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9 Traits of Highly Frugal People

HIGHLY FRUGAL PEOPLE

Guest post from Erin of The No Drama Mama

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be “frugal”.

Many people have the misconceptions that frugal people are “poor” or “cheap”. Of course, frugal people CAN be poor and/or cheap, but they can often be very generous — and even well off!

And in my opinion, the difference between HIGHLY frugal people and others is that they don’t announce it to the world. While others may think frugal people have a love or lack of money, what they actually have is RESPECT for it.

Here are 9 character traits of highly frugal people:

1. They Persevere in Hard Times

It’s not that frugal people live worry-free lives, it’s that they know how to pick themselves up and keep moving forward instead of getting mired down by their current financial situations.

When we lost two cars in the same week, I was worried for a few minutes, but my thoughts immediately shifted to, “What’s the next step?”

Life is going to throw curveballs without warning so we’ve got to have our catcher’s mitt on all the time. Highly frugal people know it makes no sense to dwell on our current situation when we need to get busy finding a solution and moving forward.

2. They Have Thick Skin

Even though I’m a sensitive person by nature, I truly have a thick skin when it comes to other people’s opinion or perception of my family’s finances. My husband was shocked when an acquaintance indicated that he thought we were in financial need.

Highly frugal people are used to people thinking they are poor or cheap when in actuality, highly frugal people are often in a better financial situation than most of their peers.

3. They Care About the Little Things

While friends may scoff about using coupons or returning our soda bottles to the store, highly frugal people know that the little things matter. It’s not about saving pennies, it’s about respecting all the little ways we can use our money wisely to pursue our larger financial goals.

While others may not understand how small savings can add up to financial success, highly frugal people know that when you watch the ounces, the pounds take care of themselves.

4. They Have Multiple Plans

Highly frugal people have budgets, debt repayment plans, and goals written down. They always have their eye on the bigger picture and like to track their progress.

5. They Learn From Their Financial Mistakes

It’s not that highly frugal people haven’t made financial mistakes, it’s that they vow never to make the same mistake twice.

While others may be steadily racking up debt, highly frugal people are cutting up their cards, reading books on personal finance, and finding side jobs to pay off their debt. They remember the stress and burden it causes and use it as motivation to never let themselves be in that situation again.

6.They Wait for What They Want

Whether it’s waiting to buy a house, a car, or even new clothes, highly frugal people don’t just run out and purchase what they need the instant they need it. Instead they wait, save, shop around, and analyze all the options.

When my husband and I decided to have a third child, we knew we’d need another bedroom so we started saving to renovate our house. We also purchased some of the materials two years before we started any of the renovation that would turn our basement into our new master bedroom. We were able to pay all cash and incur no debt simply by waiting a little longer for what we wanted.

7. They Are Willing To Stand Out

While some are splurging for the latest and greatest cell phone, highly frugal people are rocking their phone with a pre-paid plan from three years ago. If you’re extremely frugal you might not even have a cell phone at all (GASP!).

I have personally been mocked by young children for not having a cell phone, but since I work from home I know people can call me on my landline or simply wait to talk to me if I’m out. I would rather use that money to pursue our goal of becoming debt-free.

8. They Find Inspiration in the Past

My grandmother is still the biggest influence in my life, years after her passing. She taught me so many valuable life skills and is the biggest inspiration for my frugal lifestyle.

While the rest of society is pursuing newer and “better” methods of doing things, highly frugal people are finding inspiration from past generations. We’re learning to sew, grow our own food, use things up, and upcycle our outdated things, all in an effort to save money for the things that are truly important to us.

9. They Are Vigilant of Spending

I think of myself as the warden of our family finances, nothing goes in or out of our bank account without me knowing about it. I know what bills are scheduled to come out, and I check our account online every single day.

Highly frugal people don’t like to overdraw accounts or be blindsided by unexpected expenses. Being vigilant and having a budget isn’t the prison some people think it is. It actually gives you the freedom to decide when and where to use your money.

If you’re a highly frugal person, you’re in good company. There are many successful frugal people living all around you… because there’s a good chance they don’t live in mansions, they might live in YOUR neighborhood.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing about faith, family and frugal living on her blog The No Drama Mama when she’s not caring for her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on Mamapedia, Worshipful Living, and Hudson Valley Parent magazine.

photo source


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29 Comments

  • Mackenzie says:

    “Learning from past mistakes” is definitely important when it comes to money. We have all made bad decisions when it comes to money; the important thing is to learn from them and move on 🙂

    • Erin says:

      My thoughts exactly. The key is not to wallow in them, but to pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Mistakes are how we learn.

  • Mei-Lyn says:

    This was an excellent reminder of some frugal truths. I especially appreciated #1’s note about thinking of the next step, rather than wallowing in worry or frustration. I’m going to try to keep that in mind more often (something I’m sure my husband will appreciate!).

    • Erin says:

      It’s ok to take a second to freak out. That’s my personality to have a huge initial reaction and then to say ok, how do we fix it? The sooner you get to the second step, the better. I think too many people get stuck in the “oh no” feeling and it almost paralyzes them from moving forward. When I found out my husband had more than $15,000 in debt I was shocked, but I got to step 2 quickly and now 4 years later all the credit card debt is GONE!

  • Abigail H. says:

    Thank you so much for the encouragement! I do not feel alone..I am grateful for the legacy I am teaching my daughter on how to save now..

  • I love the “warden of our family’s finances” description! It’s not always a fun job, but someone has to do it! 😉

    I would add “planning ahead for what you want” to the “wait for what you want” category. Especially if you don’t want something specific, it’s easy to plan ahead. I start Christmas/gift shopping immediately after Christmas. I currently have all the presents for my son’s birthday in June and next year’s Christmas done. I follow items that I want on camelcamelcamel.com and make sure that I’m buying things at rock bottom prices. I then keep a running list of items that I want and items that I already bought so that I don’t forget anything (or end up with three presents for the same person).

    • Erin says:

      Alison, you sound an excellent planner. Kuddos to you. Besides stocking up on household and personal hygiene items, I’ve yet to get to this plan ahead category.

  • Kris says:

    Having a cell phone doesn’t have to be expensive. For us, it’s cheaper than having a landline phone (which we canceled several years ago). I have a very cheap (paid $20 for it) prepaid smart phone and buy minutes only when I need them–no monthly fee. I rarely use data and have it turned off most of the time. (I just wanted the phone features, but cheap smart phones are cheaper than now-obsolete dumb phones these days.) My teen kids have cheap phones, too (hand-me-downs from us), but they pay for their own minutes.

    I view cell phones not as unnecessary luxury items but as important communication tools for keeping in touch with my kids when they are away from home or for calling for help in an emergency situation. It’s not just a matter of being different from other people; it can actually be a huge disadvantage not to have a cell phone, and having one doesn’t necessarily mean not being frugal. Just offering another perspective to think about. 🙂

    • Erin says:

      Kris, I totally get what you’re saying. My husband has a prepaid phone. I was just using an example from my life. I get made fun of for not having a cell phone a lot, but since I work from home I know people can call me here (you know like back in the olden days LOL). I never said they were unnecessary, only suggested that constantly trading up for the newest model was perhaps a bit excessive. We live in a phone obsessed society. I’m saying whatever it is, whether you have a one car family, don’t have the newest cell phone, or rock clothes from consignment stores it’s ok to be different from your peers.

      • Kris says:

        I get what you are saying, also. My kids have mentioned that some kids on their bus look down on those who don’t have the newest smart phone or the most expensive Nike shoes or whatever. My kids are okay with with what they have and don’t let those kinds of comments bother them, and I’m thankful for that. I saw a kid one day at a basketball game (maybe nine or ten years old) throwing his phone down on the floor over and over in a fit of temper because his team lost. I was appalled at his lack of care for his belongings. A kid like that would probably just get his parents to buy him a new phone if he broke his. My kids value what they do have because things are not easy for us to buy, and often they contribute their own money.

        I work from home, too. 🙂 I just wanted to suggest another option in case anyone is considering cutting the landline phone and switching to cell only. It has been a great way for us to save money, especially since we switched from a monthly plan to prepaid a few years ago.

        • Erin says:

          Kris, I LOVE that your kids don’t care what anyone thinks of them especially when so many kids do judge each other based on what they do or don’t have. You’re giving them a much better gift than any phone or pair of shoes. You’re teaching them true empathy for others, how to appreciate what they have, and to not make judgements of other people. I hope I’m teaching my kids the same thing. They’re still small enough not to care about whether something is brand new. It’s all new to them and they don’t care if I paid 1.50 for a pair of shoes, which I did by the way. 🙂

          For what it’s worth our landline is with phone power (a voice over internet VOI provider) and it works out to $8 a month. We pay once for the whole year though. In our case a landline is cheaper for me, though it does frustrate my husband sometimes that I don’t have a cell phone.

  • Jen says:

    Very true! I remember several years ago someone in our church sharing that she had just found her son’s suit at Goodwill. I felt so bad for them that finances were so tight they had to buy second-hand clothes. Now we’re buying almost all our clothes for Good will and feeling bad for the people that are paying full price! It’s not that we couldn’t afford to buy new, but we would rather spend our money on other things (like a family experience) that are more fun for us. Also, when the transmission goes out on the car it feels like a hiccup rather than a crisis. It is so much less stressful!

    • Erin says:

      Jen, I’m so glad you see the other side now. It’s not about being able to afford new things, it’s about choosing to buy used so we can use our money for things we really want. I get the car thing. We just took my car into the shop and it cost $350 to fix it. Since paying off our credit cards this was the first time in forever where it wasn’t a big deal. We had the money in our checking account and didn’t even need to touch our savings. That alone, was so worth all the other frugal decisions we’ve made a long the way. Years ago the same scenario would have felt like a catastrophe.

  • Rosanna says:

    I love this article! It’s true that many people might think that we are poor when we are not. We drive 2005 vehicles (paid for) but my husband more than likely makes significantly more money than most people driving brand new vehicles. There have been many times that I have felt alone, especially since we have begun to pay down our house hardcore, but I have seen the rewards for our labours and I will not back down for anything.

    • Erin says:

      Rock on Rosanna! It is a lonely road sometimes, but you’re right it is so worth it. It’s like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else today so you can live like no one else tomorrow.” I would love to see us pay off our house. I think people driving new cars are crazy. A few weeks ago someone really banged up my car door in the parking lot and I was like oh well whatever. People with new cars probably would have cried over a dent. Me, my used cars last me about 3-4 years max so I can afford not to care.

  • Kris says:

    I’m afraid that frugality can sound a lot like pride and arrogance to those who are frugal by necessity rather than solely by choice. The idea that I’m getting from the article and some of the comments is this: “We are so frugal that, even though we actually make a lot of money, people think we are poor.” As someone who really is poor and barely managing to make ends meet (due to chronic health problems in my family), I don’t see that sort of attitude as something to be proud of, and it comes across as a bit condescending to those who are struggling financially.

    • Erin says:

      Kris, I’m so sorry if it comes off that way. The goal in writing this piece was merely to point out that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’m not especially well off, but people tend to think we’re struggling a lot more than we are. I think frugality is something to be celebrated whether it’s out of necessity or not, not something to be looked down upon as some people do.

      • Kris says:

        Thanks for the reply. I agree that some people do look down on others for being frugal.

        • Erin says:

          You’re welcome! Nobody needs to know if someone is being frugal out of necessity or by choice. Nobody has the right to judge anyone’s financial situation based solely on how our choices look to the rest of the world. I’m sorry if anyone has judged you in that way.

  • Amy in Oz says:

    I think one overarching mindset of frugal people is their ability to question the status quo and forge a path that is their own. Social norms tell us we need this or that, but frugal people sit back and ask, “Do we really? Does it align with our goals, values and resources?”

    For instance, we have 4 children. Lots of people say to us that they could never afford 4 children because they can’t afford a 5 bedroom home or a van instead of a car. But we will never live in a 5 bedroom house (our children will share bedrooms and the joys and struggles that come with that), and we realized that we rarely travel long distances as an entire family, so we just take our 2 normal size cars when we all go somewhere. If we truly need a van, we can hire one for a week or so.

    Some may call us frugal, but we realized that some things just don’t match our family. So we don’t do them. We don’t keep up with those Joneses.

    • Heather says:

      So agree. It is about looking past society norms and thinking about what your family needs to function well. “Does it align with our goals, values and resources?”-Awesome question to ask when making lifestyle choices. Not basing it on what you think you should have because that is what everyone else has.

      I was shocked one day when a neighbor came over with about 5 large garbage bags of clothes. She told me that she thought she would take it to Goodwill but on second thought realized that my family may need them. Decided not to take offense, just because my consumer values were not hers and thanked her. Took them inside and the kids and I went thru the bags to see what we could use.

      My husband and I were poor in the early years. My husband worked hard at his job and I worked hard at raising 4 kids, two with special needs, and making that money stretch. Learning to look at what “aligns with our goals, values and resources” as there was no way we could afford the social norm. As our resources grew and my husband’s paycheck thru the years, we still stuck with this way of thinking.

      This simple question, “Does it align with our goals, values and resources?” goes so much deeper than money. Freedom, control over your life and gives your choices movement toward the life you want to live.

    • Erin says:

      Amy, I couldn’t have said it any better. It’s about choosing the life you want for yourself, not based on what society tells you you should or shouldn’t be doing. People are constantly asking me when we’re going to buy a “real” house. We bought a 2 bedroom townhouse in our 20s and have since added a 3rd bedroom. I’m so glad because when my business went under and we became a single income family, our lower house payment kept us out of financial trouble.

  • Kariane says:

    “Little things matter.” I think this is true in ALL areas of our lives, finances included.

  • chris says:

    I always think that it is way more important to be concerned about not being poor as opposed not looking poor☺.

    Several of your points refer to this.

    I do think what you spend on should be very individual. We pack lunches daily and rarely eat out. We also wear thrifted stuff and drive older cars and walk all over town. I really enjoy my smartphone. I still have huge respect for the author going phone free.

  • Lucy says:

    My husband and I both just turned sixty this past summer, and will be retiring in nine months. I’m pretty sure people (including my sister-in-laws) think that we are poor, but we are just frugal and have been for many years. Here are some of our tricks and spending patterns. The financial lifestyke my husband and i chose thirty yearsvago worked so well for us, im hapoy to share this (lengthy) view from the rear view mirror…

    SAVING FOR RETIREMENT: We have substantial savings, having always fully participated in 401(k)s , because there is no better return on your money. Additionally, we sacrificed greatly by choosing a job in a less desirable location, but which had a pension. Pensions are a dying breed, but if you have an opportunity to prepare for and/or take a job with one, by all means do it. I had a co-worker once who retired from the Forest Service, fully vested in a thirty year career with that pension. He then moved to a small urban area straddling two states. He worked for a city in one state for five years, vesting himself in that state’s public employees retirement plan, and then did the same in the adjoining state. Then, at about age 65, he retired permanently, drawing three pensions plus social security. His wife also had worked, and so she also had social security, and perhaps a pension, and they had maxed out their 401(k) savings and IRAs as well. Astonishingly brilliant! My son and I calculated that my husband’s pension will provide income such that we would need an additional $1.6M in savings to generate the same income. So, not only should one save, but planning one’s career choices as in these two examples can be extremely beneficial as well. We sacrificed by living in a place that would not have been our first choice, but having done so, we are retiring in financial comfort exactly where and how we want to.

    MAJOR EXPENSES: We live in a small home that we bought 22 years ago for $107k, after moving out of a beautiful Seattle-area home valued much higher. The savings in principal, interest, taxes, insurance, maintenance is astronomical over the decades. We buy new vehicles, after researching the maintenance records and costs, and we maintain them scrupulously and drive them until they die, always over 200,000 miles, generally around 15-20 years. In our 34 years of marriage, we have only purchased seven vehicles, five of which were new, and four of which we still own. We expect to purchase at most two more vehicles for the rest of ourelites, and finally, we will pay cash-in-full! We only replace appliance and furniture when absolutely necessary. Paint and throw pillows, plus a few nice-looking but reasonably-priced accessories from Target (great design), ebay, or TJ MAXX , these things go a long way. You can change a look for $300 if you’ve selected neutral basic pieces.

    CLOTHING: This can be a bank-buster, and therefore it is also an area of great potential savings. I have been VERY successful in curbing our spending in this category…here are my tips: We do not purchase new clothes unless we absolutely need them. I have cleaned oyr closets and pared our wardrobes down to the point that we actually know exactly what we own! I purchase 1/2 dozen new solid black or white t-shirts and tanks For $5 each ($3 on close out at the end of the season) EVERY YEAR at Wal-Mart, and wear them with simple straight-legged black or tan pants. (these days, post-recession, everything, including designer garments, are cheaply made in the same overseas factories. Compare the construction…no difference. Sometimes there is a difference in fabric, but for staples like t-shirts, who cares?) I purchase a few designer sweaters, jackets, scarves, and handbags (love the simple lines and style of Eileen Fischer, which is timeless, thus does not require replacement for style) to bring in on-trend colors and cuts. Even those nicer items I generally purchase used on eBay; they are usually in near perfect condition because the sellers paid so much for them that they used them only rarely, which is ironic. I pay very little, and therefore get much more use and enjoyment out of those same items. I also purchase clothing from BHFO on eBay, which is a designer and top department store close-out of new, past-season merchandise…check it out. There’s a lot of standard department store fare, but also designers such as Eileen Fischer, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, Burberry, and many others. They also sell jewelry (costume and some fine), scarves, shoes, handbags, lingerie, swimsuits, outerwear, etc. My son was recently married at a five-star resort, so we had to purchase appropriate attire, not only for the events, but also daytime. My wardrobe generally sufficed, but my husband’s was not in good condition. So we went to a moderately priced men’s shop (Joseph A Banks) where my husband purchased a suit, sport coat, two casual pants, three shorts, a half dozen shirts, two dress shoes, 3-4 ties, and silk braces for less than $1000. All of the clothing items are suitable for his work, and for the part-time consulting that he will be doing upon retirement. By shopping carefully and starting 8 months in advance, for the rehearsal dinner and wedding, I purchased four new-with-tags Eileen Fischer silk dresses (two of each in case there was a mishap) on BHFO/ebay for $300 total. Original retail was $400 PER DRESS. AND, I didn’t need the extra dresses, so I will sell those. So $150 for two designer silk dresses. This enabled me to accessorize (TJ MAXX and BHFO) more freely than I ordinarily would…Kate Spade earrings (BHFO), Tahitian (black) pearls (eBay). I then splurged on a beautiful Michael Kors evening bag for $200 on sale at Macy’s, (but as any frugal person would, changed my mind and returned it.)

    CONSUMABLES: We rarely eat out, but we eat wonderful meals, because I love cook and I love to try new recipes. I can make a very nice meal for two for far less than it costs in a restaurant. Generally, it’s better tasting as well. I go to several grocery stores when I shop (ALWAYS from a list, from which I do not wander!) I purchase high quality produce, deli, and meats, for which I pay more. But the items are higher quality and fresher…I throw out far less. For staples, ie. the items in the middle of the store, I shop at Costco and at the cheapest grocery store in my city, which happens to be WalMart. It makes a huge difference. Occasionally I price compare to make sure that my cheap store is still the cheapest.

    CHILDREN’S EDUCATIONS: Well, we were always so careful, we didn’t have to tighten the belts here. But we did prepare from kindergarten by requiring a sharp focus on school work. Both kids attended private colleges, one of which was among the most expensive in the country. They maximized their student loans, obtained a variety of academic and athletic scholarships, had work-study jobs, and we paid the rest through savings and low-interest loans. As a result they’ve done well financially, though they also practice frugality. However, because our frugality enabled them to obtain top educations, they can save MORE than we did, while living more comfortably, (and, recognizing our sacrifices on their behalf, they are VERY generous with us.)

    How did we learn these habits? Well, first of all, all of our parents lived through the depression. None of them suffered greatly at that time – my mother attended college then – but like everybody of that generation, they were very careful because you just never knew when your own situation would worsen. They also lived through WWII rationing. So, they practiced these habits for the rest of their lives, and they passed them down to us. Because NONE of us know when OUR situation coyld worsen. Secondly, though I grew up in a financially comfortable household, and had several millionaire relatives, we all lived well below our means. Once, when we were not yet thirty, my husband and I visited an aunt and uncle at their lake cabin (not to worry…has been in the family since ~1920) They were going over newspapers they had saved, advertising flight to the SW for their getaway to their second homes (reward for hard work and frugality!) In my mother’s presence, my husband commented that they studied those newspapers so carefully just to save $15-25. Incensed, my mother said, “Well! How do you think they accumulated that wealth?”mWe were chastised in the best way possible! And finally, about ten years later, I had the good fortune to discover a book, The Millionaire Next Door (1996, Stanley & Danko, Yale University Press). Two Yale professors had conducted research on consumer spending. What they discovered was that contrary to popular beliefs, millionaires had much more thrifty spending habits than those with lesser accumulation of wealth. The book is a somewhat pedantic read, but I recommend it highly. It can usually be found for a couple bucks at a thrift store in major metropolitan areas.

    This has been a lengthy testimonial to the end-game when one has practiced frugality for a lifetime. I hope that some of my experience can help those who cared to read the article. About five years ago I read that the average person my age (55 at the time) had just $56,000 in retirement savings in all forms. You simply cannot retire on that! We were so pleased to see the rewards we have accumulated by living as we were taught. I have absolutely no fear for our financial future. We did it!

    • Flo says:

      Congratulations! We did not do as well with the savings, but my husband retired from a factory job at 50 and then took a state job (it took 15 years to become invested) so he is drawing SS and two pensions. We have always been fairly thrifty, became even more so when we switched to vegan because of his liver diagnosis (all cleared up in 6 months!) but we keep on eating vegan because we like it. Not buying meat cuts our grocery costs by about a quarter, I don’t have grease to clean up in the kitchen so even our soap lasts longer, the oven is always clean, and I can put a scratch meal on the table in 10 to 20 minutes if needful!
      We are doing our traveling now out of savings–one to two trips each year, split between visiting family and seeing the country. (We watched too many friends plan for retirement activities and one or the other suffered medical problems before they ever got there.) Nothing extravagant, but seeing our amazingly beautiful and diverse land.

  • Amanda says:

    I am looking for a good resource on how to budget for all the things that change from week to week like groceries. Can you point me in a good direction?

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