what does frugal mean anyway? the picky pinchers definition of frugal
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What does “Frugal” Mean, Anyway? The Picky Pinchers’ Definition of Frugal

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These days, the word “frugal” is often used as a synonym for “cheap,” “miserly,” or “tightfisted.” Because of this, a lot of people have misconceptions about frugal lifestyles and choices.

You make your own yogurt? Why? It’s four dollars at the store. Just buy it!”

“What do you mean you don’t have cable?”

“Why did you buy a used car? Just take out a loan and get a brand new car!”

Not that there’s anything wrong with buying yogurt, having a cable package, or getting a new set of wheels on the bank’s dollar. Frugality comes in many shapes and colors. There is no one-size-fits-all lifestyle that will work for you. For example, we still have a car payment on one vehicle, even though most of my fellow frugal philosophers will tell you do never ever, ever do that. We kept the car payment for many reasons, but it boiled down to the fact that it was the right choice for us. I still feel pain from my frugal spidey sense when we send a check with interest payments off to the bank, but it was still the right choice.




Saving money, getting out of debt, and retiring early are deeply personal experiences.

Does being frugal mean you can’t buy your favorite movies? No more beer or wine after work? No more eating out?!

Stop the non-consumerist madness; let’s go buy a new TV, honey!

Wait, stop! No, frugality does not mean any of these things. It just means that you’re smarter about what you consume and how much you consume.

Mr. Picky Pincher and I didn’t become frugal overnight. The decision was based on lots of math (on Mr. Picky Pincher’s end, at least), questions, and uncertainty. We wanted to try a different way of life that opened doors for us, instead of being shackled to our 9-5 desk jobs for another fifty years. Even if we fell on our faces, we wanted to try. After becoming avid followers of our frugal hero, Mr. Money Mustache, we realized that early retirement was within our grasp.




We were both on board for the plan, but explaining it to others drew shocked responses–haters gonna hate, after all. Here is the simple definition of frugality we use when we explain our lifestyle and philosophy to people who ask.

The Picky Pinchers’ Definition of Frugal

1. Being frugal means consuming less of the things you already have too much of

A great example of this in our household is entertainment–specifically, cable TV. We don’t have cable. Why would we sign up to pay a crazy amount for shows that we can watch for free or cheaper on Netflix and Roku? Why would we buy DVDs when we can rent them for free at the library?

We have too many entertainment options in our home. We have seven gaming systems, mounds of books, boxes of DVDs, and literally thousands of hours of TV shows available at the push of a button. The Picky Pincher household does not have a need for more stuff and the debt that comes with it, and that includes a cable TV package.

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“But don’t you miss seeing live TV?”

“Oh my god, there’s no way I could do that.”

“What do you do with all of your time, then?”

Naysayers aside, you know what’s best for your time and pocketbook. And speaking of the naysayers…

2. Being frugal means not caring what other people think–even that snooty lady next door

We like sharing the details of our newfound frugal life. Since it’s different from mainstream culture, we do meet some resistance.

But we don’t cave in to peer pressure when people question our lifestyle. When I speak with these people, suddenly cable TV, a car payment, and credit card debt are necessary sacraments– benefits that everyone should have in this enlightened, modern era.

“You have no-TV days? You might as well live in the woods!”

Consuming less is seen as unusual in a capitalist society. When we explain that we don’t have three Hummers for a reason, people can get defensive. Your way of life and ideas are different, almost foreign–and as humans we naturally like things that are familiar. Anything foreign is viewed with suspicion and is questioned.

So don’t take it personally when people question your methods to save money and get ahead. You do what feels right for you.




3. Being frugal means not being “cheap”

There is a big, big, big difference between being frugal and being cheap.

A case study:

A cheap person and a frugal person go to a hip, new restaurant with a group of friends.

For the drink order, the frugal person orders a water. The cheap person orders a soda, and gorges himself on free refills. The cheap person also helps himself to the frugal person’s lemons that came with the water. The frugal person judges him but says nothing because the cheap guy has always kind of been a prick.

The waiter takes everyone’s food orders. The frugal person chooses a filling, yet affordable appetizer of bruschetta as her dinner instead of a pricey, large dinner entree. The cheap person orders a burger without lettuce and tomato, and is frustrated to learn that the restaurant doesn’t refund the cost of said lettuce and tomato.

At the end of the meal, the waiter gives one bill to the entire table. The cheap person immediately scrutinizes the details of the bill, demanding the people who had more expensive dishes pay more. The frugal person flags down the waiter and asks for separate checks instead.

Everyone pays separately, and the frugal person leaves a 16 – 20% tip because she is a decent person. The cheap person earns the ire of the waiter for refusing to tip because, “My god, ten dollars for a burger? Ridiculous, I’m not giving you beggars more money.”

Frugality lets you go out and experience life, but on a more conscious level. It is never about being cheap or feeling like you’re owed something from the world.




4. Frugality is environmental

definition of frugal. It means buying less stuff

It stands to reason that when you cut your consumption to save money, Mother Earth thanks you.

If we all bought less crap, think of how much better off the world would be.

Just picture it.

That Mr. T alarm clock you bought and immediately regret? Instead of throwing it into the landfill to decompose in a couple hundred years, don’t buy it in the first place! Those cheap shoes you bought that broke after one wear? Instead of buying them, get high quality shoes in the first place (no need to have twenty pairs of shoes, anyway, c’mon).

By choosing to buy less, and only buy quality items in the first place, we’re saving the Earth’s resources while saving money.


5. It is freedom

Last month, Mr. Picky Pincher and I had the resources to take a small vacation.

Would we have been able to do that pre-frugal lifestyle?

Probably, but we would have charged everything to a credit card and let the interest accrue month after month, since paying cash wasn’t an option. Being frugal has given us the chance to be free from the shackles of high interest debt. We still have a long way to go to achieve complete financial independence, but we’re on the right track.

Thanks to developing a frugal spidey sense and saving your excess cash, you can have the flexibility to work when you want. At the pinnacle of frugality, money is barely a concern. Once you live within your means (which also means living without debt and with a healthy amount of passive income), you can do anything.

Travel. Do things you’re passionate about. Spend time with your kids. Learn underwater basket weaving.

Happiness and contentment begin when bills are no longer your concern.

And that’s our philosophy and definition of frugality.

How are you approaching your journey to independence?

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8 comments on “What does “Frugal” Mean, Anyway? The Picky Pinchers’ Definition of Frugal

  1. #4 yes! I know it’s cliché, but buy quality and buy once.
    Also, “We don’t have a TV” – “Oh so you do like Netflix or get movies?” – “No, we don’t own a television.” – “Sooo, how do you watch movies?” – “We don’t.” – “Uuh, wellll, what do you do?” – “We live.”
    We get this all the time. Also, we try to give when we learn of someone in need, so are as you say frugal, but not cheap. Great post.

    1. Good for you! We like to have Netflix, but we also have days where we don’t watch TV at all. It’s amazing how much you can get done! I also feel like I’ve lived a lot more of the day that way.

  2. There’s some great points in this article.

    You’ve probably heard this before but “every dollar you spend is a dollar keeping you at work”. That helps put me in a frugal state of mind.

    There should be courses on frugality at school.

    1. That’s very true! I still can’t wrap my head around why on earth personal finance isn’t taught heavily in school. It was an option for me in college, but it was a new elective they offered. For now it seems like we’re all learning from the school of hard knocks. Sigh.

    1. It was pretty tough for us! I always thought of myself as frugal, but ‘frugal’ comes in so many shades in reality.

  3. “Happiness and contentment begin when bills are no longer your concern.”

    As good a definition of frugality as I’ve ever seen. Great freakin’ post, Mrs. PP. Your understanding of frugality really hit home. Mrs. G and I took 10 years to achieve FIRE. And during those 10 years we never purchased a new car, attached a 60-inch television to one of our walls, and bedazzled our bodies with jewelry and fancy clothes. But we did visit Italy and 29 states. We also gave our niece and nephew $1,000 checks for their weddings. It’s all about what you value. Do you value stuff? Or do you value experiences? Or, better yet, do you value FREEDOM? Thanks for showing that frugality isn’t austerity and that living cheaply and living well aren’t mutually exclusive.

    1. Thank you so much! That’s so wonderful that you were able to help out your niece and nephew. 🙂 It’s all about putting your money to work in positive ways. 🙂

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