Embrace Your Frugal Weirdo

“Live like no one else, and you can live like no one else.” Dave Ramsey

The American way is to not save (about 7 in 10 have less than $1,000 in savings), to take on debt (average credit card debt for households with a balance is over $16k), and to feel like we can “never retire” (one quarter of us over 50, in fact).  For those of us on the journey of financial independence and/or early retirement, aggressively paying off debt, or saving to pay for a huge financial goal in cash, we have to get used to living like no one else we know in the real world.  And that can be a challenge.

When everyone else you know spends all they make, and then some extra by taking on debt, it can feel isolating to choose a different path.  Your friends are going out to eat multiple times a week, while you’re mostly eating at home with eating out a rare treat. An acquaintance posts on Facebook about the brand new SUV they purchased, while you’re still driving your 10 year old car with over 100k miles on it. A co-worker tells you all about their upcoming annual trip to Disney world, although just a few months ago they were telling you how they couldn’t afford to set aside the 6% in your company 401k to get the match, while you’re excited about your upcoming camping trip. And the list goes on.

Today I’ll talk about how frugality looks different for different people, your FIG factor, and embracing your frugal weirdo.

Frugality Is Different For Everyone

When people hear “frugality”, particularly outside of the personal finance community, they usually think of something like the Extreme Cheapskates or Extreme Couponing shows on TLC (because, of course, they probably have cable).  But real frugality isn’t about squeezing a dollar until it screams for mercy. It’s about spending spending in alignment with what you value most, and not spending on the things that don’t matter.

Extreme cheapskates
Fortunately, frugality is not all about hanging your paper towels to dry and squeezing restaurant ketchup into your bottle. Photo credit TLC Extreme Cheapskates

I’ve always remembered a story told by Amy Dacyczyn, author of the timeless “Tightwad Gazette”, who had a conversation with a close friend one day.  Amy was the married mother of six, whose family had big goals. They wanted to save to buy a large house in rural New England, she stayed home with the kids, and her husband worked in the military.  She had developed hard-core, black-belt frugal tips and tricks to help them meet this goal while paying cash for everything (including new cars) on the way.

Her friend was different. She was also married, but with no kids. Her and her husband both worked full time, earning good solid incomes. Her husband was a chef, so they enjoyed eating out frequently at new restaurants. But they also had a big goal – taking a year off of work to travel the world. They had been saving aggressively for this goal, but not in the same “black belt” way as Amy. Her friend was almost embarrassed to admit that “we’re just not frugal like you”.

Amy leaned over and excitedly told her friend, “But what you’ve told me is the essence of frugality.”

You know how they say that “personal finance is personal?” Frugality is also personal. It can look different for different people, in different life situations, and different goals. This is why the “one size fits all” kinds of articles, filled with advice, usually don’t work for everyone.

Frugality looks different for the single mother of three making $40k per year and working to pay off $20k in credit cards and car loans over the next two years, than the married dual income couple with no kids, making $100k combined, who want to save $40k for a down payment on a home in five years. Your need for a specific level of frugality is a direct function of your income and your goal. I’ve dubbed this the FIG factor.

Your FIG Factor:    F = I – G

  • F = The amount you need to live on in order to achieve your goal – representing the level of frugality you would need to live off this amount
  • I = Your net income
  • G = The amount you are putting aside for your goal(s)

Yes, it’s a simple formula – but it’s early in the morning as I write this, and who wants to do complex math first thing in the morning?

Get out that abacus again!

The bigger your goal in relation to your income, the more frugal you need to be. For many in the Financial Independence community, they have an aggressive goal, potentially one that consumes 50% – or more – of their current income. This means they need to be much more frugal than someone who has a smaller goal, one that they’re working toward over a long period of time, or a larger income.

I’ve talked before about how getting to know your dreams is one of the first steps on a solid financial path. How can you get where you want to go, if you don’t know where you’re going? Sure, you can just randomly save money (which is a fine thing to do), but without a specific goal or dream you’ll have no idea if you’re on track. Would you be able to ratchet up your spending and still achieve your dreams? Or do you need to cut down your lifestyle to be able to achieve what you really want? Perhaps you could accelerate your goal by increasing your income, or increasing your frugality.

Embracing Your Frugal Weirdo

To achieve financial independence and early retirement, you will need to live differently than others at your income level who are spending everything they make. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to separate two-ply toilet paper into a single ply, wash and reuse aluminum foil, or refuse to turn on any lights after dark. You can still live a fun, joyful life without spending everything you make.

Dare to be different!

On this path you need to build up a thick skin to the judgement of others. Some people just don’t understand others who don’t spend everything they make. In fact, sometimes they’ll take your frugality as a personal attack on their lifestyle choices. They may think that you’re “less successful” because you don’t drive a fancy car, or “not cool” because you’re not going out to eat all the time. They just don’t understand why someone would want to make a different choice, to spend in alignment with their values, and save in alignment with their goals.

Growing up we learn that it’s bad to be different. Those of us that are different than our peers get mocked in school, where being like everyone else is the way to “fit in”. It continues in the working world, where standing out and being different than your peers can be risky. Isn’t it better to just blend it, be like everyone else, and never need to risk being mocked for being different?

No, I say.

So embrace your dream, and your frugal tendencies. Remember that if you do what everyone else does, you’ll have what everyone else has – debt, no savings, and no way to retire. So instead do what no one else is willing to do, so you can achieve what no one else does.

I Want To Hear From You!

What’s your FIG factor – are you high on the “need for frugality” scale in order to achieve your dreams on your income? Or perhaps you don’t need to be as frugal because your income is higher or your goal is lower than others in the finance community? Have you embraced your Frugal Weirdo? Let me know in the comments.

Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.


36 thoughts on “Embrace Your Frugal Weirdo”

  1. You’re so right that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to frugal living.

    I’m a big believer in frugality being about spending smarter, rather than spending less. For me, that means not having things many people want – fancy phones, cars, gym memberships and expensive meals out – so that I can put all my money into travelling. And you know what? My frugal way of life is working out perfectly! Nice post 😊

    1. Perfect! Spending on travel and not the other stuff that’s not important to you is, to me, the best part of being frugal. After all, why waste money on stuff you don’t care about, when instead you can use it toward the things that ARE a priority?

  2. jumpstartfromscratch

    I have no problems behaving weird. In fact, it is often a source of pride.
    The biggest challenges relate to the kids.
    It is rough when their phone was too old to support group chat. It is rough when their friends sign up for a camp that costs $800 buck for 5 days, and they’re not going.
    It is rough when their car is 18 years old, and in the shop for 2 weeks.
    It is rough working out schedule conflicts in order to keep a needed after school job.
    It would be difficult to stay weird without concrete goals and open conversations about money.

    1. True, it can be rough on kids sometimes if they always want to do what their friends are doing. Like you I try to make sure to explain what decisions we’re making and why. That way hopefully they know that it’s not important to have the latest (whatever). That’s a lesson that will serve them well in life.

      1. My daughter went to a pretty prestigious private university (graduating tomorrow) she HAS AN OPINION about her entitled and spoiled classmates, her words, that blow through their parents money. She won a scholarship. Hang in there, kids are smart

  3. What a nice coincidence! I just published a post about the 3 weird things Mr. FAF and I do to save money.

    I think I’m pretty high on the frugal ladder. I do have a series of frugal fails every week, but I try to look at the frugal wins as well so that it won’t get too depressing. =)

  4. I definitely agree. Our goals are not that aggressive compared to out income (retire at fifty five while enjoying the trip there). Still as I stated a while back I do view us as frugal. We choose the things we value and ignore everything else. Whether that aligns with what society values is not an important question in that decision. It’s all about us,

  5. DadsDollarsDebts

    My kid loves Figgy bars (fig newtons) and he is probably the most frugal of us. He does not even know what money is yet. Just a system of asking and bartering for his commerce needs.

    We are frugal in weird ways. We eat home, but our groceries are not cheap. We cut out cable and other fixed costs, but then may spend $20-30 on a bottle of wine. It is the balance of cutting out the things we don’t like to enjoy the things we do.

    1. Weirdly frugal is the best kind! 🙂 I don’t think it’s weird at all. You’re spending more where it’s a priority, and less where it’s not. I also don’t have cable, and don’t like to eat at restaurants (expensive for a family of 5 anyway!). I’d rather spend extra on other things.

  6. luxestrategist

    So I tried to respond on your HSA post, but I think the Internet ate my comment! Any way, I got an HSA and then broke my finger a few weeks later. Those OOP costs were un-fun 🙁

    I treat frugality with the 80/20 principle. I’d rather focus on the big wins by reducing high, fixed costs, like rent, rather than making conscious little decisions every day.

    With that said, I always told myself I’m not the type to reuse Ziploc bags. Well, yesterday I brought my lunch in a plastic bag, and also had pita chips in a Ziploc bag. After I was done eating, I didn’t have the heart to throw either away. I plan on reusing the Ziploc bag to pack more pita chips in the future!

    Generally I’m not as extreme as FI folks, although I do want to retire early, and will most likely be able to in my 40s if all goes as planned. But I also am hardcore about living in the present too, instead of delaying everything until post-FI. I’m really happy I did a lot of traveling in my 20s, went to music festivals and took risks, even if it means I have to FIRE a little bit later. I travel with my mom, and it breaks my heart sometimes when she can’t do some of the physical stuff, like climbing waterfalls, long hikes, etc. It’s a reality I’d rather deal with now than later!

    1. My husband is also not a fan of re-using Ziploc bags, although I’ve tried to convince him it’s the way to go. 🙂 But like you found out, if it’s just holding chips or something, and it’s clean, why waste it? Lol. And you’re so right about not putting things off to tomorrow just to reach FI. As we age we just can’t do the things we once did, and you do only live once. It’s all about finding a balance that lets you live a great life today while also ensuring you get a great life tomorrow!

      Ouch on the HSA! It’s something that works great when you don’t have medical expenses, but when you do it can really get you!

      Hate it when the internet eats comments! I actually found this one in my spam filter for some reason. Sometimes comments get caught up there and I don’t know why. Most of the time the comments really are spam but occasionally real ones get caught too.

  7. I loved the Tightwad Gazette. I was introduced to Amy in the “Complete Tightwad Gazette” compilation book of all her newsletters. What a new way to look at life. Made me question and examine everything. That’s how I managed to survive on $50 living expenses for a whole year at one point!!! Great article! Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

  8. I am late to the game. I was a full time single Mom with no child support. Then I got sick. Yup we were on welfare, food stamps, government housing, section 8, I stood in line at the food bank. We began to crawl ourselves out of that. I went back to school, acquired massive loan debt, now paid off. And I acquired a dysfunctional relationship with money. Don’t feel emotionally ok, buy something. About 7 years ago my folks decided they had more money than they needed and offers x dollars toward a down payment. There was a house, three stories, gated community, lake view, 3,000 sq ft. I stood there looking at this house that was $10 (!) under my budget and thought, there is no amount of pizza and beer in the world to convince my friends to help paint or roof this beast. What would my utility bill be??? That was my big moment. I passed on 150 year old houses with weird cardboard walls too and when I stopped looking my dream house, a townhouse fell in my lap. I have about $80k in equity, I live in a working class area despite bebig an executive at my company. I sold the Mercedes and bought a Honda. Now I’m looking at 10 years to retire(ish) early. My frugal is Does it fit with my dreams or someone else’s dreams

    1. I love that concept-does it fit with someone else’s dreams, or your own. Sounds like you’ve made a lot of great changes and now you’re pursuing your own dreams-not someone else’s version of success. And you’ve had a lot to overcome on the way. Way to go!

  9. Well, as we found out last year, we are not frugal. In fact, we were being “the many”. We’re trying to implement changes this year, but it is about making small changes slowly. We are starting late, so will be FI at about the same time others are retiring anyway (60 if we work hard). Because of this, I relate to FullTimeFinance above – we still want to enjoy the trip there.

  10. I love this post! You’re so right; frugality is such a personal journey and everyone has different goals for their families. I can sometimes be like the Tightwad Gazette’s friend, worried that we’re not saving enough. But I have to remind myself that we’re on track for our goals, and making choices that make us happy and fulfilled.

    1. And that’s the key right there! It’s not about living on the absolute lowest amount possible. It’s all about being on track to achieve your goals and live your dreams, whatever those might be.

  11. I think we are similar to FullTimeFinance. We don’t necessarily go out of our way to be frugal, but we do make conscious decisions on what will provide meaningful value. Having a higher income (I) does make the FIG factor a bit easier.

    I have reused Ziploc bags before, but I draw the line on washing and reusing plastic utensils!

  12. I draw the line at washing and reusing a ziplock. I will reuse but not if I have to wash it out. I love saving money at target by using a combo of coupons, gift cards, cartwheel app, and 5% discount from their cc. I have saved>$1600 by using the app. It is a game to me at this point

    1. I love Cartwheel! I’ve only saved a few hundred though-more than any of my friends but no where near how much you have. Love it. My husband still refuses to wash ziploc bags, it’s become a running joke in our house.

  13. Definitely daring to be different! Grew up having to be frugal, got carried away with spending in my 20’s & 30’s, now I’m selectively frugal. Different from friends, some family, and co-workers.

  14. Hi! Just getting to this…and all your stuff!

    I was just laughing at myself just this morning as I poured brand-name almond milk into my little perfectly sized, recycled pesto jar so I could bring my generic honey oat O’s cereal to work…where I make $80/hour.

    I do think that it’s tough for people to see what you are doing to save money/pay off debt/live your dreams. People are quick to judge. They often unfairly compare your spending habits to theirs. For example, I have a best friend who constantly critiques me for eating out too often. This from the girl who online shops like a pro and has back ups for her back ups in her pantry.

    That’s the math. Ya. I’m more a “word girl” myself!

    1. Love your morning routine! I think the same things when I’m eating my sandwich at work, or wearing the clothes I got at the consignment shop. Funny how your friend critiques your eating out while shopping online. It’s easier to criticize other people’s spending than to look at your own.

  15. I believe that frugal comes in all shapes and sizes. We are meeting all of our financial goals at the moment, but have a mountain to climb towards FI. One thing we’ve started doing recently is instead of going out to eat, we call in an order at the restaurant and pick it up. It’s cut our “treat” spending of a dinner out almost by half, while we still enjoy good food and trying new places. Those appetizers, desserts, glasses of wine, tips and side dishes add up! Of course, the main reason we did this was because we have a 2 and a 5 year old, both boys, that are essentially wild animals. Saves us money and embarrassment when our little one dumps chocolate milk on his head in our home instead of a restaurant.

    1. Great idea! And I’m with you on eating out with little kids not being very enjoyable. My older boys are fine now (13 and 9) but my two year old doesn’t do very well at restaurants.

  16. Luckily I’ve made it my lifelong habit to be a weirdo. I like to do things just to make people go “huh?” Like dogsledding, hunting, or learning to play metal music (I’m a 5’4″ female – not quite the person you’d expect to be doing any of those things!).

    Luckily, my weirdo skills can easily be adapted to being a Frugal Weirdo. 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.