What Does “Frugal” Mean to You?


My definition of frugality: Not buying things.


Kyle’s definition of frugality: Getting good deals.


Kyle is excellent at researching products he wants to find the best quality for the best price.  On the other hand, he remarked to me last week (and I’m not sure if this was a compliment) “You never want anything!  How do you never want anything?”  (He meant stuff-wise – I want to spend plenty of money on experiences.)


We don’t have a whole lot of conflict because of our differences, but rather I think our distinct definitions of frugality synergize to making us a frugal couple by any definition – or very possibly a cheap one.  I deny or delay purchases that are not real needs and Kyle makes sure we get a good price when we do purchase something, which is something I neglect when I cave in and buy.  (And very occasionally all that gets thrown out the window.)


What’s your definition of frugal?  How well do you and your significant other fit it?


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34 Responses to "What Does “Frugal” Mean to You?"

  1. I side with Kyle, although lately I am edging towards you. To me it is a fine line. I do not want to deprive myself of things but I do not want to spend a lot on them.
    I only have a roommate, and he loves to spend his money. This gives me the luxury of having a TV (and other things) without having to have bought it. (Still hard to sit me in front of it for more than 15 minutes)
    MyCanadianFinances recently posted..How I Lost Money On Penny Stocks

    1. Emily says:

      Kyle is my roommate who liked to spend his money! When we got married I suddenly had a nice huge TV with surround sound, fast internet, gaming systems… All stuff I would have had a lot of trouble buying for myself.

  2. Daisy says:

    Mine is both. Or, just making things last. My work friend says it’s frugal that we both still have an iPhone 3G, and I would agree, because I am going to make it last as long as possible and not get a new one.
    Daisy recently posted..Birth Order and Finances: My Take

    1. Emily says:

      Haha ummmm… I still have a dumbphone. It’s six years old. I know what I want to upgrade to when this one eats it, but it seems to be breaking down very sloooooooowly. But in general I think anyone who holds on to their electronics for more than about 2 years is really resisting that Joneses pressure. Kyle’s Android phone is nearly 2 years old now and I think his eye is starting to rove.

  3. Jessica says:

    My fiance and I are the opposite of you and Kyle. I’m all about getting good deals, and he’s all about not spending money in general. We’re slowly meeting in the middle, which will be a good thing once we have joint accounts

    1. Emily says:

      That’s what happened for us, too. I think the middle is a good place.

  4. WorkSaveLive says:

    I think we’re a lot a like! Well, I’m more like Kyle and you’re very much like my wife.

    She never wants/needs to buy anything but I make sure we’re not hermits and do things on occasion.

    It sounds like you two have a great yin-and-yang to your relationship. It takes a great team to be successful in life and finances.
    WorkSaveLive recently posted..Athletes That Went Broke & Wondering Why We Enjoy Their Downfall

    1. Emily says:

      That’s funny – in terms of “doing things” I’m the one who keeps us from being hermits, but that doesn’t usually involve spending money. I was moreover thinking of buying stuff.
      Kyle and I do have a good chemistry over money, I think. We are very alike and then where we differ I think we complement each other. I’m sure it’s working just as well for you and your wife now that you’re in your debt-repayment mode!

      1. WorkSaveLive says:

        Well, we’re in dept-repayment mode but it’s also important to live a little as well. We’ve been working through debt for so long that you have to find balance in order to keep your sanity.
        WorkSaveLive recently posted..Athletes That Went Broke & Wondering Why We Enjoy Their Downfall

  5. Emily too says:

    To me “frugal” means not spending more of your budget on unnecessary things than you absolutely have to (so closer to your position, but still very concerned with deals when you do buy things).

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you embody my self-control and Kyle’s deal-searching skills all in one!

  6. Leigh says:

    My definition of frugal back when I was a student was very similar to yours. I told myself that I would pay my cell phone bill each month and spend no more than $500 total beyond that. (My parents paid for my rent, utilities, books, and tuition.) So basically, I would spend all semester spending as little as possible and then come the end of the term, I would often go and spend a bunch of money on clothes.

    In my last year, I finally came up with the idea of a spending plan and started setting out the amounts I thought I should spend on various items (groceries, eating out, cell phone, clothes, etc.) and I guilted myself so much more after that!

    I still don’t spend a lot of money on things – I don’t just go out and buy random clothes, for example. I did switch from a prepaid cell phone to a smartphone last year after doing some math. Basically, with the amount of it that I expense, it is cheaper for me to have the smartphone than my previous system of prepaid cell phone + home phone.

    So maybe I have finally achieved some balance between your way of being frugal and your husband’s 🙂
    Leigh recently posted..Index Funds versus Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

    1. Emily says:

      I think college is a great time to start figuring out budgeting as you talked about. You’re still protected by your parents (most of us) but have a little bit of responsibility, too. At the start of college I basically just worked for spending money, but in the later years I was responsible for my food and one summer’s rent.
      I love when running the numbers allows you to upgrade and still save money! The cell plan I want to get is cheaper than my current plan, but we have to pay for the phone itself up front. Over two years it works out to be the same price, so as long as I keep the phone for two years we’ll be saving money. Just need to prepare for that big expense and I can have it!

  7. Michelle says:

    I agree with both of you. It’s a good deal on an item that is of good quality, that hopefully I won’t have to buy for awhile.

    1. Emily says:

      I definitely agree with buying quality when you have to get something.

  8. I side with Kyle. I think being frugal is all about the deals that you can get. If you have to purchase the item might as well get the best deal on it. If it is a want, then I would side with you. Needs are definately with kyle!
    Christopher @ This That and The MBA recently posted..Help!… Jerry is burning the bridge

    1. Emily says:

      I think the combo approach is best! Now, how to tell a need from a want… 😉

  9. I think the bf and I are somewhat similar in our “frugal style”. We both believe in spending little and saving as much as we can, but also are willing to spend to get the best quality we can afford. I’d rather buy an “expensive” pair of jeans that will wear well and last 2-3 years then buy a cheapo pair that I’ll have to replace in 6 months. But for things that I’ll have to replace in 6 months anyway I’ll go cheap (those little t-shirts at Target are like $10 a piece and last well enough for 6mo-year). I’m a slob and will spill, so I’d rather throw away a 10 tee then a $40 one 😉
    Kari@Small Budget Big Dreams recently posted..Clutter Causes Financial Chaos?

  10. SB @ FPR says:

    My definition is, always getting cheapest and best alternative which cna be used up to the fullest.
    SB @ FPR recently posted..Is American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card Preferable for you?

  11. AverageJoe says:

    My definition of frugal will sound like I’m being political (sucking up to both of you!)….but I’m not. I think frugal is RARELY buying stuff, and getting a great deal when you do.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Unclaimed Money – Your Own Personal Treasure Hunt

  12. Renee says:

    I agree w averagejoe. I only know two friends that I would bestow the “frugal” title on. They just don’t spend money. Period. Even their food is bought on sale, with coupons, or picked from a garden – they peruse the papers on weekends to determine the best stores to optimize. If they HAVE to go out to eat to celebrate something, they always pick the cheapest thing on the menu, or split with someone. They’re not boring or frumpy people at all! I just know that if I want to do something with them, I need to suggest something free!

    I think our generation is really great at prioritizing what we’re willing to spend money on and making sacrifices to achieve goals. But I’ve found almost everybody has a “thing” – whether it’s camera lenses, outdoor gear, athletic stuff, travel, etc. For J and I, it’s food – and then our “splurges” that we have to save our allowances for are electronics (oh goody! A new microchip!) and clothes (me). (travel will likely be added to this list when we’re more secure!) So while we bike everywhere, have no tv or Internet, drive instead of fly around the west coast(visit family)…. I don’t give us the same distinctions as the two friends I mention above.

    Anyway, I think the important thing is to have a responsible budget that balances sacrifice and pleasure as necessary. The truly frugal people might end up two steps ahead of me in life – but I’m ok with that.

    1. Emily says:

      I think my definition is more broad – I would include discerning people like you and your husband in “frugal.” But that’s the point of the post, right – that everyone has a different use of the word.

      1. renee says:

        haha – thanks! I wonder where I get my harsh grading scale from…. 😉

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  14. Frugal is not buying things that you don’t need. As in avoiding purchasing things that you would consider fun or cool, but in reality are utterly useless. Kind of like buying the latest model iPhone when all you need is something to make phone calls.
    Mike@Investing in Silver recently posted..Mexican Silver Libertads

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