Frugal Doesn’t Mean Stingy

Frugality may not always have the best connotations. For many people, the word “frugal” might leave a bad taste in the mouth.

It might bring back memories of a tightwad uncle or a selfish friend who spent plenty on themselves but never had a dime to spare for other people’s needs.

But to me, frugal doesn’t mean stingy.

Stingy with our purchases.

Stingy with our giving. 

Rather, I like to define it as living in such a way that we are thoughtful with our purchases and prayerful with our giving. 

Sometimes I Buy Things

Lately I’ve made a couple of clothing purchases. (This was before Super Frugal Year.) They feel super luxurious after my year-long clothes shopping ban even though they were still in keeping with my long-term clothing rules.

Frugal doesn’t mean socks with holes and underwear that doesn’t fit.

Minimal doesn’t mean that you must do laundry daily in order to find something to wear. That doesn’t exactly sound like simple living to me!

In the last few months, I bought new underwear, sports bras, running socks, and comfortable flip flops. I also bought some second-hand activewear, which I’ve decided is the best clothing ever and I wear it almost constantly. (I can sweat and look cute at the same time? And it’s comfortable enough to sleep in? Woohoo!)

Even though I have the nerve to call myself a frugal minimalist, I realized that these were the items in my wardrobe that were doing most of the work. I wear these items daily and I’m hard on them.

Unlike a cocktail dress that I may wear a couple of times a year, my undergarments and activewear are doing nearly all the heavy lifting in my wardrobe. (80/20 rule, anybody?)

I may not be a mathematician, but I know that I wear around 20 percent of my clothes 80 percent of the time. That means replacing / updating that 20 percent every now and then. (The Curated Closet is a great resource for how to carefully refine your style and choose items that you will actually wear when shopping. I felt informed and liberated after reading it! No, I don’t have to wear clothes that are falling apart just because I’m trying to be minimal and save money!)

So when it was time for an update, I went for it. I didn’t go on a mindless shopping spree, but I carefully and thoughtfully chose brands that are known for being rugged. I read reviews and sizing information. I tried to be wise about the purchases. If I wasn’t going to wear it regularly, I really didn’t want it.

One of the cool things about frugality is that the rarity of these purchases makes them that much more special! I am currently loving my my comfortable underwear, socks, shoes, and running tanks. It feels like the greatest luxury to workout in comfortable things that fit.

Frugality isn’t holding onto junk. 

Frugality is mindfully replacing items that are done-for.

Frugality is enjoying the little luxuries of everyday.  

(Here’s my shopping rules for when I do replace things.)

Frugality has helped me become more attuned to the luxury all around me. This helps me practice gratitude daily rather than discontent.

Consumerism is driven on discontent.


I try not to take anything for granted. Everything from the big things like getting to stay home with my boys and “unschool” them, to the smallest things like a cold shower on a hot day and shoes that fit properly without pinching my feet.

Utility, Not Happiness

Please be careful with this idea and don’t take it too far. There is a flip side to having carefully-chosen everything. It can backfire when things break, are lost, are stolen, require expensive insurance, or we aren’t certain we’ll actually use them often.

If you’re only looking to save money, remember that some of the most expensive things like cars and electronics depreciate so quickly you’re better off buying an older, but not decrepit model. (All my iPhones have been from Craigslist except for my first one that I won as a teenager. And I would never buy a new car. Ever.)

It helps to think about depreciation. It helps to think about how long you will actually use the item in order to make up for the price difference, as my fellow blogger Kalie does here:

It doesn’t take much worldly wisdom to figure out that cheap shoes are awful. I swore off Payless shoes at the ripe old age of 17 and have never looked back. I do not hate my feet that much.

That said, I owned a pair of shoes from Walmart that lasted 7 years. They cost all of $20 and were perfectly comfortable.

So how do those $80 Clark’s (insert Keens, Merrills, Birks, or whatever you’re into) stack up again my $20 Walmart shoes? The Clark’s would have to last 28 years to be a better value. Just thinking about that makes my arches ache.

Now let’s chat about undies. A $10 pack of 10 women’s Hanes will last at least one year. If you are spending $30 per pair for “durable” undies, you’d have to wear them for over 30 years to outperform the Hanes. Please do not wear the same panties for that long!

Yes, this is anecdotal evidence, but it offers a cautionary tale none the less. The claims of high quality and durability may not live up to the price tag—or the hype. I believe marketers are ploying consumers with the minimalism/quality card.

Pretend to be Poor

If we’re seeking perfection rather than utility we will always be disappointed. I’ll go into this more in-depth in next week’s post.

But it all comes down to our purpose. You can buy things that work well and do the job, but you can’t buy happiness.

(And if you do spring for those expensive leather boots…I hope you’re actually prepared to wear them for many, many years.)

Frugal But Generous?

Frugal doesn’t mean stingy with our giving. 

Saving money by making rare and thoughtful everyday purchases allows us to contribute financially to bigger things.

I’ll admit it can be difficult to train my brain to work both ways: I’ll carefully research and count the cost of a $50 purchase, while at the same time I want to be ready to unselfishly drop $50 if a friend needs help.

The difference isn’t the dollar amount. The difference is – am I spending this on myself or someone else?

Am I spending this because I want to or because God is asking me to?

The only way to master this differentiation, I’ve found, is to practice it often.

It may never become second nature, but it does get easier.

It also helps considerably to have a spouse who is also on board. Frugality and generosity aren’t mutually exclusive and your spouse can help you determine if the thing you want to spend money on is selfish or sensible.

Josh does a pretty good job at holding me financially accountable in a loving way. We actually really like doing our monthly budget together – and I know that he’ll see every purchase I made that month.

I highly recommend reviewing your expenses every month, aiming for a certain percentage of spending / giving / investing. Maybe knowing that you must hit your giving percentage will make you more generous in the moment.

Or maybe it helps to think of all our resources as God’s. If we’re simply stewarding them rather than owning them, how would our finances look different?

The bottom line is that no matter how much you spend, save, or give, frugality has the potential to help you meet your goals.

Frugality doesn’t mean you must suffer.

For us, frugality and minimalism have unlocked a lot of possibilities.

I feel so fortunate that we discovered it this early in life so I could quit my job and stay home while my kids are still little.

And yes, the enjoyment of the little things is multiplied because of the rarity and care that is put into them.

Frugality is indeed a curated existence.  I don’t need a closet full of shoes if I have a couple pairs that are practical and fit well. (No stilettos around here, sorry!)

I don’t need two cars if I have one car that runs and a trusty bike.

It is a balancing act. And it’s not my job to judge anyone else for how the things they choose to buy or not buy.

How can we simplify and add luxury to our lives with gratitude and appreciation at the same time?


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