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Miserly vs. Frugal

April 16, 2011

As much as I like to save money there is one little problem that I sometimes have with budgeting. The more passionate I get about something, the more likely I am to take it “to the next level” (in a bad way). And I don’t want to become a “miser“…

Wikipedia under “miser“:

misercheapskatecurmudgeonpenny pincherpikerscroogeskinflint or tightwad is a person who is reluctant to spend money, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts and some necessities

There are times when I check our accounts in our budget and then turn to my sweetheart and say things like, “No one buys anything for one week!” or “Let’s tear up that cardboard box, add milk and sugar, and have it for breakfast!”. I get panicky. And I don’t like when I’m that way. I forget to look at the “big picture” when one of our accounts is a little off…

On the other hand, being called “frugal” is a compliment.

Again, Wikipedia (under “frugality“):

Frugality is the practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal.

Get the difference? I like the feel of “frugal” versus the jerky, tight-fistedness of “miser”. As we’re working our budget, I have to remember that the goal is to use our money wisely, not to “not use our money”. I’m not trying to deprive myself and my family of everything that would bring any kind of comfort or enjoyment for the sake of coffering away more money. I want to find ways to live in a disciplined yet enjoyable way, while saving money and being frugal and smart.

A few ways to be sure not to cross the line:

  1. Look at the big picture. If we go over a little in one of our categories, I need to remind myself that we are already saving money right off the top of the paycheck, both in retirement and long-term savings. Also, if we’re doing really well in some categories, going over in one category isn’t the end of the world.
  2. Maybe it is wise to budget in a little “extra” into a few categories. This might be a way to cushion the blow when we have a rough week. If I know there is actually $50 more in the groceries budget than we usually use, then buying a little extra food for a planned party won’t hurt so bad. Also, it is nice to see that we have $50 extra at the end of the month to through into savings. I LOVE putting money into savings…
  3. If you’re ruining your family members’ lives, something is wrong. Either you’ve not budgeting enough for each category, or your family needs to check their “needs/wants” list.

Now, to end this post…take a few minutes and study the lives of some famous misers from history. Pretty interesting stuff…

Hetty Green (died with over $1,000,000,000 in 2006 dollars) She never turned on the heat, and rarely changed clothes, and only had the hems of her clothes laundered to save soap.

John Elwes (the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge)

Mr. Burns (Yes, from the Simpsons)

So, what are some tips on staying frugal without becoming a miser?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jake O. permalink
    April 16, 2011 8:34 am

    Good Post. I too have made similar comments, such as, “Pancakes for the rest of the month, No Syrup!”

    But, I would disagree with one comment. I would not inflate a budget category. I love feeling that downward pressure, and to feel like it’s a stretch to stay within. If I added $50 to the grocery section, then I would spend it EVERY month!

    Instead, I have a category in my budget called, RANDOM EXPENSES. It’s only $40 and it’s not to be confused with savings. It’s there in case any particular category dries up and something unexpected happens. I think it’s the same concept, but I need that tight constraint in each category or I would never make it.

    Thoughts?

    • April 17, 2011 9:25 pm

      I think you make a good point. Maybe it just depends on the person. I am pretty motivated to save when I see that we’re not close to the end of our budget. But if we get close to the end of the budget, I lose motivation. I would be lame on “The Biggest Loser”….

      Other people might like the pressure of having things tight at the end of the month and seeing if they can keep expenses low. I suppose whatever works for the person should be what they do.

      Good point! Thanks Jake!

      • Emily Shepherd permalink
        April 17, 2011 9:53 pm

        Have you ever read the book Paper Towns? At the end of the book, the main character and three of his friends skip graduation because they have to drive to New York from Florida in 19 hours to find the main character’s neighbor who runs away from home and leaves him clues so he can find her. One of his friends is a genius and figures out the average speed they need drive to get there in time and how fast they have to make pit stops and other such things, and at the end of the drive, he reveals to them that he secretly scheduled an extra half an hour at the end of the trip just in case.

        I’m not sure how this would work with budgeting, but if you could somehow put a little more money than you needed into a category because you are frequently going over or coming close to doing so a lot and then made yourself forget it was there…

  2. Tiffany permalink
    April 17, 2011 5:40 pm

    So do you think the husband or wife should do the budget??

    • April 17, 2011 9:22 pm

      Hmm. I don’t know. I suppose it depends on the family. Janese did it for 17 years, mostly because I’m lame and was busy. Of course, she was as busy as I was, so that was a lame excuse. She is pretty detail-oriented and was good at saving up for things like insurance, Christmas, etc. Now I do it because I’ve been able to put most things on autopilot online and I’m a little more tech-savvy than Janese. But, this entire time, we both review the budget multiple times a month. Janese would sit down with me often and show me where the money was going and where to be careful. I do the same with her now. Outside of monthly bills (on auto), Janese spends more money than I do. But since it is so easy to track on Mint, I can be “in charge” of keeping track of the budget. Maybe the person who enjoys it the most should do it. I like doing it now, but HATED doing it 10 years ago. I’m glad Janese was willing. It was only causing me stress to check on it every week. Now it is almost relaxing. Almost… Who does it in your family?

      • Tiffany permalink
        May 2, 2011 2:41 pm

        I always have, but last year I gave it over to Jed. It worked tons better. I wait until the last minute to pay a bill because.. because I have no reason. I am a procrastinator I guess. But Jed sees the bill, pays it, and is done. It’s simple to him. For me, I think about it all month and then pay it when it is due. So lame I know, but it was causing me so much mental stress. So when Jed started school I took it back over so he wouldn’t be stressed out. But I gave it back last week. The mental stress was back. He’s just better at it. If he gives me a set amount of money to spend for the month, I will stay within. If he doesn’t, I end up overspending. It’s hard for me and it’s easy for him so I hope it stays that way. Also, have you read Fascinating Womanhood? She talks about how one of the duties for the husband is to do the budget. He’s earning the money, he controls the money. And a lot more was said.. but it made sense. Hilarious book. You should read it. 1960’s I think?

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