Why is ‘frugal’ such a bad word? Why do people dread frugality? Is it possible to be frugal without being cheap?
Many people don’t want to be frugal because it means not having any fun. It means turning down the thermostat and eating beans and rice. To avoid sinking to such depths, they make the opposite mistake and spend wildly beyond their means. But if you want to dance you have to pay the fiddler. Eventually living off credit comes back to haunt you with a vengeance. If you don’t have the cash now you won’t have the cash later.
Happily, being frugal doesn’t mean being cheap. In fact, being cheap can often be quite expensive. On time I tried to save a little money by buying a 24-pack of off-brand light bulbs. They were quite a bit cheaper per bulb, and the big box made me feel like I was stocking up. But the bulbs burned out very quickly, in just a couple days, in some cases. The entire box was gone in just a few months. But I don’t consider that money wasted. That was money well-spent on an education. The lesson I learned? Don’t be so cheap!
Here’s another lesson from the light bulbs: CFLs are our friends. CFLs are those new kind of bulbs that look like ice cream cones (mmm… I like them already). They cost a little more up front, but they use one quarter of the electricity of incandescent bulbs, and they last four times as long! So if you can get over their funny appearance, you can free up more money for other things, like a vacation, perhaps.
Speaking of vacations, an expensive vacation certainly sounds more fun than a cheap vacation. Would you rather cruise the Mediterranean or go camping in San Isabel? But because of the cost, a cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, but the camping trip can be repeated several times a year. So by camping, you might be allowing yourself much more fun over the years.
So don’t automatically assume cheap is bad. Cheap may be the best deal out there. But don’t automatically assume cheap is good, either. Cheap can end up costing a bundle. Instead, be frugal. Find the best value. Go for the lowest total cost of ownership, not just the lowest initial cost.
Frugal is the new cheap. Cheap is dead. Long live frugal!
This article originally appeared in the June 11, 2008, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.