The three levels of frugality

Many people NOT part of the personal finance (PF) blogosphere are not really aware of what the word “frugal” really means. I’ve already mentioned why I hate the word frugal, but I have resigned myself to using it for a little while longer until I can get another catchier synonym.

Anyway, these people who throw the word “frugal” around, get a lot of weird looks from us (okay, me) saying: “What? Do you even know what that word means?”

This leads me to believe that we have varying levels of frugality. What is one person’s frugal is not another’s. (Let’s take this as a tongue-in-cheek post, mmmkay?)


You knit your own clothes and blankets, you have a little animal farm going on in the backyard, you grow all of your own vegetables and can it for the upcoming winters.

You shun creams and soaps, calling it snake oil because it’s being sold at $50 a pop and you can’t figure out why people would pay for it when you can just use olive oil or Vaseline (which does NOT clog pores by the way) to condition your skin and stolen bars of hotel soap to clean your hands.

You save plastic potato sacks just so you can cut up the pieces and use them to scrub your dishes with, on the blog, you guiltily berate yourself for buying, eating and enjoying a $2 candy bar while on an 8-hour road trip because you could have just waited until you got home and had made a whole batch Cocoa Macaroons for the same price.

You also probably don’t own a TV or if you do, you’re watching basic channels, and you are extremely proud that people mistake you for being poor based on your frugal habits because it just means they won’t try to take money from you and will target the richer folk instead. You take a lot of pride in being called cheap or tightfisted because it doesn’t faze you since you have no concern for this so-called “image”, because all you hear is that you’re saving the money where others would spend needlessly.

You get REALLY MAD when you have to pay bank fees or stupid charges like cutting a cheque for someone, moving the money out from your savings into your chequing for them to pick up and then forgetting that they haven’t cashed the cheque yet, and moving the money BACK into your savings, causing the cheque to bounce (True story. Happened to me more than once). You agonize over the $35 you had to pay for your stupid cheque bouncing mistake because that $35 could have gone to something like groceries for a week. You proceed to beat yourself up mentally for a month and forget about it until you write a blog post recounting your dumb mistake.

Your guilty pleasures in life are drinking soda pop or flavoured beverages at restaurants once a year instead of ordering the standard “cold tap water please”, always trying to score deals and bargains on the cheap, shopping at second-hand stores and finding that gem that all others missed and pinching the penny so hard, it squeals because you feel a slight bit sick when you see a lot of money disappear out of your account because you treated yourself to a soda pop or chocolate bar one too many times.


You try to limit your eating out, and bring your lunch every day, but once a month or so, you let your hair loose and eat out in restaurants or let yourself enjoy a fun night out.

You buy drugstore brands of products under $10 and get really excited to use your cache of points when you see products on sale at CVS or Shopper’s Drug Mart. That’s when you get a rush – you get a big haul of these great beauty products for only $5 and you get on the internet and blog all about your haul! (True story.)

While you prefer drugstore brands, there are just some things you can’t go without that come from higher end stores like Sephora, whether it be a truly expensive mascara or skin cream that makes you feel like you’re spreading whipped cream all over your body.

You take the subway and public transportation as much as possible (like, oh say, for 25 years before you finally get your license), and if you drive, you tend to go at the speed limit and play the gas price waiting game where you fill up your tank with $15 of gas each time until you find the ONE gas station priced at 0.01 lower (On regular gas, natch. Premium is for the rich folk.).

You can’t help but browse online (just to look. Really), and you fill up your virtual shopping car at J. Crew, Etsy, Amazon or Best Buy and then just abandon the cart leaving e-tailers all over the country silently screaming “NOOOoooo! We almost had them!”

You also get really excited when interest builds up in your account and you have dabbled in online survey sites to make a little cash on the side, but you either grew bored with it, or didn’t think the 3 hours spent clicking on multiple choice questions was worth the reward of $5 at the end or $5 at a faux retailer. What a load of crock, you say.

Your guilty pleasures are going out to eat, buying organic or gourmet groceries even if it costs more money, treating yourself to new clothes or gadgets once a month, getting your hair done and being able to do all of that without going on credit or digging yourself into a clueless financial mess. If you DO go into debt, it’s because you have assessed the situation and need to go into debt for a very good reason that you then proceed to blab all over the PF blogosphere to gain moral support.


You are not frugal whatsoever, but you think you are because you don’t really know what frugal means and just because you decided not to buy the Venti (large) sized coffee at Starbucks, but the Tall one (small) instead you think you’re being frugal.

You are purposely UN-FRUGAL at times because you think being frugal means being cheap, when being frugal actually means making smart purchasing decisions based on your priorities. You are definitely going to buy groceries for the week instead of this months’ Vogue magazine, but sometimes at the checkout counter, you struggle with your inner Carrie Bradshaw to go on a faux diet and buy the magazine instead.

You basically buy what you want to buy, even if it’s on credit. You’ve got credit cards with balances on them that have not fazed you in years, but now are starting to gnaw at your consciousness.

You don’t know how much you spent on groceries last month and cannot budget properly as a result because you have no statistics to go back and check on. As for groceries, you just buy whatever is the cheapest one, and don’t really notice that they raised the price by $.20 when you weren’t looking. Who cares? It’s $0.20, and you bought the cheapest of the two anyway.

You never bargain shop because you think it’s a waste of time to figure out if Best Buy is selling the item for $20 less, and would not bend down to pick up a penny because… it’s a penny, damn it. You can’t figure out why everyone is so interested in finding a lower price elsewhere, or trying to save $5. If you want it, you buy it, and you don’t deny yourself much, however you feel really great when you do save money by accident and brag about how savvy of a shopper you are.

You own a TV, DVR (like TiVo), have high speed internet, a cell phone, a landline and are totally connected 24/7. You have all the premium channels and your friends love coming over because you’re free with the snacks and booze, and your couch is the best spot to watch the best shows, all the time. You don’t want to come off as being cheap.

You like the Urban Frugal, like to shop online, but instead of curbing your desires, you actually click “BUY NOW”, and then sometimes feel a pang of regret for buying more than you should, which you quickly squash with a glass of Chardonnay. Your fridge is more than likely empty, save for that lone, shrivelled cucumber sitting in the corner and condiments lining the side door because you don’t think you have time to cook, nor don’t think you know how to cook, so eating out saves you money, time and the need to cook.

Your family and friends envy you as the Jones’ of their generation and are always complimenting you on your new gadgets, makeup and outfits because you are always impeccably turned out from head to toe like you just walked out of a magazine.

You have lied about the price of these items on more than one occasion, generally halving the price to make it seem like “no big deal”, when inside you know you paid more than double after tax (What? Like you haven’t done the same thing before? :P). You just don’t want to seem poor or cheap, nor do you want to seem extravagant and rich when you aren’t – you are always worried about the balance of your carefully crafted image.

Your guilty pleasures are trying to one up your regular routine to make your life more comfortable and luxurious – if you normally go out once a week, you go out once a week AND buy a daily latte in the mornings. When you go out with your friends, you spend money freely and nonchalantly like it doesn’t matter. It’s just printed paper anyway, right? Besides, you’re not trying to purposely show off, you just want to have and live the good life since you only have one life to live and there’s no point in beating yourself up about your debt or savings because it’ll all work itself out someday.

Naturally, we can’t all fit neatly into each category, as I do a lot of things in each category, but I think I identify the most with URBAN FRUGAL.

Which one are you?

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.