Why Extreme Frugality Is Bad

From the first day I started creating monthly budgets, I looked for ways to cut expenses.  I looked for things in my life I could eliminate or do without on a daily or monthly basis.  This is just a basic principle of trying to become debt-free and living below your means.

There comes a point, however when you look at your budget as if it were your life under a microscope, because that is what it is.  Your budget shows you every single aspect of your financial habits, needs, and wants.

When you have shaved and filed off every single thing that can possibly bring you joy from your budget, you have hit an emotional tipping point.  Have you crossed the line from trying to save money to living the “frugal” lifestyle?  

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Frugality Defined

At its core, Wikipedia defines frugality as “the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the consumption of consumable resources such as foodtime or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.”

Wikipedia also defines some of the strategies of frugality as “the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, seeking efficiency, avoiding traps, defying expensive social norms, detecting and avoiding manipulative advertising, embracing cost-free options, using barter, and staying well-informed about local circumstances and both market and product/service realities. Frugal living is mainly practiced by those who aim to cut expenses, have more money, and get the most they possibly can from their money.”


With that in mind, and like any theory or method, there are people who take frugality to extremes.  They have moved from the realm of trying to cut expenses on their budget to living a lifestyle that may or may not belong on an MTV intervention television show.

I am not trying to be judgmental, and I am really trying to add a bit of humor to the situation, but when I stat to give you some examples of things that “extreme frugalists” do to save a few pennies you may see my point.

Would you consider doing any of the following things to save the slightest bit of money?

  • Water down dish and hand soap to make it last longer
  • Water down milk
  • Wash your plastic bags so you can reuse them
  • Reuse wrapping paper from Christmas and Birthdays
  • Eat samples at grocery or wholesale stores at lunch or dinner
  • Stop shaving so you can save money on razors
  • Use candlelight instead of your electric lights

Classic Frugality

I want to compare this with what many people consider to be classic frugal living.  The loose idea of classical frugal living involves the following ideas:

  • Not having a car payment
  • Shopping at discount and thrift stores
  • Packing Lunch
  • Limiting restaurant spending
  • No subscription services like cable
  • Less expensive vacations such as camping
  • Trash pick if it is something really good

As you can see, there is a big difference between the classic idea of frugal living and the extreme idea of frugal living.  

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I also understand that there may be socioeconomic reasons for people adopting the extreme frugal lifestyle.  They may not have a choice.  These people are an exception to this article.  I am concentrating on the people who consciously made a choice to adopt the lifestyle of extreme frugality and take it that one notch above and beyond.

There are entire subreddits dedicated to frugal living, such as r/frugal.  You will find every shade of it represented proudly.  There is even a subreddit named r/povertyfinance that outlines the actions some people take to get by.  

Frugality has often been equated with being cheap.  I can see how that could happen in certain circumstances and if taken out of context, but don’t think that is really the case all of the time.  I believe you can be frugal without being cheap.  Don’t get me wrong, some people are just plain cheap, however.

Being frugal does not mean that you do not tip workers for services rendered or that you don’t support charities or your church.  

If you are looking to save money on things that affect your lifestyle in a positive way, without affecting someone else in a negative way, you are 100% on the right path.  Just realize that you can still live life and be happy without trying to stretch that milk for another three servings.

Being frugal may mean that you skip the Friday night drinks with your friends, you don’t go to that restaurant this week, you don’t get that new pair of shoes you wanted, you eat leftovers at work for lunch instead of getting something from the cafeteria.  

There are literally a million different things you can do to live a classically frugal lifestyle and still be “normal” to the world.  Well, as normal as any of us can be I guess.

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“Extreme” anything is not sustainable.  That is why it is called extreme.  It is not meant to be done long-term.  If it was, then it would be called “normal”.  Do you think that people on shows like “Extreme Makeover” and the “Extreme” weight loss shows stay like that for a long time?  Nope.  It is a short-term fix that doesn’t build habits.

The point to anything, including finances, is to build good habits that will last your lifetime.  Habits that will begin to decrease your expenses over time and will hopefully also increase your income as well.  

Do it right by doing it over time and not depriving yourself of every little thing that puts a smile on your face.  If you are miserable and constantly making yourself struggle even harder, you are setting yourself up for failure.

  • The Hedgehog says:

    This hits the nail right on the head.

    We live frugally for the sake of destroying our debts and building a financially independent future but not to the point that it affects our quality of life.

    We are happy not having Sky tv but save a good 30 quid a month by having netflix for a tenner instead.

    We love creating healthy cheap meals at home and dancing around the kitchen as we wash up instead of eating out.

    Just because we are living frugally and trying to save money shouldn’t ever mean that you live so cheaply that you resent your way of life.

    In our opinion, being cheap as opposed to being frugal just leads to bitterness.

    Be frugal and save money but don’t become Scrooge!

  • I focus on reaching financial independence thru increasing income and being mindful of expenses but not going to extremes in either direction. However, there are some aspects of the extreme frugality lifestyle that are useful even if not for the financial philosophy. For the environment, recycling over throwing away is why some people reuse plastic bags or gift wrap. For health concerns, cutting dish soap is helpful b/c of a lot of commercial soap is pretty harsh. I’ve never carried much debt (other than for our rental business) but I still sometimes get tips from the zero debt crowd. So there are some good strategies to be gleaned from all camps. That’s the fun of the personal finance blogosphere — there are many applications for the different philosophies.

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