Frugal Living: Defining Frugality

This is part 2 of my series on “Frugal Living.” You can read part 1 here: “Measuring Frugality (and Myself).”

What do you think of when you hear the word “frugal”? If you’re like me, you probably think of coupon clipping, garage sale-ing, and soap making. If we said that frugality equals those things, would you then describe yourself as frugal? I probably wouldn’t… anymore.

Grocery Couponing

There was a time period when I gave couponing my best effort. Back when Kum & Go offered a free newspaper with a fuel purchase, I tried to make sure we waited until Sunday to fill our tank. Then I would scour the Register‘s ads for any coupons that I could reasonably use, and I sometimes even planned my grocery list around those coupons. The “extreme couponing” of some shoppers would put my average $5 savings to shame; but it was the best I could reasonably do, and it made me feel good.

As much of a hassle as grocery coupons sometimes were, I do wish I could still use them. However, when I started learning more about healthy eating and began paying attention to the ingredients labels on the foods I was buying–the types of foods you typically find coupons for–I decided that most of those food coupons would no longer be of use to me.

Garage Sale-ing

In much the same way that grocery couponing used to work for me and now doesn’t, consignment shopping used to work for me and now doesn’t. Back before the twins were born, I was a pretty avid garage sale shopper. Every Wednesday I would look through the ads, find the sales that looked good, and map out the most efficient route for my Friday and/or Saturday garage sale outing(s). In this way, I was able to nicely clothe my kids for all seasons for not much money.

However, when the twins came along, garage sale-ing was no longer realistic for me. With four kids under four, I wasn’t nearly as mobile as I had once been; and with my new need for twin girl clothing, garage sale success was pretty unlikely. My time and energy–and my babies’ feeding and nap schedules–were worth more to me than the good deals I could find IF I was lucky.

Soap Making

Like grocery couponing and garage sale-ing, laundry soap making is another frugal tactic I used for a while but chose not to stick with. Yes, it did save me money; and yes, it did make me feel thrifty. But because I felt like my homemade detergent wasn’t getting our clothing clean, I never made another batch. It was more important to me that I send my husband to work in a bright white dress shirt than it was to save a little bit on soap.


So, IF we were to equate frugality with these types of typical habits which the word brings to mind (and which are all good things, mind you), then I don’t fit the bill all that well anymore. But that’s okay, because these things DON’T have to be the definition of a frugal person.

What IS Frugality?

Since I’m kind of a word girl, I was compelled to look up the actual definition of the words frugal and frugality.

frugality noun : the quality of being frugal, or prudent in saving; the lack of wastefulness

frugal adjective : economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful

While I feel like these definitions do describe me, I realize that there is a wide spectrum of people who may be economical/prudent/not wasteful in many different ways and yet all still “frugal” in their own right. (Remember, any measure of frugality other than the heart itself is relative… and relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, since it’s the motive of the heart that matters.)

Just as any spectrum has unhealthy extremes, such is true of the frugality spectrum. “Healthy Frugality,” I’ve decided, must lie somewhere in between Extravagant Wastefulness and Extreme Cheapskate-ishness. (Like that word? Pretty sure I made it up.)

Healthy Frugality vs. Unhealthy Frugality

The ambiguous line between healthy frugality and unhealthy frugality comes down to a matter of motives; and there are four questions which I think you can ask yourself as you examine your own heart. A “yes” answer to any of these questions would reveal an unhealthy motive.

  1. Is your penny-pinching rooted in fear?
  2. Is your penny-pinching rooted in laziness/unwillingness to work?
  3. Is your penny-pinching a symptom of the “love of money”?
  4. Is your penny-pinching an obsession?


Where Am I On the Frugality Spectrum?

As I have examined my own lifestyle and my own habits, I’ve decided I must be somewhere in the middle but with more “cheapskate” tendencies. While my frugality has played out in different ways at different times in my life, I am by nature a conservative user of resources. Perhaps I spend more money to acquire a certain item than the next guy does; but once I have it in my possession, I am a careful steward of it.

In my upcoming posts, I will discuss some of the ways I exercise frugality as well as some tips for frugal-living success.


  1. Katie Cox says:

    It sounds like you and I are a lot alike when it come to frugal living. I too used to love garage sales but have found that I can buy my kids clothes on sale for just a little bit more than garage sale prices and they last a lot longer.

    1. @Katie Cox That’s true, Katie! Some garage sales are way over-priced. My general rule was usually to spend no more than $1 per piece of clothing; but I would sometimes pay more for certain brands.