Frugality on the Fun Meter of Life

I was not born with a natural bent toward frugality. Everything in me cries out to spend, acquire, spend, achieve, amass, spend, spend, spend! I am drawn to the extraordinary, the luxurious and the unique. I live with visions of grandeur and opulence. My fondest dreams include tailored clothing, domestic staffs, $600 silk bed sheets, manicured gardens, rich Italian leather, exotic cars, limousines and private jets. That’s just how I am.

For me, practicing frugality is not really fun. Oh, there’s an occasional situation when scrimping might be slightly amusing, but on the fun meter of life, planning and budgeting, paring down, doing without when it seems that everyone else in the world is prospering beyond belief — none of that can hold a candle to carefree shopping and living as if money were no object. Self-imposed financial limits are confining and often prevent the spontaneity and excitement of reckless abandon involving unlimited funds.

My dilemma is that I do not have the means to indulge in a lifestyle equal to my natural-born tendencies. Those of you familiar with my story know that my feeble attempts to play out my natural tendencies landed me in a lot of trouble. I took the treacherous path of incurring debt to acquire things I couldn’t afford. Living under mountains of ever-growing debt is not living; it feels like dying.

So if living naturally brings pain but living frugally isn’t fun, is there any hope for the unnatural frugal type? Yes! It requires new behaviors. Voluntarily.

Attitude is key. If you can change your attitude, everything else will follow. No one can do that for you because unless there is a heart change from deep inside, the behavior change will be neither genuine nor permanent. Here are some baby steps you can take to start the change.


The fear of feeling poor keeps many of us entrapped in financial bondage because the shopping and spending produce a false sense of richness. Both feelings are unfounded. Unless you are a permanent resident of Burundi (one of the poorest countries in the world), you probably have no idea what “poor” really is.

Frugality is a smart and dignified activity. It takes the ability to reason and apply self-discipline. Never forget that while you may not have it all, you have enough. And that’s more than many people in this world can say.


Non-frugal types often suffer from major cases of the I-wants whenever they find themselves within the vicinity of a mall or other commercial establishment, often resulting in compulsive purchasing. If this describes you, try a little shopping self-talk. Instead of coveting and envying every wonderful thing you see, assure yourself that if these things were really necessary (such as a kidney transplant or milk for the baby), you could find a way to purchase them. The necessity test usually dismisses the matter right then and there.

If the desire still lingers, make yourself consider what would be required if all those things really were yours. There’d be cleaning and maintenance, repairs and dusting, insuring and fueling and worrying about the possibility of theft, to say nothing of all of the packing required should you ever decide to move.

By the time you get through that exercise, you should be sufficiently exhausted and thankful that you can enjoy those beautiful things without committing to ownership. Personally, I have many wonderful things that I “store” in the lovely shops at a local fancy-schmancy mall. They are well taken care of and I can visit anytime I want.


I recently met a man whose wife works in a Nevada casino. She would put a roll of quarters into a slot machine every workday. He showed her that her weekly $50 could pay for the boat she really wanted in just two years if she would simply put the quarters in a savings account rather than in an electronic bandit. They now have their paid-for boat and she’s saving for her next dream, having given up the slots completely. It was just a change of attitude.

For me, practicing frugality is not always fun the way it must be for you natural-born tightwads. Actually, it’s rarely fun. But the results are so well worth the effort that I will never go back to the pain of living beyond my ability to pay. I haven’t bounced a check in 34 years. I have savings and investments. I buy with cash. I have no credit card debt. I don’t dread evening phone calls and I no longer have to hide the mail and shopping bags.

Now that I think about it, there are many things I’ve been called to do in my life that aren’t particularly fun — such as dental visits, childbirth, cleaning toilets and weeding. But so far, I’ve not been excused simply because I don’t like them. I enjoy the results so much, I willingly repeat these activities over and over again. Except for the childbirth!

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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