Can You Be Too Frugal?

 Posted by on September 29, 2008  Add comments  Tagged with: , ,
Sep 292008

In the original Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn wrote that she had been labeled “The Frugal Zealot,” because people thought that she worried too much about money, didn’t spend enough on herself, and didn’t know how to have any fun. She joked that even Depression-era relatives thought she was too thrifty. You can listen to a really great interview with the original “Frugal Zealot” herself here.

Like Amy, I am occasionally accused of taking frugality to the extreme. People think that I “sweat the small stuff” too much, and that I should just learn to relax. One of my readers commented that her husband thinks I’m “crazy,” mainly because I keep a price book. When I was in college, my own parents practically rolled on the floor laughing at me when they found out that I turned business reply envelopes inside out and reused them. My college friends looked down their noses at me because I bought my clothes at Goodwill, checked out required novels for my English courses at the library, instead of buying them, and refused to spend $2.50 for a cinnamon sugar shaker to make cinnamon toast for breakfast (I used a yogurt container with holes punched in the lid).

One afternoon, while waiting to pick up Bee from school, I commented to another parent that I thought school lunches had gotten ridiculously expensive. I told her that I packed Bee’s lunch most days, because it saved $1.50 a day. She looked at me like I’d grown another head.

People have made not-so-polite comments because our living room furniture is 10 years old, because our kids wear garage sale clothes, and because we don’t have a giant, flat-screen TV. I used to simper apologetically at these snide remarks, but one day, when someone actually suggested that I was hurting the economy by not spending enough money, I decided that I’d had enough. I replied, “Well, I’m debt free at age 34, so I guess I’m OK with my choices.”

I know it sounds snippy, and even a bit boastful, but it did the trick. They had nothing more to say after that.

I don’t for a minute believe that frugality hurts the economy. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the lack of frugality in this country is what’s gotten us into our current disastrous economic state. Furthermore, achieving debt freedom is no different than any other goal. If my goal was to win a marathon, no one would criticize me for working hard, and doing everything possible to achieve that goal. It’s my opinion that people choose to criticize my spending habits because they’re convicted of being irresponsible with their own money. It makes them feel better to knock me down a peg.

It’s important to make the distinction between frugal and cheap. Frugality is characterized by economy in the use of resources. “Cheap” is characterized by stinginess and a lack of generosity. On our journey to debt freedom, we were never cheap. We still gave money to our church, and to charities. Our children still got their most desired Christmas and birthday gifts. We never lacked for anything, mainly because we were patient, and sought creative, less expensive ways to buy things (garage sales, consignment stores, eBay, Craigslist, Goodwill, etc.) Frugality doesn’t necessarily require deprivation, but it does require a change in your way of thinking. You must clearly define your needs and wants, and decide how much is enough.

In this country, most of us have more than enough.

Our pastor recently said in a sermon that our commitments must match our priorities. If you say that God and your family are your top priorities, are you doing everything possible to demonstrate that? Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24 NIV

Ask yourself why you’re working. We all have to work to survive, but if you’re working to buy stuff you don’t need, and to pay off a laundry list of creditors, you’re serving money. When we decided to get off the debt roller coaster, it was because we didn’t want to spend our lives running the rat race to pay off debt. We wanted to be free of that burden, so that we could devote our time to our top priorities – God, our marriage, and our family. Our frugality, our thriftiness, and our attention to ALL of the little ways that we spent our money helped us achieve our goal.

No, we weren’t too frugal.