Frugal living is a trendy topic, especially if you linger around the personal finance community for any length of time. It’s promoted, judged, and debated on almost a daily basis. In the Rockstar Finance Directory alone there are almost 100 personal finance bloggers who categorize themselves primarily as ‘frugality’ bloggers. This list includes blogs like Frugalwoods, How to Save Money and Keep Thrifty.

That list does not include me. As many of you who follow the blog will know, I’m a spender. I like doing things, buying things, eating things, and drinking things. And that’s ok. There’s this misconception that being good with money and living frugally go hand in hand. They can, but they don’t have to. It depends on what your goals are.

What Does Frugal Mean?

You could ask one hundred people to define frugal, and you’d likely get one hundred different definitions.

If you ask Google, you get this:

What does frugal mean?

Completely off topic but fun random fact I learnt yesterday: if you have a Google home and a Nest thermostat and say ‘Hey Google, I’m cold’ it will say ‘I got this’ and turn up the heat. The bf makes fun of me for talking to Google like she’s a person, but she gets me. 

You will find people who think positively of frugality and associate it with being economical and prudent, and you’ll find people who think of it negatively and associate it more with being skimpy or plain. I guess I would land somewhere in the middle. I don’t think living frugally is bad, but it’s also not something I want for myself. In my mind, there’s a certain level of deprivation that goes with being frugal. That’s the part that doesn’t speak to me. I would rather frame my spending decisions in terms of balance or trade-offs instead of looking for ways to cut back.

It’s probably my bias speaking, but when I think of frugal, I think of cutting as many non-essential costs as possible. I rank my expenses on a hierarchy of wants. I’m willing to cut out eight at the bottom (having a bigger house) to spend more on wants at the top (travelling). Maybe some people would classify that as frugal, but I think you need to be more extreme.

Retiring Early Is Not My Goal

One thing many of the frugal blogs have in common is their authors have a goal of getting out of the workforce as soon as possible. When that’s your goal, then every penny you earn and every penny you save becomes essential. It can add hours, days or months to your retirement. That’s a big deal if you want it to be.

Me? Not so much.

Sure retirement sounds great. But you know what else sounds great? Having a good job and a steady income. That income means I can give in to (some of) my spendy-ness right now, and later. And to me, that’s a win.

Financial Independence Is Very Much On The Table

The idea of FI/RE is super prevalent in the personal finance community. It stands for ‘Financial Independence / Retire Early’. It’s the idea of building up enough wealth as fast as you can so you can quit your job and retire early. I enjoy following bloggers on their FI/RE journeys. They are inspiring, and while all the advice may not apply to me, a lot of it still does.

There is this idea that the two concepts go hand in hand, but they don’t have to. I read a post a while back from Mad Money Monster where she put forward the idea of FIOR (Financial Independence / Optional Retirement), and it spoke to me! That’s exactly what I want.

No one knows what will happen in the future. Maybe in ten years my job will take a turn for the worse and I will want out sooner. Maybe something will happen to prevent me from working. Reaching financial independence is a safety net; a bank account full of options. Just because you don’t link it with early retirement doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy. I’d love to see it written about more with that ‘optional’ framework as it feels so much more accessible.

Live for the Now (Frugality be Damned)

Too far? Maybe a little, but I’m not willing to put my life on hold until my net worth hits some fantasy number. If I want to spend $700 for the bf and me to see the first Oilers playoff game in a decade then I sure as heck will. And I did, and it was fantastic. Obviously, I can’t afford to do that on the regular but these are the experiences that make life worthwhile. I’m willing to push out my ‘financial independence’ goal to spend some of that money now.

Balance is Key

I don’t want you to think that I’m giving you a free pass to seize the day and say ‘screw you’ to your future self. Not at all. You need to balance things out.

Emilie summed up exactly what I’m talking about. You want to live the good life now, and later.

Debt is Never the Answer

If you are reaching for your credit card (and not just for the points) to pay for that thing you really want, then it’s time to re-evaluate. Wants are not needs and they are not worth going into debt for.

The problem with using your credit card to pay for a want is that it costs you so much more than the face value. Let’s use my Oiler’s tickets as an example. I paid $700 for the pair of tickets. If I charged that $700 to my credit card and only paid the minimum each month, it would cost an additional $1,258 in interest and take 15 years to pay off. Yes, that $700 would turn into $1,958. I love you McDavid, but that’s a hard no.

But Sarah, I’d never pay only pay the minimum. Ok, even if you put $100 towards that credit card bill each month, you would still have an extra $50 in interest, and it would take eight months to pay off. Ouch.

Relying on debt to fund your lifestyle means the true cost of an item is significantly higher than the listed price. Think about that before swiping.

Saving Comes First

Setting money aside for retirement is not optional, even if it’s thirty years down the road. Make that, and any other savings goals you have a priority by setting contributions up to run automatically. I have automatic savings set-up to go towards my retirement (RRSP), a new home or major renovation (TFSA), a travel fund (savings account) and a fun money savings account. The day after my pay cheque gets deposited into my bank account all those contributions go through and I never even see the money. Manually doing those each month makes it too easy to forget or make up excuses. Automation is a gamechanger.

Ensuring your future self is taken care of is key to fulfilling that happy now, happy later lifestyle we’re working towards.

Fun Money Fund

I mentioned above that I make automatic contributions to what I call my ‘fun money fund‘. Socking money away to splurge on myself might sound weird, but it makes perfect sense for me. This is where I go to pay for those expensive tickets, or that new summer dress, or that expensive dinner. Instead of going into debt or sacrificing my savings, I built fun money into my budget. I can’t say yes to everything because sometimes the ‘fun money fund’ is running on empty but if there’s money there then I can spend at will.

To Sum Up

If you’re struggling with frugality because you think it’s the path to successful finances then stop. It’s only one of many tools you can use to get there. Instead, focus on what’s important to you and let go of everything else. To some that might be frugal, but to me, it’s about striking a balance between the now and the future.

Stop trying to fit into someone else’s personal finance mould and work instead on creating your own. 

I’m curious what your thoughts are on frugality? How do you define it and do you consider yourself frugal? 

Frugal living is not for everyone. How I embrace my spendy-ness and still make my money work.

This post was proofread by Grammarly.

Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst


  1. This is such a different perspective than what we’re used to seeing in the personal finance space and I absolutely love it! I think frugality has an image problem. I would consider myself frugal because I’m not willing to spend money on things that are not important to me. But maybe that doesn’t make me frugal? Maybe I’m another word that I can’t think of?

    I’m also with you on the FI, optional RE. I may be interested in one, but not the other.

    P.S. your devotion to the Oilers is amazing. If the Leafs make it through this round, I might have to get on a plane to Toronto.

    • Sarah Reply

      I will 100% support your decision to go catch a game in Toronto!

      And I think we need a new word too. Frugal has taken on almost a negative connotation and I think that’s why some people (me) don’t like the association.

  2. I am all about FI. But I really struggle with the idea of EVER wanting to leave teaching. I would say that I’m frugal because I’m cautious or prudent with my money (FINALLY!).

    Honestly, I feel a little sad for people who make themselves miserable slogging it out for a decade or two to then find happiness. I would much rather make my passion my work now for less pay. But that’s just what works for me 🙂

    • Sarah Reply

      Yes, yes, yes! You know that’s what works for me too. I know that some people have terrible jobs but work isn’t always bad, sometimes you can love it.

  3. Hey Sarah – I have to admit I use the word frugal occasionally, and I don’t think it has a negative connotation.

    I’ll all for aligning spending to your values, and spending money where it brings you joy.

    Also – plain? Why do people use this as a negative word? I get the impression it has sexist origins.

    • Sarah Reply

      I’m sure you’re right about plain. When I think of plain it makes me think of boring, but it really shouldn’t.

  4. Agree 1000%

    My Jets tickets & month long trip to Brazil for World cup are 2 things I know I will never regret. Same with going out for dinners with friends, vacations and fancy cocktails. Life is short – pay yourself first so you can retire early if you want – but you have to enjoy life now too!

  5. Hmmm. This had me wondering if I was frugal or not too…although I use that word and minimalism to describe myself and choices I do not think I can adhere to either form of owning one spoon or diving in a dumpster.
    Balance and living life now is totally key and I think in this community it can be seen as a righteous and proper path to become focused on scarcity and deprivation. While good at times for debt pay off,not all the time. Thank you for sharing and the thoughtfulness of this post.

    • Sarah Reply

      Thanks Bethany, I appreciate the comment. I think being in the personal finance community sometimes skews our views on certain things, and I think frugality and minimalism both fit into that. I’m fine with throwing out the labels and fitting into my own box…whatever that turns out to be.

  6. Love this!

    I am not very frugal when it comes to big experiences either. I think it depends on what you value. I have spent $5000 on month long trips before and don’t regret a thing.

    My husband has followed the Caps since he was 14. If they can beat the Penguins and make it to a west coast game we’ll be checking it out hopefully!

  7. Spending $700 on a game isn’t classically frugal, sure. But most of the rest of what you talked about is. And frugality is really about living carefully — but not in every single aspect of life. I like my mom’s definition which is saving where you can to spend on what matters. Like, say, an Oilers game. So… Sorry to tell ya, but you are in fact frugal. Of course, that doesn’t touch whether you consider yourself frugal. But I think you ought to give yourself permission. Granted, this comes from a very non-traditionally frugal person.

    • Sarah Reply

      Thanks Abigail, I like your non-traditionally frugal ways 😉 And I love your mom’s definition. It certainly aligns better with my thinking.

  8. Honestly for me I do avoid many things that cost money but have found endless things to do that replace that spending. The synonyms provided in your definition from google are the ones I focus on… economical, careful, cautious.
    That being said it sounds like you have found the perfect balance and I say keep rocking it!

  9. FINALLY! A financial blogger who truly speaks to me. I’m all about no debt, saving for the future, *and* spending on what matters to me now when I have the cash for it. Scrimping & deprivation is not truly living life.

    • Sarah Reply

      Hooray, happy to hear that the info was relevant to you and that we have the same feelings on such things! Thanks for stopping by Trystan 🙂

  10. I’m totally on the same page with you here. We have a set savings rate, avoid debt, pay our bills, and the rest goes to living our life. We do place additional focus on spending money on things that make us happy, which is key.

  11. I completely agree with your approach. “Balance” works best for me as being too frugal seems like punishment. Overall, I believe in spending on the few things that really matter to you and being frugal about things that are less important to you. I’ve been extra frugal at times when I was saving for a house or something specific, but in general balance works best for me

    • Sarah Reply

      Balance is so important for me when it comes to money, and pretty much everything else if I think about it. I’m not good and putting limits on myself, it almost always results in an unnecessary splurge down the road.

  12. Frugality combined with compounding interest is a “force multiplier” or in the case of FIRE a “time reducer.” If FI or RE or both are you goal(s), frugality will allow you to achieve it faster.

    Like many things, people will take things to extreme. Many FIRE bloggers have become Extreme Frugality bloggers. I think there is a bit of social cache or FOMO in people claiming to adopt frugality.

    What I have found is that if you cut something from your budget, give it 6 months or a year. If you are still missing the service/thing you cut then it is probably more than a luxury. It’s closer to a necessity. Most times, I don’t miss the thing I stopped paying for. Sometimes, I appreciate the additional savings more than what I cut.

    Frankly you sound like a spendthrift to me. Let me ask this: does that Oilers playoff game still resonate with you? Most experiences like that are fleeting. Today you are willing to spend $700, next year you say the $700 is well spent but at some point, you forget 95% of the game and you have to wonder how important it really was.

    • Sarah Reply

      I might forget 95% of the game but I would still argue it was worth the cost. Obviously, I could have done something more practical with my money but that’s not really how I operate and if it means I don’t hit FI as fast I’m ok with it.

      I appreciate your take and think the wait 6 month tip is smart.

  13. I agree completely with the goal of striking some balance between saving for the future and enjoying life in the present, regardless of whether you want to retire early or not. I personally love the word “frugalish” instead of frugal, which I use to describe my approach to money. I am definitely aware of my spending and make choices based on my priorities (yes to eating out and travel; no to expensive clothing and fancy cars), and I spend waaaaay less than most physicians. But I also am willing to spend significant amounts of money on things I value (like a housekeeper).

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