Too Frugal?

by Gary Foreman


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Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am a long time reader and I really appreciate what you have to say. I just wanted to get something off my chest. Sometimes in the quest to be frugal one can lose sight of other important qualities. It is also important to be generous, kind and unselfish. It seems like in the rush to save a few bucks or get something for free, people can take advantage of others and cause hurt feelings. For instance, a group of people will agree to go in on a present and one person will buy the gift. But then when that person goes to collect, someone in the group brushes the collector off and keeps saying they'll bring in money later, but then never does.

Or, for an example from my own family, this holiday we all got together for a potluck style dinner. My sister-in-law, who is very proud of her "tightwad" lifestyle, insisted that we order a ham even though no one else wanted it. When it came time to order it, she put no money towards it and the rest of us did. At the meal, most of it did not get eaten, and then without asking anyone else, she wrapped it up and took it home! She was so excited about saving a few cents and feeding her family for cheap that she forgot her manners.

I see examples of this all the time, and I am not talking about poor people, it is usually people that have a very comfortable lifestyle.
Amy

Amy makes a valid point. It's fine to be frugal. But, like most good things, thriftiness can be taken too far and become a fault. The trick is in determining what is 'going too far'.

Where is that point? One way to answer is by deciding what really is frugal living? The American Heritage Dictionary defines frugal as "avoiding unnecessary expenditure or money; thrifty; costing little; inexpensive".

I'd add to that definition. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but frugality should help us lead a balanced, fulfilled life without harming others.

Some examples of a prudent lifestyle:

  • Finding a second use for an item

  • Making something to last longer

  • Using less with the same results

  • Finding a less costly alternative

True frugality has a way of creating wealth that wasn't there before. Most frugal living ideas fall under one of two categories. Either they're a way of needing less of something. Or they're a way of providing more of a resource at a reduced cost. Either way you've provided more value for the money or resource that you consume.

Frugality should never be used as an excuse for theft or a lack of honesty. I think that most of us would agree with Amy that agreeing to help pay for something and then not doing so isn't right. And probably not even really thrifty. Isn't the relationship with your relatives worth more than the leftover ham?

Some thrifty tactics aren't so black or white. For instance, suppose you walk into an antique shop and realize that they have seriously underpriced an item. Are you taking advantage of the shop owner if you buy the item at that price without telling them of their mistake?

Whatever your answer was, would you apply the same rules if you found the same item underpriced at a church thrift store? Or at a garage sale? At a garage sale in a poor part of town? Yes, we all like to find a 'bargain'. But for most people, there is a point where we feel we're taking advantage of the other person.

Amy is also right about getting too wrapped up in what we're doing and losing sight of the world around us. One summer I was so successful in reducing our electric bill that it became an obsession. A hot Florida summer and a nut controlling the thermostat isn't a comfortable combination! The original goal was fine. But common sense got lost along the way.

Once you've been living more frugally for awhile, it's probably a good idea to step back and analyze what you're doing. Maybe you've gone overboard. Or, maybe it's time to give yourself and your family a small reward for what you've already achieved.

What can Amy do? If their relationship is good, she might gently remind her sister-in-law that frugal living is a balance. Or, if that's not possible, she can remember that we're all subject to making mistakes. Hopefully the ones we make aren't too public and don't do too much damage!


Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and he's a regular contributor to CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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