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My FI Journey » Reflections » Five Common Frugal Styles (pros and cons)

Five Common Frugal Styles (pros and cons)

708589_saleFrugality 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?

1. Haggler

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?

 

3. Thrifter

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.

 

Conclusions

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?

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21 Responses to "Five Common Frugal Styles (pros and cons)"

  1. All I do is haggle, but it’s really called “negotiation”.

    I don’t hate it when it saves me money.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I’ve never been an extrovert and haggling just isn’t in my blood. If you can do it that’s great. Just don’t be obnoxious. I’ve got one friend who will haggle over everything. He’d haggle over a box of Cheerios if the Wal-Mart cashier cared enough to bargain with him.

  2. I used to be fairly averse to haggling, but I had a job like you that required it to a certain level. I am much more comfortable doing it now and it you’re courteous about it you can usually get a little something out of it.

    1. MFIJ says:

      Over the last year I’ve gotten a bit more bold in haggling over the big things. As this job forces me to take on lots of new rolls, it’s been interesting to see my interaction style changing. This probably means that things like haggling are skills that can be learned. I wish there was some way to quantify this. It would make a great blog post in a couple of years.

  3. All through this article I was thinking “What about people who just don’t buy things?” and there I was at the end! I don’t care for the term cheapskate, though! Maybe I’m more on the minimalist side. It’s not about the money for me so much as it is that I just don’t want a lot of things or feel the need to upgrade stuff we have that works well still. When I do buy things I prefer to buy mid-to-high quality.

    My husband is, I suppose, closest to a bargain hunter. But your examples to me seem like bargains that can be found the next time you go out shopping, which is not his style. He’ll research purchases and track prices for months or a year and swoop in when he sees a great deal on something he knows he wants. He doesn’t buy things he isn’t sure he wants (maybe that is my influence).

    1. MFIJ says:

      I don’t like the term cheapskate either, but all minimalists I know decorate their minimalism with some kind of obnoxious philosophy – none of which resonate with me. So I go with cheapskate because I think it’s more accurate.

  4. Pauline says:

    I hate haggling too. In my town there are a few chain stores with no prices on the items! And they do have wiggle room to bargain it down. I hate it because you need the advisor to come with you and ask the price of every single product, and they are trying to give you the 25% APR payment plan. One guy even tried to sell me life insurance with a mattress! So you never know what things cost. Last time I bought a fridge from the supermarket instead of those stores, at least the price was written on it.

    1. MFIJ says:

      If your mattress comes with a recommended life insurance policy, I’m forced to wonder about the quality of the mattress.

  5. greg says:

    ” but that it largely deprives you actually enjoying life”

    No, would deprive *you* of such things, but is fine for me. Why can’t people just live with a difference of opinion? As Von Mises points out, everybody pursues happiness in the way they think is best. One can not judge such things except on the merits of effectiveness in achieving the ends sought.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I have a close relative who is super cheap. And also miserable. Not spending money hasn’t made him happy and even contributed to ruining his marriage. Yes, it’s possible to be so cheap that you’re actually stifling to be around. I’d be inclined to agree with Von Mises and you, but I’ve personally witnessed the downsides of being too cheap. So there is a cautionary tale to be told about not wrecking your life to save a buck.

  6. I consider myself more of an analyzer. While I have bits of all of these as well, mostly I spend a lot of time analyzing where the bleeding is happening and try to control that. I don’t worry too much about getting great deals on one-off purchases, but ongoing expenses are tracked and managed very closely.

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  9. SarahN says:

    I’ve haggled on big box store stuff – like mattress (got a free cover). I’ve never tried Ikea. Negotiation or haggling works if you’ll buy it at full price no matter – then you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain (just perhaps make sure they don’t know you’ll buy it anyhows!) Given my mother lives in a suburb of haggling natives, she haggles for handbags in boutiques, and it works!! Anyhow, nice post, and probably a handy reference sheet if you ever use any of these terms, which as a PF blogger, you surely will!

  10. I think I’m a mix of all of these besides #3. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. If I had to just choose one, I’d probably be a DIY-er. I enjoy learning how to do things myself and saving money in the process. I don’t normally call a professional unless I know I’m for sure in over my head.

  11. The condescending douchebag comment nearly caused a spit take. :) I agree that there’s sometimes a need for more tolerance among PF bloggers, especially when evaluating the spending choices of others.

    Thanks for this post — it’s helpful to consider our frugal behavior through these categories.

  12. David @ PBC says:

    This post on frugal styles is cool. The ability to haggle or bargain comes in handy especially when you are making purchases. besides, there is nothing wrong in negotiating. DIY is something that a lot of people do to save money. The style ultimately depends on the person who wants to be frugal.

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