When we started paying off $650,000 of student loan debt, I was bound and determined that we were going to live as frugally as possible. At the time, I was making $50,000 a year as a judicial law clerk and my husband was finishing up his last year of dental school. It became clear pretty quickly that we would have to increase our income– all the frugal living in the world was not going to help us dig ourselves out of the giant hole of debt we had dug ourselves. There is a limit on how much you can be frugal. At some point, you simply can’t cut any more expenses. What we really needed to do was increase our income. Nevertheless, you may be wondering, is it worth being frugal? The short answer is yes, in moderation (i.e. not living extremely frugal).
IS IT WORTH BEING FRUGAL?
Sometimes it’s worth being frugal and sometimes it isn’t. If it inhibits you from increasing your income or having other financial opportunities, it’s not worth it. You’ll need to think through situations that you are presented with to decide whether it’s worth it to you.
BEING FRUGAL MIGHT COST YOU MORE.
Being frugal might actually cost you more money in some situations. One example is if you were to buy a cheap pair of low quality jeans versus an expensive pair of high quality jeans. The cheap low quality jeans might last you a season or two before they’ll need to be thrown away. The high quality jeans might last you many years. So while you may have saved a little money initially, you’ll have to replace your jeans more frequently in scenario 1 and end up spending more money in the long run.
EXTREME FRUGALITY IS UNLIKELY TO BE SUSTAINABLE.
Another thing you should think about when deciding whether it’s worth being frugal is if you could sustain whatever you are doing for a lifetime, or at least for many years. If you don’t want to eat Ramen noodles every meal for the rest of your life, don’t eat solely Ramen noodles for any period of time. Just like a crash diet, if you are living too extremely frugal, you are likely to burn yourself out and give up, similar to getting burned out on an unsustainable diet and then crashing and binge eating. Rather than being so extreme, find sustainable ways to save money such as using free cash back apps on your regular grocery shopping.
FRUGALITY HAS LIMITS.
Consider the fact that frugality has it’s limits. You can only cut out so many expenses until you get to a point where you literally can’t cut out anything else. So, rather than spending a ton of time and effort trying to figure out how to get the cheapest prices possible or otherwise reduce your spending, your time might be better spent trying to figure out how to increase your income, which has no limits.
FRUGALITY CAN COST YOU PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS.
Another thing to consider when deciding whether it’s worth being frugal is whether it will cost you personal or professional relationships. It’s up to you to choose whether it’s worth losing (or not developing) some personal and professional relationships. When I was in law school, I was complaining to one of my professors about how expensive it was to go out to lunch with other attorneys at a law firm I was interested in working at. He made the astute point that if I wanted to work at the law firm, and the law firm would pay me a good salary, it’s probably worth spending $15-$20 on lunch a couple of times if it would help me bring in a six figure salary. By missing out on those lunches, I would likely not develop the relationships I needed to get hired.
Similarly, you might miss out on personal relationships by being unwilling to spend money sometimes. And hey, that might be OK. Maybe you want friends who also live extremely frugally. It’s just something to consider when you are deciding whether being frugal is worth it.
BEING FRUGAL CAN COST YOU LIFE EXPERIENCES.
Being frugal can also cost you life experiences. For example, if you aren’t willing to spend money ever, you might miss out on life experiences such as attending college, having kids, and traveling. And maybe that’s OK if you don’t want things like that. When I was in college living in Hawaii, I had a sudden opportunity to go sky diving with friends. I didn’t have any money at the time and I hadn’t budgeted for it. But to me, it was 100% worth NOT being frugal. Who knows when I’d have the opportunity to go again, especially with my friends. All this to say, it may not be worth being frugal if it’s costing you life experience. There is some delicate balance between YOLO and being frugal.
IS IT WORTH BEING FRUGAL WHEN IT COSTS YOU A LOT OF TIME.
One of the biggest ways that being frugal is not worth it is when it costs you time. Time is more valuable than anything. Not only could you be increasing your income with any extra time you are spending on being frugal but you could be doing other things of value, such as spending time with loved ones or doing things that you enjoy. I suppose one could argue that they enjoy doing frugal things above all else, in which case, more power to you.
IS IT WORTH BEING FRUGAL IF IT COULD COST YOU YOUR RETIREMENT?
Being frugal can also cost you retirement. If you are too focused on saving and not focused enough on earning more and investing your money, you could find yourself unable to retire when the time comes. Don’t be penny wise but pound foolish.
CONCLUSION: IT’S WORTH IT TO BE FRUGAL BUT NOT EXTREME & NOT IF IT COSTS YOU OTHER FINANCIAL GOALS.
Being frugal certainly has merit, especially if you have financial goals such as paying off debt fast. But being frugal has its limits– it’s not worth it if it’s costing you bigger goals, such as saving for retirement or getting job advancements or other financial opportunities. Just remember to be both penny wise AND pound wise and you’ll never go wrong.
Need some specific ideas on how to live frugally? Check out our frugal living posts here.
What do you think? Is it worth being frugal?
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