Frugality: a tactic, but also a goal


I was going to write a piece on how frugality was a tactic, not a goal. The point I wanted to make was that the goal is living the life you want to live, and that frugality is a tactic to help you reach that goal. As I've read more frugality blogs, though, I've realized that there's a diversity of opinion on this topic. For a lot of people, frugality is a goal in itself.

I understand part of it. For a lot of people, frugality is not just a way to live more gently on the planet--frugality is living more gently on the planet. Frugality is not just a way to align your spending with your values, frugality is aligning your spending with your values.

Having said that, though, I don't have a sense that I've completely grasped this point of view. I feel like I have a lot to say about frugality as a tactic--I've written some posts on the topic and will write more in the future. The idea of frugality as a goal, though, is still new to me.

If frugality is more than a tactic in your life, if frugality itself is a goal for you, I hope you'll write a bit in the comments. I'd like to hear about it.

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Actually, Phillip, I guess I would have to say it's both for us. We use it as a way to achieve certain things, certainly. While we like to relax a little more now that we've achieved some of the goals we set for ourselves, we still really think about purchases that we make in advance and make it a habit not to be excessive just for the sake of being excessive. If we want to buy a case of really great wine, we do. But we may also choose to get the bulk of our recreational clothing second hand while shopping for one or two important pieces per year at mall stores . . . perhaps on clearance or perhaps not. We pay attention to packaging, the efficient use of our time, and channeling funds towards things we really value as a family. Certainly, people with excessive lifestyles would still see us as frugal. However, compared with how tight things used to be (I'm reminded of your earlier post and discussion on how frightening it can be to be too close to the financial edge), the things we need to do are not necessarily feeling as extreme as they used to.

Not sure if this was the type of input you were looking for . . .

Guest's picture

I see the difference between frugality as a goal and as a tactic in the answer to the question: what am I going to do with the money I save? If the answer is "buy", i.e. saving for a house, an expensive gadget, a trip or some such thing it's frugality as a tactic. Frugality as a goal is about not spending money because you don't want to spend money: not-buying as a goal in itself.

Philip Brewer's picture

@Annika: Yes. Also the question: How would my standard of living change if I won the lottery?

It's not a simple thing, though. I don't live the way I do purely as a tactic (although I often think of it that way). I choose to live this way because I like it. I expect my standard of living would go up if I won the lottery, but it wouldn't go way up--I don't see myself moving to a penthouse in New York or even to a mansion here in Champaign, Illinois.

There are some people though, whose standard of living wouldn't go up at all. They'd go on living exactly as they do, channeling whatever they'd won into supporting some work that they found important. It was those people I was thinking of when I realized that I couldn't just write the "Frugality is a tactic, not a goal" piece that I'd been thinking about. For them, frugality is a goal.

Guest's picture

I'm more inclined to your tactic theory Philip because for me a goal is something that one day you arrive at then you go on to the next goal. Benjamin Franklin included Frugality as one of his "virtues". "Virtues" is not a concept I'd really considered but they're kind of character qualities and when you think about it that way frugality is indeed a "virtue".
OK, so, I know, that's me throwing a third term into the discussion but it strikes me your use of "tactic" here is pretty similar to the way Franklin and some of the modern writers on positive psychology use the concept of virtues.
PS I've posted about virtues on my blog ( you want to consider this further

Guest's picture
Atticus Fryst

To me, it comes down to the joy of minimalism and the realization that happiness really comes from things that don't really require much money. Two of my principal sources of happiness are learning (I get most of my books at the library) and interaction with family and friends. Although I'm not poor, I like to live in a way that if someday I lost my income, it wouldn't devastate me. I would only have lost some fringe distractions.

Guest's picture

For me frugality is part of a lifestyle, a major facet and result of choosing a simplified life. Making the choice to simplify our lives required my husband and I to live on far less than we had previously. Frugality is one of the basic fundamentals for us in living a life of freedom from the grind. Not only is it a facet to a lifestyle, but a result. And as a result, consumerism is no longer the ideal. Frugality is very freeing and fulfilling. I have gained everything worthwhile and lost nothing of true value. Frugal living is it's own reward, creating personal balance and less environmental impact, both of which, (in my opinion) contribute to a more authentic, satisfying and spiritual life experience.

Philip Brewer's picture

Yes, the idea that frugal living is its own reward is exactly the idea I was grasping for here. It doesn't contradict the use of frgality as a tactic for avoiding the grind--it complements it.

Guest's picture

We are a family of four my wife and I have finally gotten "real jobs"
and are in better shape now (as far as available income) than we ever have been. When we were just starting frugality was a gaol trim the excesses from our merging lives. We still struggle with some of the choices we continue to make, but are now using this combined lifestyle as tactic to acheive our goals. I suppose the question of tactic or goal comes to the individual and where they are coming from/going to.

Guest's picture

Frugality is a goal in that the more frugal you are, the more money you save in the long run while enjoying those things important to you. People often mix up frugality and tightwaddery - a tightwad will buy the cheapest washing machine, while a frugal person will buy the washing machine that will have the lowest total cost of ownership over the next twenty years or so.

Guest's picture

I wrote a response to this on my blog. To me frugality means trying to find value in exchange for your money or other resources. This is a worthy goal, and a responsible one. No Impact Man can really answer this for you. He has a blog post about changing the rhetoric of environmentalism that you might want to look at.

Philip Brewer's picture

Thanks, everyone, for the thoughful comments.  This is a topic where I'm still groping toward an answer, and your comments have helped.

Guest's picture

This reminds me of some thoughts I have on organization. Some people enjoy organizing things for the sake of organization. They like things clean and clear and orderly.

I use organization only as a tactic. I don't really enjoy doing it, but I like having it done because then I have room to do things and I can easily find things.

I once watched a new employee throwing things away, because she didn't know what they were, in order to organize her new office. When I asked, she told me that only once had she ever had to figure out a way to get one of those things back. That is a person who organizes as a goal. I could never, ever do that.

So perhaps some people enjoy activities associated with frugality such as bargain hunting, making things themselves, and maximizing efficiency, so they will always do those things even they could also achieve their (other) goals in nonfrugal ways.

For myself, I see frugality as a tactic. In answer to Annika's question, my goal is freedom. I want the freedom to leave a job I don't like, to take advantage of a time-sensitive opportunity (like visiting my sister during the three years she lived in a foreign country), to not have breakdowns or other bad financial surprises be devastating, etc.

In answer to your question, my standard of living would increase if I won the lottery (uh, after someone gave me a winning ticket). I would quit working, move to a bigger house, and hire someone to maintain the lawn. At my current income and savings levels, quitting, moving to a larger house or hiring gardeners would not be worth the sacrifice--although I want to retire, I would rather live indoors. Although I want a larger house, I would rather have hobbies.

Guest's picture
Rob in Madrid

.... my goal is freedom. I want the freedom to leave a job I don't like, to take advantage of a time-sensitive opportunity (like visiting my sister during the three years she lived in a foreign country), to not have breakdowns or other bad financial surprises be devastating, etc.

Well said Debbie, that I think sums up how my wife and I feel, frugality isn't about saving money or getting things cheap but finally breaking the cycle of never ending financial crisis's. It seems we do good for a while and then whamo we get hit again. Frugal living means we can forever put that behind us.

Of course the positive side is you get to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Guest's picture
Kyle J

For me frugailty is a goal because it is hard to achieve and takes a lot of discipline. I would define a tactic as more of a strategic move with little discipline involved. We may just be arguing symantics.

Guest's picture

For me, frugality is a means to an end. My family and I were forced into frugality, at first. Due to medical reasons, my wife had to stop working. I was left to support a family of four on my own, which means we had less than half of our previous household income. We had to learn new ways of buying food, clothing, household items, etc. Any "extra" money we have is saved for emergencies, education or retirement. You can be frugal and still have a life. You just have to learn to do things differently. After awhile, you notice that you had been spending a lot more money than you really needed to in order to maintain your lifestyle.

Guest's picture

For my life frugality is a tactic used to ACHIEVE a goal. I plan to retire as a millionare, and the only way I can make that happen on a daily basis is to be frugal in day-to-day lifestyle, save/invest the money not used, and gradually acquire the ability to not HAVE to think about whether I can or should spend. Once the habit of choosing unpretenscious possessions is established, the rest of my life can be spent doing what I want, in comfort and security. Spending for the sake of a new thrill or because I am bored is a thing of the past. I have newer/better plans for the long haul!

Guest's picture

Frugality can also be a goal in itself since it means you are less distracted by material possessions, which gives you more time and energy to spend on what is important. Monasteries still think that giving up the grasp on material things is vital for living a better life, odd as that may seem in these more materialistic -- and less spiritual -- times.

Guest's picture
Little Tex

For me, frugality is freedom.
Frugality is freedom to live without worrying whether I can pay the bills or make it to the next paycheck without an overdraft. It also means freedom from insecurity and not having to worry about what everyone else thinks about your clothes, your car, and your lack of high-tech gadgets. Frugality means the freedom of choice. If I want travel, take a class, or take time off work, I always have that option. Frugality means pride in being self-reliant. If I run into an emergency or unexpected expense, I can handle it myself and not have to burden family or friends by asking them for money.

Great post keep up the great writing!