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Frugality: The right life choice

Build a life with meaning by embracing a frugal ethos. You won't be sorry. And yes, you can still have fun.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 21, 2012 2:01PM
At first I was frugal because I had to be. Now I'm frugal because I want to be. And I want you to be frugal, too.

Relax: I'm not going to make you wash out Ziploc bags with homemade detergent and cold water. There's no One True Path to follow. You won't get kicked out of the movement if you forget your coupons.

Oh, and forget what you think you knew about the word "frugal," which has somehow come to mean "joyless self-denial." What it actually means is choosing to live a life without waste, a life in which each decision means something.

There's nothing cooler than self-determination -- and frugality doesn't limit your choices. It just refines them. (Post continues below)
My personal mantra is "I save where I can so I can spend where I want." Living this way means asking a few important questions: 
  • What do I want?
  • Why do I want it?
  • How can I get it with the least amount of impact?
"Impact" means impact not just to your wallet, but also to the world around you. For example, being careful with your money lets you shop locally or sustainably, since it costs more to buy fruit at the farmers market or to build a "green" home.

Frugality might let you stay home with a child, start your own business, scratch that sabbatical itch or get two years' worth of toothpaste free with coupons. (Hey, we all have different dreams.)

Looking at money differently

Although the frugal life requires careful choices, these choices quickly become habit.  Remember the first time you ever drove a car, used a computer, changed a diaper? Now you can do such things without thinking. They're second nature.

Creativity and careful spending kept me afloat during several tough times in my life, including as a broke 21-year-old mom in a big city and more recently after a protracted divorce.

Each time I found that you can live well without spending much money. Believe me, that's way more fun than living with the stress of books that won't balance.

The truth is that I'm living more fully than I ever have because I'm making specific, informed choices about the way I spend my money.

In the past half-dozen years, frugality has allowed me to pay off divorce-related debt, build an emergency fund, earn a college degree, travel extensively, save for retirement and donate to charity. And, yeah, to get a couple of years' worth of toothpaste free with coupons.

I want to help you look at money differently. (Hint: It's a useful tool. It is not a religion.) To that end I'll share a mix of freebies and frugal hacks that will save you cash in both the short and long term.

Living within your means does not translate to a life of lack. Come back every day and you'll see what I mean.
Feb 22, 2012 2:27PM
I too had parents who lived through the depression, and married after the war. We lived frugally all my life,  although I didn't realize it until I was older, I just thought it was normal. We always had nice clothes, although many hand me downs, and home sewn ones. All food was home made. There was no waste. My mom was a stay at home one. We always nice vacations. I started shopping with coupons from the first day I got married. I rebate when I can. I don't buy things with coupons I don't use like some people do. I recycle grocery bags as garbage bags. I use the big dog food bags as leaf bags. I look for another use for everything before I dispose of it before I ditch it. I look forward to what you have to offer that I haven't thought of yet.
Feb 22, 2012 1:52PM
As a child of the Great Depression, my parents implanted strong habits of frugality into my impressionable brain. I've always lived below my means and had no debts whatsoever since I was 39. We have lived a good life and traveled the world plus put four children through college. We have frequently denied ourselves "wants", but not "needs". Nearly anyone can follow the same prescription for economic security, but few wish to unless forced. Too bad -- many in our nation have lived  lives of unsustainable materialism and are now paying a horrible price.  
Feb 22, 2012 2:33PM

FRUGAL IS THE WORD that my country knows---where I was born in the 3rd world country. So when I came to this country, I don't have any family to run to -only the bank is my friend.  I apply for student loans for 4 years and when I graduated I paid it less than a 3 years.  Everytime I gotten tax refund I paid half what I am getting.  My dream was to buy a house THE AMERICAN DREAM. Got 2 jobs save every penny.  Bought a used car Honda and drove it for 10 years. After 10 years of saving being frugal and thrifty  I have enough money to have a big down payment.  I still have the house and now I'm remodeling.  What I am trying to say being frugal/thrifty or cheap sometimes was and still in me because is the way I was brought up.  So being FRUGAL is not stranged to me at all.  One thing I observed when I new in this country people waste a lot of money.  In my opinion, this country will live frugally because of our economy.

Feb 22, 2012 1:32PM

What's it like to be frugal? I call it playing heads up and living life low scale.Because of the Internet and understanding researching I've scored brand new clothes off EBay for 80% discount.Whats it like to get $400 in New Balance cross trainers for $160? Whats it like to get tee shirts brand new at $2 when at one point they were $10? Whats it like to get a myriad of things greatly reduced?

Good. Damn Good. I vote we pool ideas to take this blog to the next level for EVERYONE to get ideas on how to cut costs without cutting quality of living.

Feb 22, 2012 3:55PM
Why is it , even in the simplest articles there is always at least one that has to bring up politics, conspiracies and hate. That doesn't belong here. This is for all of us that wish to help and share ideas with how to live life easier and more affordable in these tougher times.
Mar 30, 2012 7:51AM

We don't call it being "frugal"...we call it "financial discipline". I feel that if more people had financial discipline instead of "keeping up with the Jones" this country would be better off. Whenever the economy periodically turns bad people would have a better chance of adapting & surviving hard times...rather than complaining & being on government assistance. The wife & I have lived the "financial discipline" life for 20 years now...retired in our 50' our money & investments grow. When a unexpected medical bill showed up...paid worry. When the TV went out...paid worry. When we want something special or extra we save up for it.   

Feb 24, 2012 7:18PM
Frugality is the easiest path to living debt free, and living debt free is as close to real freedom as you'll ever get in this life.

I agree with Donna that frugality doesn't mean living poorly or without things you need or really want.  It's like eating a healthful diet.  You just need to pay attention, do your own research, use common sense, and develop a little self discipline.
Feb 22, 2012 3:03PM
This should be an interesting series. I would be curious to read the articles and the comments. It's interesting to see all the new technics and ideas that come up in the just the comments alone. I have have learned how to cut my bills, pay my house down, make homemade laundry detergent, how to shop for the deals... My friends used to think frugal was another word for being a cheap a$$, until I had taught them many ideas I had learned from places like this. Now we are all enjoying the fruits of our yield and are no longer with any serious debt issues even though many had gone through divorces, bankruptcies, estate issues etc.
Feb 22, 2012 9:41PM

Mr. Manners:  Donna is not trying to convince herself.  She has helped multiple people during her career.  She's done more frugal living to get ahead than anyone I know.  If she was lazy and on welfare, you'd probably have plenty to say about that. 

I think you owe her an apology.  That would be the 'Mr. Manners' thing to do.

Feb 27, 2012 6:00PM

Justin Wilson once performed a skit that ended with the Princess in the tiger trap calling out to the passing Prince " Frugal Me! Frugal Me!". I guess that makes me old. But the concept " to save" is a good way to live. Just living within your means once was enough, but today to ensure income over a  lifetime  requires saving at a much higher rate. One of the best ways to save is not paying interest. One of the biggest lies going is mortgage interest deductibility. You never get to deduct all your mortgage interest, you only get back the amount equal to your marginal tax rate. But you still spent the money! Hum what does that mean? You bought that $200K home and financed for 30 years @ 5% interest over the term you paid about $186K interest (PI $1074). Lets say your marginal tax rate averages 13%  so you had a return of $24K over 30 years (avg $806 Annually). Actual money spent $162K. Why didn't I get a 15 year mortgage? Same  $200K mortgage finance for 15 years @ 4.5% interest over the term you paid about $75K interest (PI $1530). Same marginal tax rate of 13% returns about $9750 over 15 years (avg $650 annually).  Actual money spent $65K.  What could you do with $97000.


Feb 21, 2012 11:39PM
Congratulations on the new gig. I have been an avid follower of yours. I'm very pleased you have a new audience and platform for your sage advice.
Feb 22, 2012 5:36PM
It is MY MONEY, and I want to keep as much of it as I can, in my  pocket.  It makes no sense to just waste money just because you can. A time may come when you may need that money you have spent foolishly.
How many are their that owe a lot of money( school loans, credit cards, mortgage or rent, car payments, or whatever) but still have all the TOYS, and are having trouble paying for it all?  As I stated in the beginning, IT IS MY MONEY and I want to keep as much as I can in MY POCKET!

Feb 21, 2012 11:31PM
Looking forward to more tips and tricks from you.  You are one of my "frugal" mentors. 
Feb 22, 2012 2:16PM
Being a person of limited means, I am all for tips to improve my lifestyle without spending more.  I already know the ins and outs of finding great vacation deals and specials offers for trying new restaurants, etc., but I am totally up for a new blog if it has new information.  
Feb 21, 2012 9:06PM
Pinching pennies and halving our grocery bill has allowed us to not only pay off debt, but to take some rockin' vacations as well.  Thank you for your part in keeping us on track, and I look forward to more posts and tips towards further frugality.
Feb 21, 2012 3:18PM
Granted, I'm biased, being your progeny and all. But I think this will be great. (You're paying me to write this, right?)
Feb 22, 2012 2:19PM
Bela Ghostly, really?  Bottled water owned by large mult-national companies like Nestle was a conspiracy by the tree hugging left?  Do you have a job?  What low IQ folks like you don't get is that these things can earn one money.  Is Timberland's installation of LED lights in all its store just another stupid green idea? Or is the fact that their ROI was about one year (yes one year!) one of the most sensible economic decisions they could have made to earn more profit.  People like you are so blinded by your hatred of Obama that you can't recognize a good idea when you see one. 
Feb 22, 2012 7:19PM
I buy what i need not what i want
do i need a 50 in tv  no want  yes
need i pad yes need no
new car  no so on

Feb 22, 2012 8:57PM
Gas may even go as high as $6/gal - ouch! I will definately need some frugal ideas to offset that expense.
Feb 21, 2012 10:11PM
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.