken care of then making what’s left last until the next month. A person can eat a lot of beans and rice with home sprouted sprouts!

Kelcy - January 13, 2011

I love this site. I have a disabled husband and three children, two of which are disabled. My husband was injured at work and is in constant pain and has limited use of one leg. My one son was born with physical problems that resulted in 6 surgeries and now he is ok, but still dealing with digestive issues. My middle child was diagnose with autism when my last child was 8 months old. My daughter, my oldest is fine, praise God. I hate that we have to depend on the government for medicaid, but I can’t work because of taking care of all of them. I do have an education, but I don’t want strangers taking what little I would make after expenses and not giving them the love they need. So I stretch every dollar. All clothing comes from consignment shops, with the exception of shoes. Good shoes are important and I get them on salem I got $350 worth of shoes for us for $95. I am making double house payments each month to get the mortgage paid off in ten years. This is because I can’t make even one if something happens to my husband. I always make my own laundry soap and rarely use the dishwasher except to sterilize jars for canning. I love this site. We are frugal, but happy. My daughter even gets to take piano lessons. A lady from our church gave us a piano that was “taking up space”. I believe it is wrong to take advantage of using government healthcare and then wasting what God gives you to live on. I can’t stop using medicaid, ( I am uninsured) for my children, but I can take care of the rest.

Vince - January 13, 2011

Just discovered the Hillbilly Housewife site and love it. This was a very enjoyable post–including the follow up posts. Like many folks, my wife, who is a stay at home mom, and I are trying to live more frugal. It is always encouraging to see others and what they are doing to be more frugal. We are actually starting to use our freezer more. Used left over ham from Christmas and made white beans and froze the left overs in 2 cup portions. We made goulash last weekend and I bought a large can of diced tomatoes @ our box store for $2.35. Used about 4 cups and froze the rest in 4 cups amounts in freezer bags.

Although we live in a subdivision and don’t have space for a garden, i am going to look into farmers markets this summer and hopefully will be able to learn how to can and put up food. We don’t totally ban eating out, we just try to be smart. Each Monday night I have a class and we pick up a $5 pizza from a little caesars or papa johns has a one topping 6.99 special lately. Tuesday nights we sometimes pick up Penn Station who has a BOGO free regular size sandwich which is 2 for about $5.

Looking forward to reading more posts.

JDsMamaw - January 14, 2011

Thanks for all you do and all the great information you share with us here at the Hillbilly Housewife. You are much appreciated!

To me, frugality means being able to chose the way I live my life. We have chosen for me to stay at home and raise our grandson. By spending our money mindfully I am able to be with our little one during his most important formative years. None of us is deprived or going without anything, we eat better and have more fun and family time together. Now we are in charge of our money instead of our money being in charge of us.

Nancy - January 15, 2011

Frugal Living? To live the good life, while spending less, and helping to save the planet!!!

Eva - January 17, 2011

Every year at Christmas I have my father’s side of the family at my house, since I had 5 kids it was easier for them to come to us. As the years progress we found our pocketbook stretching bigger and bigger. Up until last year, I put on a big spread of food (2 different meats, 2 kinds of potatoes, 3 veggies, salads, relish trays and a variety of desserts) plus beer, hard alcohol, pop and mixed drinks) everyone that showed up, received least a $25-$50 gift and not one ever thanked us. 2 years ago, I asked if someone else would host Christmas. No takers. Last year I asked everyone to bring something to eat (potluck) and bring there own drinks. Well, a bag of chips or dip didnt go far. I was so frustrated–this year we decided NO Christmas–we celebrated with our children a week early, my husband and I took the money we saved from not having the family and bought presents for ourselves and still came in under of what we would have spent.(him a 4 wheeler and I a sewing machine)- Best Christmas ever!!

Bill - January 19, 2011

Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to being frugal is our blind adoption of ideas fostered by marketing organizations:

– bigger is always better… NOT!

– the highly advertised, higher priced items are better, for some reason, than the exact same thing in a less expensive store brand…. NOT!

– consumption is better than conserving…. NOT!

And of course we all have our own “must haves” promoted by folks who don’t have to pay the bills.

And for those who shun frugality, the biggest impediment, IMHO, is the difficulty in making any changes to personal value systems which equate frugality to denial.

Been there, done that, doesn’t work out well in the end!

BTW, I make our own granola, yogurt and kombucha…


Jeff - January 23, 2011

How is the housing disaster, and drop in home values, likely to be solved if people can’t obtain a new job? There are an incredible number of men and women that have lost their homes and millions more will until America starts generating something more then excuses. It’s time to change the trade deals with China. For heavens sake, our primary trade partner is a communist nation.

Frugal Marashor - November 28, 2011

First things first: I LOVE your website name!

This was a nice explanation of what frugal means. When many people think of and say that they are frugal, they mention things such as living poorly and unkempt. But it’s more about making wise decisions and not blowing off your money on unnecessary items, etc.

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