Why You Should Build a Frugal Community — and How to Do It


At this moment, my husband and I are both unemployed. And although this sounds nuts, we are actually trying to maximize the duration of his unemployment. I want my husband to be able to find a job that makes him happy, not just the job that comes along first. This means we may have to live on a scary tight budget of unemployment insurance for all of 2014.

The question we are answering almost daily is, "Are you OK?" Not "Are you OK financially?" "Are you OK mentally, living check to check?"

Our answer is, "Yes, we're doing fine. We have frugal friends."

It's easy to be happy on a budget when surrounded by people who don't need money to have fun. My frugal friends don't pressure me to spend money, and they like the fact that I appreciate their asset management skills. They are creative problem solvers.

So, where does one find fellow tightwads when surrounded by people who wear "luxury denim" and engage in "status eating?" Start close to home.

In Your Family

It's really hard to be frugal if you live with people who are not. So the starting point of any frugal community should be the home front.

My husband is really good at shopping. He can go to any store, and regardless of how esoteric the merchandise, he can find something to buy. Our life choices would be really different right now if he hadn't agreed to try stretch our six-month emergency fund and unemployment benefits until the end of the year. To protect our money, we are having daily conversations about how we conserve resources, and not just money: food, utilities, our current possessions. Although this sounds like a drag, we're approaching our budget as a challenge, not a prison sentence. It's actually fun.

Outside of your immediate family, do you have distant relatives who have good spending habits? Start calling them for advice if they live far away. Or, if they live close by, tell them you want to pick their brain over coffee.

If you like your family, you can even make frugality a family project that you do together. My family decided to stop giving Christmas gifts to each other 11 years ago, and we have never looked back.

In Your Neighborhood

The best way I've found to suss out frugal neighbors is by holding a garage sale. Not only will they come to you, they might even give you money for stuff you don't want anymore. Talk to your garage sale customers. People who shop at garage sales are generally a font of information about free activities, dive bars, and local deals. Once you've found some neighbors that you like, invite them over for coffee, or make a date to meet them at a free event, or out for cheap drinks. Ask them to bring along like-minded friends, so you can expand your frugal network more quickly.

At Work

Do you have a co-worker who never eats out, but always brings a delicious-looking bagged lunch to work? Is someone in your office constantly looking for ways to make the company more environmentally responsible? Join forces with that person and work together on ways to save money on and off the job. When I worked at Nordstrom, the company offered preferred parking and other perks to workers who carpooled or found new ways to save the company money. Ask if your company has opportunities like that. If not, set something up!

In Class

Starving students are real. I am surrounded in every class, regardless of subject, by classmates who are living close to the bone. Since poverty and education go hand in hand for many people, it's easy to learn new ways to save in an academic setting, because living on a budget is a constant discussion on every campus.

My friend Julia actually teaches an adult education class on how to live frugally at a community center in Alameda, California. Now that more and more people are living on less money, numerous programs and classes, some free and some not, are popping up all over the place. Obviously, anyone you meet in a home economics class is probably someone who would love to be part of your frugal network.

At a Local Charity

I have yet to meet anyone who volunteers for a charity who is also a greedy jerk. Since almost every charity operates on a shoestring budget, charity administrators and volunteers are black belt savers. They really know how to stretch a dollar.

In addition to working with emotionally generous and financially frugal people, volunteering for a charity also offers perspective. It's hard for me to really feel sorry for myself living check to check when I spend time with people who are struggling to live meal to meal.

At the Public Library

Not surprisingly, I tend to find loads of frugal people at places where I go to save money. Libraries seem to be a hotbed of frugal activity, offering space to board gamers, book groups, and film clubs. While I personally would jump at the chance to join my neighborhood Frugal Club (if it existed), a lot of thrifty people don't feel comfortable having a conversation with a stranger about saving money, but have no problem discussing a favorite book that they just read. Start with books. Move on to the conversation about their trash picking habits later.

In Your Club

Speaking of clubs I'd like to join… start your own Frugal Club! Advertise a get-together with other local commentators via the comments section of your favorite website. Or if meeting new people stresses you out, start a Frugal Club with your neighbors, moms' group, or PTA. Frugal Club activities can include outings to free events or even tutorials, where members take turns teaching each other skills like basic auto repair or food preservation.

My friend and neighbor Hyndon started the Hillside Produce Cooperative because she was tired of paying for groceries. At monthly meetings people bring their surplus backyard produce or baked goods to share with the other members. Everyone always goes home with a packed grocery bag.

Your club doesn't even have to be specifically about frugality because there are many activities that tend to attract frugal people: beekeeping for example. Or bicycling.

I built and repair my bike at the Bike Oven, a neighborhood bicycling repair collective. Since the group focuses on teaching people how to maintain their own bikes, and advocates sustainable transportation, it attracts people who are trying to live part of their lives more sustainably. It also attracts a lot of cute boys in skinny jeans, but that's another article.


I am a member of The Compact, an environmental movement made up of people who pledge to conserve the resources of the planet by only buying used goods. Although I came to The Compact initially out of green guilt, there are many people who decided to try The Compact out of financial desperation. Like Voluntary Simplicity, where many members are involuntary new members of the working poor, the core idea of The Compact doesn't revolve around money. That said, people who join The Compact, even for purely environmental reasons, end up saving thousands of dollars a year.

Although the 10,000 members of The Compact live all over the world, via the Yahoo group message board, I have become adult pen pals with about 100 members who regularly post online. These people are my brain trust. It doesn't matter what I am trying to preserve, conserve, or recycle, my online friends have a solution (or 10) for every obstacle I'm trying to overcome. Every single member of The Compact who I have met face to face is an incredible person. And, even though I will never meet most of the compactors who I talk to on practically a daily basis, the people on that message board know more about the minutia of my life than some of my closest friends.

Since you are reading this article on Wise Think, you probably know that there are thousands of online frugality forums available to all sorts of people. If you are the shy sort, this could be your perfect starting place for finding frugal friends. But just like in real life, online friendships are a two-way street. You have to give friendship to get friendship. So start commenting in the comments section, and compliment your fellow commentators when they give you frugal tips that you like. Don't just click the "like" button, because no one, as far as I know, has ever made friends with a "pin" or "upvote."

Even if you don't know anyone close by who shares your values, it's comforting and empowering to find other people online who are excited to hear how much money you saved at the grocery store by combining coupons and sales.

In Your Friend Group

Not everyone lets their Freak Frugal Flag fly. Hiding in plain sight among your spendthrift pals is someone who wishes they could save more money. The easiest way to find out which of your friends are aspirationally thrifty is to throw parties that center around saving money.

Twenty years ago, I hosted a girly swap party at my home for my female friends, co-workers, and neighbors. The idea of a party where people could trade clothes, books, and make-up was novel at the time, so a lot of people asked me if they could bring along their girlfriends as extra guests. I met so many interesting women at that party who quickly became my friends. Two decades later, I still have a yearly swap party, but I am now invited almost monthly to swap parties hosted by women I met at one of my parties. More than half of my current wardrobe was gleaned from swap parties.

If hosting parties is too much work, start smaller. Every Sunday night my friend Lisa hosts TV night at her house. Usually about six people show up to communally watch "Downton Abbey," "House of Cards," or "Mad Men." Although some of Lisa's other friends shop retail as a hobby, that doesn't make her potluck dinner parties or free access to her subscription television any less frugal for me. Not everyone has the stamina, organizational skills, or desire to be frugal as lifestyle choice. But some of your friends might specialize in one area of frugal living that you can both enjoy.

Have you built a community of frugal friends? How did you do it? Do you think having frugal friends improves your life? Grow your frugal network by commenting!

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