When Frugality is Not Fun

I was not born frugal. Everything in me wants to spend, acquire, achieve and amass. I am drawn to luxury. I live with visions of grandeur and opulence. My fondest dreams include custom tailored clothing, domestic staffs, $600 silk bed sheets, manicured gardensDooney & Bourke All-Weather Leather, fabulous cars, limousines and private jets.  That’s just how I am.


For me, practicing frugality is not really fun. Oh, there’s an occasional situation from time to time when scrimping might be slightly amusing but on the fun meter of life, planning and budgeting, paring down, doing without when it seems that everyone else in the world is prospering beyond belief—none of that can hold a candle to carefree shopping, living and spending as if money were no object.

My dilemma is that I do not have the means to indulge in a life-style equal to my natural-born tendencies. Those of you familiar with my story know that my feeble attempts to play out my natural tendencies landed me in a lot of trouble. I took the treacherous path of incurring debt to acquire things I couldn’t afford. I learned firsthand that living under mountains of debt is not living … it feels like dying.

So if living naturally brings pain but living frugally isn’t fun, is there any hope for the unnatural frugal type? Yes! It requires new behaviors. Voluntarily.

Attitude is key. If you can change your attitude everything else will follow. No one can do that for you because unless there is a heart change from deep inside, the change will be neither genuine nor permanent. Here are some baby steps you can take to start the change.

Don’t confuse frugality with poverty. The fear of feeling poor keeps many of us entrapped in financial bondage because the shopping and spending produce a false sense of feeling rich. Both feelings are unfounded. Unless you are a permanent resident of Moldova you probably have no idea what “poor” really is. Frugality is a smart and dignified activity. It takes the ability to reason and apply self discipline. Never forget that while you may not have it all, you have enough. And that’s more than many people in this world can say.

Learn self-talk. Non-frugal types often suffer from major cases of the I-wants whenever they find themselves within the vicinity of a mall or other commercial establishment, often resulting in compulsive purchasing. If this describes you, try a little shopping self-talk. Instead of coveting and envying every wonderful thing you see, assure yourself that if these things were really necessary (really necessary … like a kidney transplant or milk for the baby) you could find a way to purchase them. The necessity test usually dismisses the matter right then and there.

If the desire still lingers, make yourself consider what would be required if all those things really were yours. There’s cleaning and maintenance, repairs and dusting, insuring and fueling, worrying about the possibility of theft to say nothing of all of the packing required should you ever decide to move.

By the time you get through that exercise you should be sufficiently exhausted and thankful that you can enjoy those beautiful things without committing to ownership. Personally, I have many wonderful things that I “store” in the lovely shops at my local mall, South Coast Plaza. They are well taken care of and I can visit anytime I want.

Come up with realistic alternatives. I recently met a man whose wife works in a Nevada casino. She would habitually put a roll of quarters into a slot machine every work day. He showed her that her weekly $50 could pay for the boat she really wanted in just two years if she would simply put the quarters in a savings account rather than in an electronic bandit. They now have their paid-for boat and she’s saving for her next dream having given up the slots completely. Just a change of attitude.

For me practicing frugality is not always fun the way it must be for you natural-born tightwads. Actually it’s rarely fun. But the results are so well worth the effort that I will never go back to the pain of living beyond my ability to pay. I haven’t bounced a check in 25 years. I have savings and investments. I buy with cash. I have no debt—credit-card, mortgage or otherwise. I don’t dread evening phone calls and I no longer have to hide the mail and shopping bags.

Now that I think about it, there are lots of things I’m called to do in my life  that aren’t particularly fun. But I do them because I enjoy the results.

Living frugally isn’t always fun  but it is soul satisfying. And I enjoy the results—especially the freedom, joy and peace of mind. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Caught yourself reading all the way 'til the end? Why not share with a friend.

12 replies
  1. JBR
    JBR says:

    But nowadays you are wealthy. Way beyond that of your readers. C’mon….be honest. (And of course have your little lieutenant delete this post forthwith!!!)

  2. leslienaimanrubinson
    leslienaimanrubinson says:

    i look at frugality as a game. back in the 60’s when i was in school, i decided that almost anyone could look good in a $50 dress. if i could look good in a $5 dress, i was that much ahead in the game. same thing with eating – i’d rather drink a non-claoric beverage and use my calories on ice cream. now i use coupons, shop thrift stores, etc and use the saved money for cruises and other travelling. i get restaurant gift cards by doing online surveys etc and use them to treat my friends to lunch once or twice a year. i guess for me, frugality is fun.

    • PatriotPeg
      PatriotPeg says:

      me too. i do the same, i love coupons. recently i received 2 coupons, worth $8 of product each. it felt like my b’day..

  3. chris
    chris says:

    Good advice, as usual, Mary. I love pretty and in-fashion things, too, but I’ve found that people who have really good taste but can’t afford high-end things can find affordable look-alikes at stores like Walmart, K-Mart, Target, JC Penney and even online. You just have to learn what’s tasteful.
    And, like you said, what’s really necessary.
    Love your column……..wish I’d found you a lot of credit card debt ago!

  4. Mary G
    Mary G says:

    Another great article, Mary! Everything you wrote describes me to a “T”! I have the same natural tendencies and have always been drawn to luxury, but I also love when I get a great deal. It’s so difficult to change my attitude, but I just keep practicing by reading your articles. I can’t wait to one day feel free of debt. That must be an amazing feeling. Ahhh. And I like your humorous idea of visiting my luxurious things at my mall storage unit. That’s good. 🙂

  5. Betty Thomas
    Betty Thomas says:

    I agree with you Mary and your suggestions and tips are spot on. I always taught my kids how important saving (PAY YOURSELF FIRST) was. They got into it kicking, screaming and resisting. But something magical happened when they start seeing their bank balances climb. It became a goal and yes, even a competition. I’m the same way with living frugally. I’d rather not but when I get that deal or look at the end game, money saved not spent, it becomes a goal and a blessing. Thank you Mary for all you do for us. I’m sure you’ll ignore JBR as the rest of us are…

  6. Ancient Pagan
    Ancient Pagan says:

    I can say from experience that the actual poverty is less stressful for me than the fear of poverty. The “fear of feeling poor” is artificially induced. Part of my college work was marketing, and I no longer believe anyone is a born spendthrift. The people selling goods and services target their markets in far more ways than advertising, and they know what they are doing. Remember that for at least 80% of human history, we were hunter-gatherer cultures. They had no use for extra goods they could not carry with them.

    My approach to frugality is similar to other commenters’. I truly enjoy spending less in a given area of life than my fellows, and when by doing so I serve other goals that’s even better. For example, old-fashioned cleaning using vinegar, baking soda, and similar inexpensive products not only saves me a great deal of money, it also improves my health by not subjecting me to asthma triggers. Everybody wins except Proctor & Gamble and their kind, who can no longer tell me anything about cleaning. Now and again, I can bypass traditional living altogether, such as when I use my bicycle and trailer to get groceries at a fraction (say, half) of what my friends drive miles to pay for.

  7. Linda Pries
    Linda Pries says:

    Wow! I guess I am in the minority. I have NO desire to spend, amass, etc. My dream home is a log cabin in the woods with a nice little pot-bellied stove I can cook on. Same for an ideal honeymoon…rent a cabin in the woods, stock it with the supplies we would want for a week and enjoy nature and each other. I don’t want fancy jewelry or clothes. One pair of dress shoes and one pair of sneakers is sufficient. Chicken and hamburger make most meals washed down with tap water and tea. Any money over and above what is necessary for bills goes into the bank to be saved for future tight weeks. I have never felt I needed much.

    • stevi
      stevi says:

      So nice to know I am not the only woman who feels the way you do. After all, how much do we really need to enjoy life? Not much. Now…if I could just bring my husband around to my (our) way of thinking!

  8. Cathy M
    Cathy M says:

    My 27 year old son recently told me that his Dad and I live below our means. I agreed with him. then I pointed out that living above our means for years is what gave us so much debt that we now must live below our means to pay it off!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *