Cheap by Choice: When Frugality Means Freedom

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I suffered some great financial losses back in 2010. I lost my house, my car, and my business.  We had been living frugally in comparison to many people,  but not frugally enough to counteract that personal economic disaster. Looking back, I’m not sure if any amount of frugality could have really made a difference.

It was a devastating blow, and it came right on the heels of the loss of my dear father.  We became even more thrifty of a necessity, and I resented the need to do so every single time I stepped into a mall, purchased groceries, or emptied my bank account on payday to keep the utilities on and a roof over our heads, with nothing extra left over for fun, or even secondary needs.  It was a very grim time for our family.

When the depression began to lift, I saw that getting out from under that mountain of debt had actually provided me with a gift of enormous freedom. I realized that my life could take a different turn. I was no longer tied to anything.

And that’s when I began to embrace my cheap side.

I realized that I no longer needed to buy into the system that had been the source of my economic collapse. By supporting them, I wasn’t supporting us. By being as self-sufficient as possible, by cutting my spending, and by not needing “the system,” I was winning.  I was becoming truly free.

When an entity has nothing to hold over your head, all the options are your own.  You can make your decisions based on what is good for you and your family, not on what terrible things might happen to you if you don’t “toe the line.”

Embrace your cheap side

Hard-core frugality is not just making a choice to buy the generic brand of laundry soap instead of a jug of Tide with scent beads.  Hard-core frugality is buying the ingredients to make 5 times the amount of laundry soap for half the price of that name-brand detergent, all the while LOVING the fact that Proctor and Gamble are not getting your money.

When you can cross that line between resenting the fact that you have to strictly budget to embracing the fact that by being as frugal as possible, you have a freedom you never dreamed of before, then you have begun to embrace your cheap side.

Being a black belt in frugality takes creativity and an optimistic outlook.  It should never be some grim, sad thing that you have to do.  It should be something that you choose to do.  By finding joy in your non-consumerism, you will be far more successful at it. It becomes a game that you win if you can do something for free that others spend money on.

When you feel like you require less, then you are happy with less.  This means that you have to spend less time working at things you may not truly enjoy to pay for the things that you never actually needed in the first place.  This means that the money that you have goes a lot further

You might be a cheapskate if….

Here are some surefire signs that you are embracing your cheap side:

  1. Before throwing anything in the garbage you take a few seconds to ponder how it might be reused, and then either compost it, put it aside for a re-purpose, or you turn it into a homemade “log” for your fire.
  2. You have an ice cream tub in your freezer nearly full of odd bits of leftovers, awaiting their reincarnation into “leftover casserole” or “leftover soup”.
  3. It’s physically impossible for you to drive past an interesting-looking garbage pile at the curb during somebody else’s spring cleaning frenzy.
  4. Your first stop at the grocery store is the “last day of sale” rack in each department.
  5. Your kid looks at a necklace or pair of earrings at the “cool” store and scoffs, “We could make this.”  Then she puts it back and asks you to take her to the thrift store for items to disassemble for the supplies to make her own accessories.
  6. A day of yard-saling is planned out like a military invasion: you have a Mapquest route of at least a half dozen sales, a thermos full of coffee, a wallet full of small bills, and a list including measurements of all empty spaces in your home that need to be filled, kitchen items you are seeking, books your daughter wants to read, and upcoming birthdays.  Your alarm is set the night before, a blueberry muffin is wrapped up and ready to go on the counter, and your comfy clothes are laid out.
  7. If something must be replaced or purchased, you always look for a used version first before doling out the money for a new one.
  8. You know how to darn socks….and you do it.
  9. You wash and re-use sandwich baggies, and you’ve even rigged up a little drying rack for them beside your sink.
  10. You are outraged at the idea of spending $18 on a jug of laundry detergent because you could make a year’s supply for that amount of money.
  11. You have recently advised your child to cut off that teeny bit of mold on the brick of cheese because the other side is just fine.
  12. You don’t carve the Jack-o-Lanterns until the day before Halloween so that you can cook, puree, and can the pumpkin the day after Halloween.
  13. You have (and use) a clothesline.  Year round.
  14. You know how to repair a plastic clothes hamper by “welding it” with a bread tag and a hot glue gun.
  15. The dish soap beside your sink is actually 50% dish soap and 50% water.

How to Become a Happy Non-Consumer

Be grateful.  An “attitude of gratitude” is the most vital part of embracing your cheap side. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, you will find that you “need” far less than you did before.  That’s because you aren’t seeking some momentary hit of joyous adrenaline by purchasing something.  That rush rarely lasts and you’re just left with more stuff and less money.

Be creative.  How can you make something, save something, or repair something in a totally original way?  Embrace the challenge and tap into your creativity – you may just discover that, in your originality, you’ve come up with something far better than the purchased alternative. (We’ve found this to be especially true with fashion accessories, home decor, and birthday parties!)

Give.  Don’t let your pursuit of frugality make you stingy.  There are always people who are worse off than you. It’s important to give a hand up to those people.  If your kids were hungry, or cold, or without shelter, wouldn’t you hope that some kind person would help them?  Even at our absolute rock bottom financially, we donated one can of spaghetti sauce and a package of noodles to the food bank every week, which hopefully provided a warm comforting meal for someone who needed it. It isn’t really necessary to debate whether people are truly in need or just milking the system.  That is a subject for them and their consciences.  Just give.  You are responsible for your intentions, not theirs.

Spend your money where it really matters.  We opted to move to a very small community into a drafty little cabin in the woods.  We made this decision as a family, in order to reduce our monthly output.  By getting rid of “city rent” and all of the bills that came with it, we cut our monthly output in half.  This means that I can spend a little extra on high-quality meats and dairy, for example.  When my daughter needs new glasses, it’s not a problem to pay for them.  It means my older daughter can get through college without crippling student loans.

Less need equals more time.  Not only does a thrifty lifestyle mean that I can refocus where my money goes. It means that I can refocus where my time goes.  I don’t have to work quite as hard on stuff outside the home and can focus on farm and family.  I have the time to make hats and scarves instead of purchasing them. I have time to garden and can the harvests.  I have time to perform money-saving tasks like cooking from scratch, which goes into a big happy circle of having more money to put towards important things.

Stay home.  When you stay home more, you are tempted less.  You aren’t thirsty, requiring a beverage. You aren’t hungry, requiring a snack.  You aren’t using the car, requiring gas.  You aren’t tempted by all the colorful and wonderful things in the stores.

Hang out with like-minded people.  It is so much easier to embrace your cheap side if you don’t have people telling you how deprived you are all the time, or berating you for being too cheap to spend $27.85 on a movie ticket, popcorn and a soda pop.  Most of my closest friends are thrifty.  We swap  clothing, we borrow and lend tools, and we cheerfully hang out without spending a dime.  Instead of going out to sit in a boutique coffee shop sipping a $6 latte with whipped cream, we sit in the garden at one of our houses sipping a coffee that one of us made, along with a nice fresh blueberry muffin.  We enjoy the same conversation we would have had at that coffee shop too. Instead of heading to the mall, we chat on Skype.   When your nearest and dearest are on the same page, life is a whole lot easier.

Turn off the TV.  People go to school for years to study how to make people want what they don’t need.  That great big brainwash box sitting in the living room is a direct pipeline into your brain.  From the beautiful homes on the TV programs, the fancy clothes and cars, and the ads for food, recreation and new cars, the whole racket is designed to make you feel you what you have now is inferior to what you could have.  Kids are the biggest target of product placement advertising in popular shows.  If you watch TV, limit it.  Become aware of the scams and discuss them with your kids so that they can easily identify how marketers are attempting to manipulate them.  (Confession: we do watch a little bit of TV in our home, and when we do, it’s a big game to identify the hidden ads. While this may sound contrary to the advice to turn the TV off, I believe that some limited viewing coupled with an awareness of the marketing techniques  inoculates my children against the sales pitch.)

The Two Week Challenge

Okay….do you want to get started on your journey to frugality, freedom, and fun?

Click here to take my two week challenge to see just how much you can save.

To switch over to a frugal lifestyle successfully, you really have to want to do it. If you’re constantly bemoaning what you don’t have, you’ll be miserable.  If you are resentful that you can’t have “stuff” then you won’t stick to your frugal plan.  The most important thing of all is to switch off your personal “want” button.  When you don’t want or need the things that the “elite” and the big corporations are selling, then you are suddenly free of their restrictions.  You are no longer a slave to the wages you must earn to pay for the things they tell you that you should have.  You don’t have a lifestyle built on expectations, debt, and the never-ending search for happiness bought from a store.

I know that lots of you are already doing all of these things, and more…what are your suggestions for people who are new to the cheap side?

How has the art of thrift changed your life and set you free?

Learn more with these related contents from our site:

Survival Skills | The Psychology of Staying Alive

Surviving Alone: Is It Possible?

65 Survival Lessons from the Great Depression

32 Responses to :
Cheap by Choice: When Frugality Means Freedom

  1. Mariowen says:

    I switched over to being frugal a few years ago and it is such a blessing. I LOVE it because I can use my creative side! I try to re-purpose absolutely everything. When you put your mind to it, it can be fun to see what you come up with. One such idea: When I finish with food that comes in plastic containers, I wash and save them. They are my new planting pots to start seeds in. They also serve storage for other items that I am saving. One thing I really save is used glass containers. If you wash them well, then fill them with water and cap them tightly. You are going to save them anyway and why not have the water for emergency purposes. It takes no more room. I use canning jars that have chipped tops to store my dehydrated food. I use torn clothing for rags or use the fabric to cut down for a smaller size garment. Jean pockets can be cut out in quilting squares, sewn together and hung up. You have a means of storing things in all those pockets. Make it as big or small as you want and it can hang on a wall or back of a door. You can also put in things, then roll it up and store it away. That works well for things you want to keep but don’t need instant or continual access to. I could write a book about re-purposing, but you have to decide that you are happier – yes, I mean actually happier – knowing how much you save. It is only limited by your creativity.

  2. VictoriaM says:

    I love the pocket idea! As a child I used to help my mom make rag rugs. We just cut old clothing, blankets, etc into strips and braided them into thick braids and sewed them together into circle or oval shapes. We made some as big as 10’X12′ and as small as a few feet across. They were colorful and nice to step out of bed onto AND they lasted forever!

  3. Softballumpire says:

    I do disagree on one little point. That little bit of mold on the cheese, if it is greenish, the most common kind, is usually penicillium. That is organic penicillin. While store bought white bread is of little nutritional value, it is an excellent culture medium for homegrown penicillium mold. Place that moldy cheese on a slice of store bought white bread, insert them into a zipped sandwich bag ant place in a dark cupboard over the refrigerator for about two weeks, the mold should have consumed everything of its food value. Remove it, place on a cookie sheet after the final batch of cookies is finished and place in the heated oven with the element off and the door open as during a broiling process. When the oven is cool, the mold is dried and ready for the blender. Pulverized like that, it can be stored in a small jelly jar, reusing the lid and ring. It can then be measured out in doses for internal consumption or mixed with ‘Bag Balm’, petroleum jelly, olive oil or whatever vehicle you might have and use it as an anti-biotic salve. It is best stored in the freezer, but not essential. When used in an eggnog concoction with carob powder & mint extract, it is easy to administer in spoonful doses to infants, starting with 1/8-1/4 tsp doses. My youngest daughter was allergic to penicillin but could take the homegrown mold with no adverse effects.

  4. del57 says:

    LOVE IT!!!
    Our journey to frugal began in 2009 when after losing 40% of our portfolio in the big crash, business declined, and the KGB came calling for a 2 year audit (bad advise from our accountant cost us nearly 100k). On advise from the sage of nashville we went from eating out 3-4 times a week to 3-4 times a year and then only for business and always managed to squeeze a second meal out of the leftovers. Our self employed income dropped to about half of what it was with two kids still in collage. Through frugality, prayer and refusal to quit, we now have two college grads with no college debt (them or us), kgb (aka irs) is history, no car loans, no business loans, and every thing but the hous is paid for (4 years to 0 hour). You’re right, it does become a game and when your happiness threshold goes from top shelf to ankle height, you spend a lot more time withe a smile on your face. Kudos for a great artical


  5. R. K. says:

    Frugality is my middle name. We’re already doing all of the above, and more…it just comes naturally when you take the time to think logically about what you’re doing/buying and why. The biggest challenge, however, is living with someone who does not grasp that vision. For example…a spouse who drives 14 miles to get a fountain soda at a mini-mart, then back home again. -Or insists on BUYING ice for our beverages, when the freezer is already full of ice trays. Frugality is like religion or politics…you’ve got to find a partner who thinks as you do, or home life is a tough road! 🙂 But there’s one blessing in this…the more he wastes, the more I find new techniques to counteract his spending by cutting back in other creative ways. It’s forcing me to get my Ph.D. in smart living. I wouldn’t trade that vast, valuable set of knowledge for anything.

    Cool weather tip: While showering, keep the drain closed. Leave all that heated water in the tub after you’re done bathing until it is completely cold, which means the heat has gone into your home, not down the drain. This saves on home heating costs. You’re making the energy from the hot water serve a double purpose. You can do the same with dish water. Just please remember to keep the bathroom door closed/locked while the water cools, if you have toddlers in your family.

    1. Debra DeKerlegand says:

      After warming the house and cooling that water, use it to water the garden. I live in Texas and cold here is around 40 degrees. I garden winter and summer. I have always been creative, and I have reuses for just about everything! Love it.

      1. R. K. says:

        We’re in a really cold climate, so I don’t garden except in summer, though I truly envy those who can! Good water conservation tip, Debra. Houseplants would also benefit. Which makes me then wonder…has anyone out there had success with growing vegetables indoors over winter in cold zones??? Is the lighting cost too prohibitive? Do cool room temperatures inhibit growth?

  6. patriot1 says:

    Get on a budget. My wife and I took a Dave Ramsey course and we are now out of debt and have an emergency fund. We, also have a special savings account for things like small auto repairs, tires, inspections, new car, etc. All our bills are budgeted. I like your thinking on this. My wife loves going to garage sales. I definitely want to get to my more cheap side. It is Biblical.

  7. Woodswoman says:

    I went very frugal when I lost my business on-line in 2008 with a huge debt to pay for it. My other business plumeted in sales. I lived frugal at hard times before but never so drastic as this time. I am everything described as a cheapscape to myself, but managed to give to charity and God. I made it a challenge to see how much I could save and I enjoyed doing it. I was not down and out, I re-created myself with new ideas, gathering from nature for food, a small garden, shut off my hot water heater, most of my TV, and electric use, bought a wood stove to save $1200 a year in heat costs (I live in a forest)and to save $$ using this stove for cooking, heating water for inprovised showers, and drying clothes in winter. I spent $50 a month on food supplimenting it with things found around my property, fishing nearby lakes and meat farmers didn’t want when butchering their animals. I also had help from books on edible wild plants and had a small garden. Lambs quarters became a staple, I made pineapple weed and wild rose hip tea, plus many more edibles like cattail, wild mushrooms, raspberry jam, wild cherry jam, wild blueberries and highbush cranberries. All in all I got my credit cards pay off this way and cut my expenses in half without losing much. It took more work but it was enjoyable to be more self sufficient and expanding my knowledge being that way.

    1. R. K. says:

      What’s the most useful book on wild edible plants that you have found?

      1. Amanda says:

        I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, because they haven’t finished the editing, but this book should be out summer 2013. Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook. I found them on Kickstarter. Initial cost for the book was $38. Hopefully that can come down as they get more popular and can get better economy of scale.

  8. kaytee says:

    My main suggestion is to THINK before you act; don’t dive headfirst into a “frugal” change that won’t fit your needs or make things better for YOU. I don’t use and/or disagree with most (14 of 15)of those “frugal ways” listed…. But, we paid off our mortgage early, and pay “cash” for major appliances and cars without being millionaires or “depriving” ourselves. E.g.:

    #2– very little makes it to the freezer, because most can be reused within a few days for lunches and as ingredients in other meals. What does make it to the freezer, is stored separately, not mixed with other things, so it is easier to use in a way other than “eewww, leftovers again”. It’s not that hard to plan, and I need my freezer space for home-grown produce.

    #3– Illegal in many places….

    #4– I LOOK, but when I go to the store it is for something specific, and grab that first. Also, I “read labels”– not too much of the marked down rack’s offerings pass the label inspection. Even the cleaning supplies and such.

    #6– much more gas efficient to check Craigslist and thrift stores. It’s not “frugal” to get something “cheap” at a garage sale, if you drive all around town to find it. And really, I don’t need “more stuff”.

    #7– that depends on the item. Often, it is more frugal, and/or safer, to buy new. There is a pretty long list of “what NOT to buy at yard sales/used”– including bike helmets, car seats and shoes. Used furniture/clothes– unless it’s in great condition, can you fix it? and WILL you?? Used cars– well, if you are a mechanic or are on very good terms with one, or you have a guarantee, it may be a good way to go, especially if you can pay cash. My older son just bought a Jaguar sedan… from our mechanic who had bought it for his son (but his son didn’t want it). $2200 cash. But… it gets only ~ 15 m/gal at over $4/gal. And he still doesn’t know if/how much it is going to bump up his insurance and registration fees. However, he could afford to “pay cash”, and hey, it’s a Jag…. He tries to minimize driving, anyway.

    8– no. Just no. Not worth my time, even if hubby/kids/I would tolerate the feel of the patching (have done it with hand knitted socks… and then ended up using them as “sachets” because they were too annoying to wear).

    9– I don’t use them in the first place, so there’s none to wash/dry/make a rack for!

    10– I do that for other reasons; by the way, the best “deal” for the sal soda is the pool supply section of the hardware store, especially “off season”. Our local grocery stores no longer carry it at all.

    11– don’t need to “advise” them– we’ve “always” done that IF the cheese manages to last long enough to grow mold.

    12– another thing not worth the time/effort and cost of fuel/supplies. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are bred for carving– too fibrous and pretty much tasteless for enjoyable eating. Except for the seeds, of course.

    13– no place to put one, and tumble-drying saves on ironing. 14– we use laundry BAGS for hampers; old ones too messed up to repair get made into rags.

    15– no. Another “false savings” because the thinner liquid squirts out too fast, so more is used. It may be helpful if you have small children using it, but it’s not that difficult for an adult householder to control the “drips” needed. Same for shampoo, if you haven’t already gone “no-poo” for washing your hair.

    1. R. K. says:

      If you can see or feel the mended spot on a sock or other garment, it’s only because it wasn’t done correctly. Don’t fault the concept; it’s all in the technique.

  9. Rev. Scott U says:

    My friends tell me I’ve recycled all my best jokes for years.

    1. Amanda says:

      Ha! 🙂

  10. Desert Fox says:

    I don’t like the term “cheap” in these posts…I call myself practical and smart when recycling, reusing and inventing. “Those who don’t have or have lost, learn to live without and to appreciate the things they have, specially the things they have regained.”

    1. richard1941 says:

      I had a friend who was a dealer in copiers, calculators, and other such stuff. I once told him, “Tom, you’re the cheapest guy I know.” He said, “Thank you! I regard that as a wonderful compliment!” Those of you who are deep into HP programmable calculators know who I am talking about.

  11. Johnathan Lloyd says:

    A couple of years ago my brother and I took a BIG TRIP down to the BIG BEND NAT’L. Park in South ! SOUTH! TEXAS. What really stood out for me was the 1. vastness of the area. 2. the BIG Ness of the Park, and 3. the fact that those who desire to live there have this outstanding instense attitude about convservation, and being FRUGAL ! We saw no plastic bags rolling around the landscape. No beer cans along the roadways, and every where we looked we saw water catchers, and recycle bins. They reuse everything including spit! It was a real eye opener. I am sure that in most all other arid parts of the world the same story is true, and fits.It really did give me ideas as to how and what to attempt to being more frugal They Trip was worth it’s weight in GOLD, for all the right reasons and made us both appreciate our great outdoors that much more. A 5 day trip up the RIO GRANDE by canoe, and what wonderful evenings out under the stars. Ya gotta LOVE IT. I never new we had so many sattalites out there.

    1. richard1941 says:

      Do NOT take up astronomy and telescope making as a hobby! It is addictive and it is impossible to quit. But let me know if you want a mirror blank and I’ll make one for you.

  12. Lori Walker says:

    Go vegan. Save a fortune. Only eat what grows. Now you can afford organic produce if you can’t or don’t want to grow it. Save on medical too. The best thing you buy with living frugal is time. Time to do what you want even if its nothing at all. How much do you get paid for an hour of your life?

    1. richard1941 says:

      The problem with vegans is that they have no respect or compassion for the feelings of plants. How do they know that plants feel no pain or sorrow when we do mass slaughter of them and their progeny, and eat them? Vegan is RACIST! Plants are NOT an inferior race to be exploited and eaten by animals.

  13. DeAnna Brock says:

    Always enjoy learning new info on being frugal. It is still hard getting people interested in joining in on your efforts but I will not give up. As long as they can still “get/buy” what they think they need, they don’t know how to respect your choice. Doesn’t deter me, keep sharing and I will keep obsorbing!! Thanks, DeAnna

  14. Eleanor Rohl says:

    I grew up with frugal parents, so learned early how to recycle/reuse make/invent something. Rag rugs, handmade quilts and comforters Hand me down clothes, shoes, toys, etc. We babysat for our spending money. Even when I was making $50,000-$60,000, in a management position, I still bought my clothes at thrift stores or consignment shops (much to my husband’s liking), and today being on S.S., I HAVE to live that y, but it does not bother me like it does some, because of my early teachings. I recycle/reuse everything I can. Left overs are even better when they are “warmed up” Love to wear a $5.00 dress somewhere and look better than those in their expensive clothes. I fear people are going to have dreadful times in their homes if it comes down to having, or cheap as their children will no doubt feel.

  15. Ned says:

    People wash sandwich baggies? I used one 5 days a week for just over a year and didn’t wash it. My sandwich insides didn’t goo out, so just bread crumbs.

    1. Hipockets says:

      I’ve reused Baggies for years,but if meat has been stored in them,throw them. Bread type items,shake the crumbs out and rinse,set on bottle to dry. Saves a bundle.

  16. Sissy says:

    Love this article! Apparently, I have been a “cheapskate” for a long time and just didn’t realize. Out of necessity, I have washed plastic bags and disposable aluminum pans to reuse (this has become habit.), make my own laundry detergent, search for items to reuse and repurpose at garage sales, raise chickens for eggs and meat. I raise my own pork and rabbits. I buy raw milk, shake my own butter, save the buttermilk for baking, make easy cheese, and have more milk than I can drink in a month.

    I am also learning the fine art of BARTER. This tends to make everyone in the dealings happy, no cash exchanged, but we all get what we want/need.

    Great article, keep them coming.

  17. Joseph says:

    How do you make washing powders?

    1. R. K. says:

      Powdered laundry soap? I have a recipe. Will post soon if that’s what you need…

      1. R. K. says:

        Powdered Laundry Soap:

        Grate 2 bars (2 cups) Ivory, Fels Naptha, Zote, or other bar soap. (A crank-style cheese grater is awesome for this. I invested in one exclusively for my soap-making.) To the grated soap, add 1 cup borax and 1 cup washing soda. Mix well. Put in storage container of your choice. Use 2 tablespoons plus or minus per load. Many variables will affect the ideal amount…experiment with what is best for your needs.

        I prefer the liquid recipes, but got this from a friend and many people like this one if they are used to powders.

  18. Hipockets says:

    Guess I’ve been a “Cheapsake” all my life. Remember standing in line for hours during the depression for 2 peices of Bubble Gum. Remember Bums knocking on the door offering to do work for a meal. I raised 6 kids by myself and always had to scrimp and save everything. Today,I try to teach my great Grandkids,when shopping,check the Clearance racks first,don’t think you need a soda every day,etc.Some have learned,others not. If I ever did’nt have to worry about my next meal or where the dollars would show up to pay the bills,I’d think I was rich’My S.S. is’nt enough to keep a bird alive,but everything I’ve bought( property etc’) I paid for,not the Govt. or any other person. Now I have to rely on Credit cards'(Hate them’) just to eat and put $25 in gas in my worn out truck’ I’m sure God will reward me at the end’

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