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Being Frugal

As a small business owner, it’s important that I manage my money carefully. Unlike many people I don’t get a regular, consistent paycheck. And because my business is somewhat seasonal, I have to be sure to put money aside during the busy times so that I can survive during the slow times.  

About two years ago (right about the time my husband and I separated) I began reading blogs about financial management and, more to the point, blogs about frugal living. I hoped to pick up some tips and tricks on saving money while not having to compromise my lifestyle (too much). What I have found has been a wonderful community of people who are dedicated to being self-sufficient and money-smart. As with any group, there’s a wide range of what constitutes frugal living and how strictly people adhere to it.

However, within almost all of the ranges of frugality, is an overwhelming attitude that “If I don’t think it’s worth spending the money on, neither should you.” There are some things that seem to be open for mockery across the board. Do you have a jones for new electronics—iPhones, Bluetooth, etc? You’re frivolous and wasteful. Do you go to movies in a theater? You’re frivolous and wasteful. Do you splurge on 4-star hotels when you travel? You’re frivolous and wasteful.

It doesn’t matter that in all other things you are frugal and careful with your money. It doesn’t matter that you drive a fourteen-year-old car, pack your lunch to work every day, hardly ever eat out, buy new clothes at the thrift store once a year ... if you admit that you spend $15 on a movie ticket once a week because seeing a movie in the theater is your thing, or if you just have to have the latest and greatest iPhone the day it comes out  ... you will be summarily drummed out of the ranks of the frugal.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of being frugal—one of them anyway—to be able to afford to do the things we want to do without going into debt for them? Isn’t being frugal about making choices and being happy with those choices rather than spending money to try to find happiness? Or is it about fitting into some kind of mold so that we’re all alike?

A few years ago I lost a significant amount of weight—almost 100 pounds—and I’ve kept it off. I did it by changing my relationship to food—not by depriving myself. I still eat whole fat dairy. I go out and get a hamburger at Five Guys. I even order dessert once in a while at the Cheesecake Factory. During the time I was actively “dieting” (a word I’ve grown to hate, by the way), I can’t count the number of people who would look at me askance, and there were the people who actually asked me, “Should you be eating that?” because apparently if you’re truly dieting, then you must be depriving yourself.

I see the same attitude in the frugal world:  If you’re being truly frugal then you must deprive yourself. And you must deprive yourself according to what everyone else says is the proper type of deprivation. Just as the idea of eating regular foods makes “dieters” cringe, the idea that I can be frugal and still not care that a movie ticket costs $15 is anathema to “frugalities.”

I think many of you who practice a frugal lifestyle might want to take a step back and think about this a little. Have you recently been snotty about something that someone else has spent money on? Have you recently felt yourself gloating or feeling superior because you don’t spend money on some item or in some area? If you have, perhaps an attitude adjustment is in order.

Being frugal is a good thing. Our current economic situation proves that living on the edge of credit is dangerous and that the American people need to rethink their attitudes about money. But being so frugal that you judge everyone else for not having the exact same likes, wants, needs, and priorities as you do is not a good thing. At all.