Money Infant

Baby Steps to Financial Freedom

My Take on Extreme Frugal Living

As you can probably tell by now from my writing and comments on other sites I am much more focused on the income side of the equation when it comes to balancing a budget, becoming debt free and savings. That’s not to say I don’t pay attention to expenses at all, nothing could be further from the truth. I just think that in the long run most of us are going to be better of finding ways to increase income rather than cut expenses. After all, you can only cut back on your expenses so far (even Heidemarie Schwermer and Mark Boyle can’t cut anymore), but you can theoretically increase your income without limits.

So while I can agree to some extent with frugality, I really can’t see the need for the extreme frugality some would like us to follow. I do what I can to cut back on electricity usage, I don’t own a car, I buy clothes only when necessary, I am not guilty of going into debt for Christmas, birthdays and vacations, I do not have a mortgage and our rent is 1/2 to 1/3 what others in our neighborhood pay for similar apartments. I don’t say this to brag, but to highlight the fact that I am by no means extravagant in my spending. Some might even call me frugal, although I like to think it is just good common sense and knowing the value of a dollar (or a Baht in my case).

Though I don’t waste my money (usually) I can’t see where it would benefit me to do some of the things recommended by the proponents of extremely frugal living. Our modern industrial complex is very efficient and there’s no way I could save an appreciable amount of money by replacing mass produced items with my own DIY creations. Is it really in my best financial interests to make my own toothpaste, shampoo and soap? Hardly. Will the time it takes for me to learn how to sew and make my own clothes be repaid by what I can save versus mass produced clothing? I don’t think it can, plus I have no interest whatsoever in sewing or learning to make my own clothes. The very idea makes me cringe.

If you take the time to follow every tip for extreme frugal living how much money can you save? And conversely how much time will it take you to complete all these tasks on your own and how much convenience have you lost. In some ways being frugal is similar to tracking every penny you spend. It can be helpful, but the more you do it the more your returns from the activity diminish.

Because all of the time you spend changing your own car fluids, making disposable hygiene products, creating clothing and monitoring your energy usage to the nth degree is time you could be spending creating additional income streams for yourself. You could be starting a new business, taking on a side hustle or researching investment possibilities. All of these things will eventually lead to increased income far in excess of the amount of money saved by extremely frugal activities.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling those who choose to pursue frugal options that I shun. My guess is that they have taken a close look at the pros and cons of each action and have made a choice within their own belief structure that makes them comfortable. In some cases people follow extremely frugal lifestyles because of religious reasons or because they are concerned with the environment and our usage of the limited resources of our world.

I can certainly appreciate and respect that. My concern is that some may blindly follow the advice of others without considering the total cost in both time and money. Be frugal if you like, even to the point of an extreme frugal lifestyle, but please be sure that you have considered the “costs” of your frugal life as well.

As with almost everything in life, personal finance and yes frugality is a balancing act. If you can find a true balance in your career, financial life, personal relationships and the attainment of your goals then you are way ahead of many of your peers.

What is your take on frugal lifestyles versus increasing income? So you prefer cutting expenses or would you rather find ways to increase your income? Are you already living a frugal lifestyle or do you tend more toward the convenience that our mass produced society offers?

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18 Responses to “My Take on Extreme Frugal Living”

  1. Nick says:

    I, too, am a modest frugality guy. I’m definitely more extreme than my wife, but we balance each other out so that we’re somewhere in the middle. But we focus more on saving and investing enough to make sure we’re on track to meet our goals and then if there is a little slippage with the rest, we’re OK with that. We do try and stretch it for sure – just nothing “extremely extreme.”

  2. Modest Money says:

    I do agree that some people take the frugal lifestyle way too far. I couldn’t see myself making my own soap or learning how to sew either. I do think there are lots of little ways that we can save money which adds up to a lot. Really it just comes down to common sense. You’re right though, you can make much more money by increasing your income. Unfortunately not everyone has the skills or drive to accomplish that.

    • I think it is the drive that stops most people. I worked in IT and many of my co-workers knew about my online activities. They said they were jealous and wished they could do something like that too. I offered to teach some of them but found out quickly that they didn’t really have the drive to keep up the necessary work. WoW, drinking, weekends in the mountains or at the beach, family responsibilities, friend responsibilities, too tired…I’ve heard so many excuses. These people definitely had the skills, just no motivation.

  3. Drew @ says:

    I agree that making more money is the best way to save and build net worth, but I find it hard to find effective ways of making more money outside of my job.

    I did a lot of amazon/eBay selling, but I only netted about $7k for the year and it was a lot of hassle. I hope that I can indeed find other ways to generate some income, but I find the lowest hanging fruit for myself to act/spend frugally.

    • Acting frugally is certainly the lowest hanging fruit, but you are limited because you can only cut your spending so far. I agree that selling a physical product can be a hassle, maybe it isn’t for you and you could focus more on services or informational products?

  4. Monica says:

    Hi fellow Yakezie Challenger! I absolutely love this article because it is an honest take on the whole frugality issue. I try to save money every way I can, but if I find that it costs more time in production or finding the supplies to be frugal, I will find an already made alternative. I read somewhere about people making their own underwear from old, stained t-shirts and I couldn’t even conceive of doing that, even if there was a tutorial! (ha ha) Great topic, hope to see you around the blogosphere :)

    • I read that same article (I think it was at Budgets Are Sexy) and I couldn’t believe some of the crazy ideas for frugality. Hope to see you around more as well Monica!

  5. MoneySmartGuides says:

    I do many things to cut back on expenses. Basically, things that will cost me a minimal amount of time. Anything that will take me hours or weeks to implement are worthless to me. I feel in those cases, I am better off using my time finding ways to increase my income as opposed to cutting my expenses. As you point out, the extra income can grow exponentially while the cost cutting has a limit.

  6. Poor to Rich a Day at a Time says:

    I think it definately takes both although many would call me an extreme frugalist ( I would not make underwear out of old t-shirts though! LOL)

    While frugality can certainly only go so far and is limited it does I think have it’s place and it is nice to have the skills for when and if extremely hard times may fall.

    It should not stop there though, as you stated income in theory is not limited and should be pursued even more so than finding ways to be frugal.

    • That’s a very good point about having the skill, and I do believe frugality is a skill that you need to learn and practice at, can be useful if you fall on extremely hard times. And I’m glad you aren’t making underwear from old tee shirts :)

      • Poor to Rich a Day at a Time says:

        LOL no but I have been known to seperate 2-ply toilet paper or go on a 15 mile bike ride to bring home a duffle bag full of free apples or pears home!
        I have also washed clothes in a bathtub or trash barrel outside.

        I am glad to have these tough as nails skills, my brother in law was used to making $100,000 a year , his wife the same and when manufactoring went overseas and he lost his job, then he lost his home , cars and lastly his wife and well it did not end up well because he did not have the skills to downsize and scale back. Devastating sad ending that I am happy I will never be in.

        I can work and work to increase my income and reach my goals and dreams but if fate ever has it in the cards for me to fall for some reason, these are skills I will never lose.

        And yes I love that garaunteed return Dollar Discipline states………so true!

  7. Dollar Disciple says:

    There’s definitely a continuum and I think the best approach is the balanced one.

    For *most* people, cutting expenses is going to be easier than increasing income. Additionally, cutting expenses is a guaranteed return whereas any business/job/passive income venture is going to have some risk of loss.

    But like you said, there’s a limit to how much you can cut back. I think for people that make their own clothes of hygiene products there’s another aspect to it: they derive satisfaction from it.

    Most of us wouldn’t spend an hour making our own soap to save money, but if you also enjoy it then that’s a different story.

    • You so right about there being a continuum and we all need to find a comfortable place along that line. And good point about the guaranteed return from frugality!

    • Poor to Rich a Day at a Time says:

      Making soap can also be quite a profitable side business, especially if you combine it with making candles! It also can make wonderful wonderful gifts :)

  8. Retire By 40 says:

    I prefer cutting expense. I more drawn to that side of the equation for some reason. The more money I make the more stressed I get.

    • Funny you should mention the stress related to increased income/assets. I was pondering on the same idea the other day and I think it is true that the more money you have the more stress it gives you because you worry about what to do with the money, if you’re getting the best return, what if you lose the money, etc.

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