Frugality is just a tool for saving additional money. Almost all of us can find ways to save a bit more more money. And judging by the savings rates of people in the US, we need to be far more focused on saving money than we currently are. Below, I have briefly summarized the pros and cons of five different commonly encountered varieties of frugality. Which one are you?
While most people including myself, hate haggling over prices, some people love to bargain. In their minds everything is negotiable. And they will negotiate until the other party breaks down and gives them a deal.
Places where haggling can save you money:
- Cars - Cars often have some negotiating room in the price. You might be able to get the car for a little less than advertised, or you might be able to get some extra features.
- Cable TV and internet - While this does involve wading through several levels of phone trees and customer service reps outsourced to India, many companies do have leeway to offer you reduced prices.
- Houses (rents and mortgages) - In the world of real estate, everything is negotiable. You can negotiate a lower purchase price for a home or a lower rent for your apartment.
Places where haggling makes you look bad:
- Chain stores of any kind - Prices are set by corporate offices and the employees often have no control over how much something costs. They also have no incentive to help you since they usually get paid the same either way.
Personal opinion: I hate haggling, as it makes me uncomfortable. Unfortunately, my opinion doesn’t matter. In my current job I work with a lot of outsourced vendors. Rather surprisingly to me, there is a lot of room to haggle with contract work. And I am strongly encouraged to haggle the price down. I’m now finding that I’m starting to automatically ask for discounts.
2. Bargain Hunter
Some people have an almost uncanny ability and desire to save 10 cents here, 25 cents there, and a dollar somewhere else. Be it though the use of coupons, savvy sales shopping, or the ever popular price book, all that change saved adds up over time.
Places where bargain hunting can save you money:
- Grocery stores - If you’re willing to put in the effort going though all the sales papers, cutting coupons, and adjusting your weekly menu accordingly, you can save a lot of money.
When bargain hunting can make you look bad:
- Extreme couponing - Unless you are hosting a massive party, there is absolutely no reason, ever, to buy 24 bottles of mustard just because you can get them for free. Leave some for the next shoppers.
Personal opinion: Rarely do I ever bargain hunt. If I stumble across some great deal, I’ll take advantage of it. To do otherwise would be foolish. But clipping coupons, and scheduling my shopping trips like they were military maneuvers takes too much effort, and frankly bores me. The one area that I will regularly bargain hunt is vegetable shopping. Seriously, why the hell do vegetables cost so much outside of an ethnic market?
A thrifter is my catch all term for people who frequent second hand stores, pawn shops, consignment shops, garage sales, flee markets, etc. To be fair, there are some great finds to be had at these places. I have personally dropped off some nice items at the Salvation Army store during a pre-move downsizing. On the other hand, I’ve also dropped off a lot o crap.
Where thrifting can save you money:
- Clothing - If you have a good eye for style and quality, a thrift store is a veritable gold mine of inexpensively priced garments.
- Houseware - If you’re the kind of person who can take a random pile of mismatched dinnerware and somehow make it look artsy, thrift stores can be a great place to hang out.
Where thrifting makes you look bad:
- Lack of understanding of quality - If you have a hard time discerning quality items (especially clothing) from not so quality items, stay out of thrift stores. Lest it will be obvious that you buy all your clothes at a second hand shop.
- Dumpster diving - If you’re living above the poverty line, there is no excuse for this. None.
Personal opinion: You need to make a habit of frequenting thrift shops in order to get the best finds. You never know when the good stuff will show up, and you need to be ready to pounce when it does. All this equates to entirely too much effort for my tastes. I don’t have the right personality to want to make repeat visits to a store waiting for something to show up.
4. Do It Yourself (DIY)-er
Places where DIY can save you money:
- Home and car maintenance and repairs - If you’re handy around the house or around a vehicle, you can save tons of money by doing your own maintenance and repairs.
Places where DIY makes you look like bad:
- Hair cuts - If you have a technically difficult haircut (ladies, this includes most of you) doing it at home is probably a recipe for disaster.
- Unfinished projects - When I was a kid, we had entire rooms that were essentially non-usable for years as my parents sat around not finishing some DIY renovation. If you’re never going to finish the project, either don’t do the project or pay someone else to do it for you.
Places where you should NEVER DIY anything:
- If there is a risk of serious personal injury, pay someone else. I will NOT go on a roof, ever. The risk of injury, and the results of that injury (broken bones, paralysis) is just too great.
Personal opinion: Outside of cooking or most things involving a computer, I keep DIY stuff to a minimum. I simply don’t have the skills to do my own home or car repairs. I’m certain that I could learn, but I lack a mentor who can tell me important things like how to change the oil in my car without wrecking something important. Finally, having a one bedroom apartment, I lack sufficient workspace to do most DIY activities.
5. Cheapskate / Minimalist
How could I forget the people who just plain hate parting with money. I’ve got cheapskate tendencies myself that I spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to fight off. The only real distinction between cheapskates and minimalists is that the minimalist has coated his or her cheapness with a thick layer of possibly sophomoric philosophy and rationalization. Pro-tip: Just admit that you’re cheap, don’t try to intellectualize it.
Where being a cheapskate can save you money:
- Everywhere - If you’re averse to the concept of spending money, you will wind up saving money on everything.
Where being a cheapskate makes you look bad:
- Everywhere - Most cheapskates (I’ll count myself among these) don’t necessarily know when it’s time to stop guarding the wallet and actually spend some money. Whether it’s just living the good life or spending money to get something done faster and more efficiently, cheapskates generally have a hard time with it.
- The moment you start being a condescending douchebag - There are plenty of wasteful people out there who spend themselves into debt buying iCrap and spinning rims. But just because most people don’t like to eat vegetarian diets, line dry their underwear, ride bicycles, take cold showers, or keep their houses frigid in winter, or otherwise live like a Chinese peasant to save a buck doesn’t make them wasteful stupid people. Pro tip: Being cheap doesn’t entitle you to be a condescending douchebag.
Personal opinion: I was raised by cheap parents. I consider myself a recovering cheapskate. My experience has been that being cheap certainly helps you save all kinds of money, but that it largely deprives you actually enjoying life. Especially if your version of enjoyment ever involves leaving the house and doing anything other than taking a walk.
There isn’t a best style of frugality. But there is a best style or combination of styles for your personality and situation. Sometimes you should step out of your comfort zone and explore other styles, like I’m forced to do with haggling. You might save a buck. But as with all forms of frugality, you have be to careful not to sacrifice, quality of life or relationships to save a dollar.
Readers: What’s your frugal style(s)? Which style(s) do you avoid?