Simple and Frugal Can be Different Things

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Let me begin with a disclaimer.

On the road to get to where I am today, I have experienced several times when our household finances were not so awesome.  I have had experience on both sides of this issue. For many years we practiced extreme frugality.  Now, thankfully, we don’t need to do that anymore.  Our focus now is on simplicity.  I’ve learned that frugality and simplicity can be related, but they can also be very different.

Grocery shopping is a great example.  If you are practicing frugality (whether by necessity or choice), you shop sales, stock up on sale items, use coupons, and shop at multiple stores.  All of these are excellent ideas to help you save money. But following these practices is far from simple.  I cannot stand to shop at all, so it was sheer torture for me to follow these frugal practices.

Now my personal aim is to streamline and simplify my shopping, and that means shopping mostly in one store.  This does not mean that I am not thoughtful about what I buy.  I do still look for deals, and I won’t pay top dollar for produce that is out of season, for example.  Shopping with a list is my main strategy now, and I am pretty good about resisting impulse buying.  Planning ahead with a list helps me save money, but it is a vastly different experience than when I used to plan my meals around grocery sales fliers.  That was time consuming and I hated every minute of it.  But it served the purpose at the time, and sometimes it’s a true necessity.  If you love practicing frugality with your shopping, even if economizing is not a must, then you have my admiration.

Another example of frugality versus simplicity is cheap clothing.  It might be my imagination, but I believe cheap clothing is more cheaply made and lasts a far shorter amount of time than it used to.  In a perfect world, I would buy only clothes that were ethically made and that are of high quality.  I would also place a premium on second hand clothes as a way to save the planet.  As I’ve said, however, I really despise shopping of all sorts (except books!).  Therefore, my philosophies about being good to the Earth and supporting the lives of third-world people conflict with my desire to be simple and not spend undue amounts of time on an activity that I hate.

I try to find the middle ground in my decisions.  As my income has risen, I can afford better quality items.  I also now recognize the folly of buying cheap clothes in the first place, given that they do not last.  But I simply will not spend half a day venturing around to our town’s many fine second-hand shops to find high quality at lower prices.  I’d rather have a root canal.  Ok, maybe not a root canal.  Hopefully you get my point.

In addition to starting to buy higher quality (albeit from one store, all at one time), I shop less frequently.  My work clothes get worn frequently and are well cared for, and I change into “house clothes” the instant I return home.  I keep clothes for a very long time and do not fall prey to the latest fashion trends.  My style is simple and not noteworthy in any way.  I am the direct opposite of a style maven.

Some of these practices are simple but they can also be considered frugal – buying less stuff, buying higher quality, keeping it longer, and caring for items.  Admittedly, for me, there are many other frugal practices that I would not even on my best day consider to be simple – couponing, shopping at multiple stores, and stocking up.

There is a tendency in the media today to conflate simple living with extreme frugality.   Certainly, people who practice frugality might consider themselves to be living simply.  I think the answer is to accept the fact that everyone’s ideas about simple living are different, and no one is right or wrong about it.  A more meaningful way to think about simple living is that we are all on a similar, but different journey.  Supporting each other wherever we may be on the journey is the most honorable, and simple, thing we can do.

Your turn!  How do you view frugality and simplicity?  Share your thoughts below.

4 responses to “Simple and Frugal Can be Different Things

  1. I much prefer the concept of simple living as opposed to minimalism or frugality. The other concepts seem so rigid and some adherents are very strict in their views.

    1. I think you are right about this, Jenna. That is why I try to be broad in my descriptions, because I think it is all too easy for people to draw a very narrow conclusion about what those terms mean. But I’m with you, I have always used the phrase “simple living” in reference to my own journey, versus “minimalism.” I have nothing against the term minimalism, but I’ve been at this a long time, and minimalism is newer on the scene, best I can tell. 🙂

  2. For me, it comes down to definitions. Living simply is like minimalism in that you have only what you want and you don’t give in to the impulse to buy, buy, buy. Frugality, however, is a conscious act to spend as little as possible which includes shopping at several stores to get the best prices, clipping coupons, etc. You want to buy more, but you can’t/don’t. They’re like two sides of the same coin…similar but different. You understand the difference when you’ve done both.

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