What is Frugality? The Definition of Being Frugal

Frugality is a word we hear tossed around frequently these days. Dire news reports on the economy state that people are pinching their pennies, going back to the frugality of their grandparent’s days.

They way frugal living is explained in the mainstream media often leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. It’s as if being frugal is something people have to do, because of the economy. It couldn’t possibly be something people want to do. Or could it? I think you know my answer.

So What is Being Frugal?

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the definition of “frugal” is

characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources

And while we’re at it, the second definition of “economy” is

thrifty and efficient use of material resources : frugality in expenditures

So, basically frugality is the thrifty and efficient use of resources, and a frugal person is a person characterized by thrifty and efficient use of resources.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like something to which I want to aspire! Efficiency is good, right?

Why Does Frugality Have Such a Bad Rap?

Too often frugality is confused with cheap or miserly. And being cheap or miserly is definitely not a good thing!

The definition of cheap:

at minimum expense

And the definition of miserly:

of, relating to, or characteristic of a miser ; especially : marked by grasping meanness and penuriousness

And miser:

a mean grasping person ; especially : one who is extremely stingy with money

Stingy. Mean. Spending the minimum, no matter what the cost. Those are things I don’t want to be! But they have nothing to do with frugality. They have nothing to do with using one’s resources efficiently. And too often being cheap or miserly hurts other people.

Not leaving a deserved tip. Filling your purse with ketchup packets from fast food restaurants, so you don’t have to buy ketchup. Never offering to pay when you go out to dinner with friends. All of those things could be considered cheap or miserly, but I wouldn’t consider any of those things to be frugal.

My Take on Frugality

The Lynnae McCoy definition of frugality is this:

Using your resources in the most efficient way to meet your goals in life.

Frugality is going to look different from person to person. Three of my goals are

  • to honor God by taking good care of the resources He’s given me
  • to be available to my family as a stay-at-home mom
  • to meet our family’s needs while accomplishing the above

Those three things are a huge influence on how I spend my time and money. Because I’m a stay-at-home parent, I frequently have more time than money, so I plan accordingly. I shop sales, bake from scratch, and do things myself that other people might hire out. That works for me. Frugality for you might look different, but as long as you’re making efficient use of your resources, you are a frugal person.

So to the people on the news, who turn their noses up at frugality, I say it’s your loss. Being frugal is a good thing. And if the state of the economy starts a frugal revolution, I say bring it on!

How about you? Are you proud to be frugal in any economy? Or are you just trying to get through the recession?


By , on Jan 5, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. I think frugality gets a negative rap too because people often think it involves doing without, or sacrificing something. It’s more about learning to use the resources you have to solve your problems. It’s actually great for kid, teaches responsibility and creativity. My parents were extremely frugal. I don’t know that they ever bought anything.

    Mr Chiots and I love to figure out to solve a problem with something we already have. It’s so much more fun than just running out and buying something!

  2. Angie:

    I’m definitely frugal by choice and trying to pay off $25,000 in debt this year. Living in Florida, with a doom and gloom economy, and the threat of teacher pay-cuts, we are putting every dime into getting out of debt so that we will be able to live substantially below our means once debt-free. This is our goal and people think we’re weird. But that’s okay because as Dave says, “normal is broke”.

  3. Love that definition! That’s why what’s frugal for me may not be frugal for others, it’s all about individual goals, and those are always different! Recession or not, we are doing better financially than ever before. We still live a fairly frugal lifestyle pretty much because it’s all we know! We’ve spent most of our married years in school, when frugality was a huge necessity. Now, it’s just a smart way of living.

  4. Sean:

    I really enjoyed this post. Too many people equate frugal with miserly. Just recently we had to purchase a new refrigerator and somewhere in the mix the word “frugal” purchase was tossed out. The salesman immediately took us to the cheapest/smallest one is stock. We had to explain that we were interested in a) the energy consumption of the product, b) the average life span of the product, and c)lastly, the price.

    Thanks again for being one of the few who have a clear focus on this lifestyle! Have a great day!

  5. I think more people are hip to being frugal. I think it is being a good steward of what God has given you. Great post!

  6. Brigitte:

    I grew up in a frugal household, but I take it to a whole new level–and I’m not even as frugal as many people I know or as I would like to be one day! But I find I get along best with people who brag about how little they paid for something–now how much. It’s still hard for me to buy brand new clothes for myself. Can’t spend more than $5 on a shirt, no more than $15 on a pair of well-fitting pants. Practically everything I own came from a thrift store. The only new things I really get are gifts. And I prefer it that way.

    I started out being frugal from necessity and habit from upbringing. Now I choose it because it seems stupid to be otherwise. And I choose to embrace it and strive for further frugality because it IS sometimes fun. And rewarding!

  7. rosemarie:

    I agree and I like the way you approach this topic. My father’s a miser, he cannot make any decision in life without thinking of the financial impact to the point where as a kid, my mom would whisper to me, “don’t ask dad for anything” as we walked around the free carnival. And my dad isn’t poor. It’s no wonder I don’t spend a lot of money, but I’ve tried to harness this into a positive thing. Not being wasteful, eco-conscious, and taking care of resources are important to me. I still call myself cheap, but that’s just for fun.

  8. I grew up in a very frugal (read: poor) family and my husband’s family believed in buying quality, never overspending and making do when necessary. So frugality come naturally to us.

    I’m praying we’ll get out of debt this year so our frugality can pay off and allow us to save for land and a home.

  9. TStrump:

    I think the point is to be frugal with yourself but not with others.

  10. Jason:

    I don’t really know if I’m frugal or not – it’s certainly not a label I consciously go out to try and have applied to me :-) But I do try to keep my spending low, and make the most of what we have. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m getting better all the time.

    Unfortunately, for some people the concept of being careful with your money is a foreign one that they will never understand.

  11. Great post! I think you’ve cleared up a lot of misconceptions of what frugal is. I think people for the most part think that you have to go without or roam around town picking up aluminum cans. We’ve been living frugally for the past 17 years, ever since we had children. We made a choice for me to stay home with the kids and so we had to make one income work for us. We had kids, a mortgage and regular monthly bills. But we always had what we needed. The things we wanted may have had to wait, but I think it brought us closer as a family and my kids have a better appreciation of how you use what has been provided for you, instead of borrowing on what you do not have. I think another good thing about being frugal is we’re always aware of an opportunity to stretch our dollars or use something in a completely different way than was intended. Most people are given the same opportunities and are either unaware or don’t care. You have to care. And the ones who care and pay attention are less likely to go bankrupt or continue to live beyond their means.

  12. Amen, preach it sister. You are so right. Being miserly can hurt even themselves, as perhaps they aren’t taking care of their health as they should.

    I think people do sometimes confuse frugal with cheap or miserly, I agree.

    I am finding that more people are interested in frugality these days, but not necessarily as a lifestyle but as a lifeline. Perhaps, once they begin to make some headway with it they will change their attitude and see that it can be a lifestyle that is not a bad thing at all.

    There is nothing bad about living within (or hopefully below) your means and being able to not panic when the bills come in. I’d rather control my debt than have it control me.

  13. Amy:

    Good point… I am definitely going with your definition! In the beginning, I worried about what others thought about my separate transactions at CVS (gotta love those ECB’s!) AND all of those coupons. I no longer worry… I say, if you aren’t living frugally, you’re just wasting money.

  14. Ron:

    Just goes to show you that “personal” finance really IS personal! I love how you tagged the end of your definition with “to meet your goals in life.” I can be efficient but not meeting my goals and be miserable.

    Wonder where the word miserable came from? The first part of it is MISER!

  15. AngelSong:

    I have embraced a frugal lifestyle by choice. I told my husband when we met that I was (and I am) the “queen of making do.” I watched my grandparents and my parents, live within or below their means as I grew up, so it just seems natural to me to make the best possible use of everything I have. I get frustrated with all of the commercialism and “just throw it out and buy new” thinking that is so rampant today. I am not a stingy or mean person, but I am careful when, where, how, and why I use my resources. I cannot imagine not being frugal. The purchase of our home last year has only served to solidify the desire for frugality. To me, it’s a matter of what the priorities in life really are.

  16. marci:

    Being frugal to me is wise use of my resources, be that my money or my time (which is more precious than the money), and even my emotions (not worrying over things I cannot change).

    It’s a choice I enjoy. It’s a choice I model for my grandchildren to learn. It’s a choice to enjoy life at a simpler level. It’s gratitude and appreciation for what I do have.

    I don’t use the word budget, because I don’t consider it being on a budget. There are many things I could afford to have/do, if I deemed them important to me. I truly do not want them, or I do not Choose to spend my money or time on them. I guess it’s a matter of what my personal values are.

  17. Penny:

    I’m actually exceedingly proud of being frugal. It’s a game of outwitting the commercial paradigm. I feel vindicated whenever I can say that I spent less than $1.50 to feed myself for a day. (Of course, that was when I was single. silly husbands eat quite a bit more.) I love crowing about my cheap buys. Money is something I get in trade for my time. I wouldn’t waste my time, so why waste my money? Given enough time, I can make more money, but I can’t make more time. :) Plus, I love gardening, cooking from scratch, making laundry soap, and the plethora of things I do to be frugal. Frugal=Fun!

  18. I like the Lynnae McCoy definition. That puts the responsible spin on it that I’m going for. It always baffles me when someone says in a pitying tone, “Oh, you’re on a budget,” as they give me a sympathizing nod. Just can’t make them understand.

  19. I grew up in a home where frugality wasn’t a choice but a way to live by necessity. As an adult, with both my husband and I currently working full time, and we have one 2 year old daughter and 2 cats, we live frugally by choice with the home that I can one day be at home with our child(ren). To that end, we live well below our means but are still generous with a few selected charities and we give well-thought gifts that I pick up throughout the year. We do everything from haircuts at home and washing ziplocks to buying less house than we could afford and paying cash for a used car. In otherwords, everything from the small to the big- it all adds up.

  20. Great peice! To me being frugal is definitly not a negative thing, its sensible! Living within and or below my means, spending my money wisely, even when that means I save don’t have what I “want” right away and buy a better quality item later that will last, when I can pay in cash! It means shopping used and on sale. Being frugal makes me appreciate what I have more! If I just got everything right away I wouldn’t value what I do have and I probaly wouldn’t be the same level headed goal oriented person I am today. My

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