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Friday, May 21, 2021

Why Do You Make Frugal Choices?

I was thinking the other day about why we make the choices that we do. More specifically, what motivates people to be frugal. It seems that people are frugal for a variety of reasons.

For some, it's ideological or philosophical. One doesn't like waste or being frugal is part of a simpler approach to life. Sometimes this is derived from a person's younger years. Growing up in a period where there was a great deal of lack often leads a person to be diligent about waste, even after years of having abundance. I think of my grandparents who struggled to put food on the table during the Great Depression. This influenced not only how they lived out their lives, but also how may own parents parented us kids. Wasting food wasn't allowed, even though child-raising times were much more affluent for my parents than for my grandparents. As well, a desire for simplicity could also be a reaction to a consumer climate that seems excessive. Parents may want their children to experience simpler activities and play, while themselves opting to leave a lighter footprint on this world. With either scenario, it seems like a person's basic philosophy influences many frugal choices.

It may also be a matter of self-sufficiency that goes beyond one's philosophical approach to life. For example, not trusting that the future supplies of necessities will always be available, or not knowing if one's income will remain steady in the coming year. Here's an example: Our family is careful with water use. We collect rain water in rain barrels for some of our garden watering. We also save water from washing garden vegetables in a container on the deck to use later to water the garden. We reclaim the water from the shower warming up to flush toilets. I reuse the water used in incubating yogurt to do a load of clothes washing. It isn't that our water supplies are imminently threatened. But as more people move into our area, the burden on our current supply of water is stretched. At some point, there may not be enough municipal water for everyone to use as we always have. Water shortages are a thing in many parts of the country. They could even come to places where you think it does nothing but rain. 

Our family also likes to keep a vegetable garden, orchard, and berry patch, in part because growing our own produce ensures we will always have plenty of healthy food to eat, regardless of what happens in America's farmland or with transportation issues getting foods to local markets. The pipeline crisis just last week was a hint at what could possibly happen in the future, affecting transportation of all goods. There's also the ever-present risk of contaminated produce. Having a large garden means we control the safety of much of our own food.

For others, frugality is a necessity -- bills are simply greater than one's income. I think most adults have experienced this, especially in the early years of supporting oneself or while a student in college. We can all recall how poor we felt at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, these periods of greater bills than income can also come at later periods of our lives, as in unplanned unemployment, fixed incomes, major health crisis (and accompanying bills), and even joyous surprises, such as multiple babies in a pregnancy when you only anticipated one. It isn't always easy, but frugality allows folks to pay their bills and stay or get out of debt.

For still other's, it's a matter of choices to afford what's most meaningful. For example, the thinking "I can have this, if I give up that" such as spending less so one can stay home with their young children, or curtailing spending on new clothing, so you can travel, or being frugal now, so you can retire when you want. 

My own family has lived out all of the above motivations toward a frugal life. We've lived through periods of actual lack, as well as the choice to spend in some areas instead of others. We've also liked the way we feel when we don't waste. It makes us feel good to know that we are leaving plenty for others. We can also see that supplies and incomes can change on a dime. Who would have ever guessed that toilet paper, yeast, bread, and canned soup would ever be in short supply in America? Obviously, about 300 million of us never anticipated any of the shortages we saw last year.

These were just thoughts that were rolling around in my mind. What else did I miss? Do you think about the motivations behind your own frugal choices? 


  1. I would have to say yes to all of the reasons listed. They all have factored into my desire to be frugal. An additional motivator for me has been watching my parents and their declining health. Both of them ended up in assisted living facilities before they died--paying for those can suck up a lot of what seems like a substantial amount of money in a blink of an eye. Both of my parents lived frugally, at times self-sacrificially. A part of me is sad that they didn't get to experience all of their dreams--a trip to Europe, updates on their home--but on the other hand, there were sufficient funds for them to live out their lives in pleasant facilities with caring staff. I can't express what an emotional burden was lifted for me to realize we kids didn't have to scramble for a decent place for them to be and to receive the care they needed to stay comfortable in their last days. As I look at the factors influencing how we spend and save our money, I try to look beyond the "now" to determine future needs. Obviously we can't predict the future, but some things are fairly obvious--my kids are swiftly approaching adulthood--my hope for them is to find a career that meets not only their financial responsibilities, but also fulfills a deep part of who they are as people. My husband and I are in what I consider to be the prime of our lives, but each day we get older--health issues WILL crop up and it would be foolish to not try to put aside some money for that eventuality. I guess you could say that I am trying to live in the present with a clear eye on the future. We do purposely set aside some money just for fun--travel is a big deal for us--but we also live with less in some areas to allow us to do what we so enjoy. And that's the end of my very long story! :)

  2. Yes, we certainly do think about it! For us, as you mentioned, it's really a combination of all the above as well. And we're willing to save in some areas while spending more in some to support local business or in order to buy a higher quality product. For instance, we have no problem buying clothing at a thrift store, but will spend more to purchase high quality shoes that are right for our feet. I'll buy staples at Aldi or Sam's but spend more to buy local meat.

  3. Yes, Lili, I agree with ALL of what you say. My thinking is that if everyone exercised some sort of frugality our world would be a better place. But sadly, waste is huge.

    My parents came straight from the Netherlands to the US after having lived through WWII. EVERYTHING during their youth was frugal and when they moved to the US (separately, and met in W. Michigan, then married in W. Michigan) they were poor so being frugal was essential. They made do but never really got ahead yet life was satisfying though they worked HARD for everything. I'm frugal because of them. No waste, grow your food, put it up "for the winter" and be thankful for all you have. I tried to raise my kids the same way and now I see my youngest and her husband putting in a fairly large garden for the second year and they have been married for two years. She freezes whatever she can.

    My parents are still living although they are elderly and living in their own home. We've been told they want to die there so that is what we strive for. Same for my husband's mother. Her husband died in their home and her wish is for the same thing. That is kind of why we moved closer so that we could be of assistance and yes, we have been needed many times by both parents.

    We're old now and have had our fair share of medical issues and have paid big money for some of these medical problems but they are all necessary. I hope my kids never have to pay for anything for us out of their pockets so we put some away to make sure that never happens.

    Good post Lili. This has really made me think to be more frugal yet. There is a possibility of a job loss (I work FT and hubby PT) and we've been thinking about how that would pan out.

    1. It helps me, too, Alice, to think these things through. And it helps to hear from others, gaining a broader perspective.

  4. Lily, this is a really interesting question. Like others, my thrift is due to a variety of factors. Maybe it's my DNA since I have Scotch ancestry and they're known for thriftiness!

    I'm the daughter of 2 frugal school teachers. They set this example, so I think my frugality came from them. My husband and I wanted our children to be without student loan debt, so that was a factor in focusing on “needs” for all these years, instead of “wants”.

    In my early years, my parents and I lived with my farmer grandparents. I recall fondly picking and “putting up” (freezing) asparagus, peas, beans,corn and limas with my grandmother. In the fall, we picked up pecans for baking. When I plant and harvest from my little garden, it's a tangible connection with my dear grandparents and those early years. I like the self sustainability that comes with a garden. Nothing like picking your own crops for dinner. And, food “put up” in the summer, sustained them until the next year. I think my stock pile provides a similar function.

    My dear father was an environmentalist. He built an outdoor solar shower in the 70s and retrieved gray water from the washing machine to use on the lawn and flowers. I get my desire to be a good steward of natural resources (including water) from him.

    Like others, I try to find a better, cheaper way. When my daughter was born, smocked dresses were all the rage here in the South. I LOVED them but NO way I could afford the $50 price tag (now $120 in today's dollars!). So, I invested in a smocking class and learned to make them myself.

    Now, our frugal ways are to plan for retirement. My husband retired 12 years ago and I think I'll be doing so within the next 6-8 mo. Along with the fun things we hope to do like travel, there is also the planning for future health care costs like Alice and Kris noted. We're striking a balance between the wants and needs for the future-as usual!

    Thanks for posing this question Lily. It's given me food for thought and some happy memories! (and please forgive the epistle!)Lynn

    1. Thanks for sharing your insight, Lynn. I learn a lot from what all of you have to say.


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