Frugality, Can You Take the Frugal Life Too Far?

Frugality is all about not wasting resources. From the definition of frugality is:

Frugality: (n) the quality of being frugal, or prudent in saving; the lack of wastefulness

In the pursuit of financial independence and retiring early, living the frugal life is the key to achieving success. The lower your expenses, the less you need to save in order to achieve financial independence. By always keeping frugality in the back of our minds we are able to ensure that we are on the path to freedom. However, it may be taken too far at times.

 Frugality Lessons

When I headed off to work this morning, I was admonished for eating the last few spoonfuls of good yogurt around the part that was moldy. I didn’t want to throw it away because I made it myself and it takes a lot of time and ingredients to make a small amount of yogurt. To have it go bad drives me crazy, so I ate most of it anyways. I disregarded the possibility of getting sick from eating moldy food and ate it because I hate to throw good things away and I can’t stand to waste food.

I was raised in a frugal household and was taught that throwing food away is akin to a crime. You finish your food, no questions asked. We even had the “grit police” when we went camping. My sister and I were told that if we didn’t finish our grits in the morning, the “grit police” would come around and take us away!

Needless to say between the grit police and the food monitors on school field trips, it was ingrained in my psyche to not waste food. Not wasting food among many other things is part of frugality. I look back upon those days of the “grit police” and “ort” (leftover food) with fond memories, however maybe frugality is ingrained too deeply.

Extreme Frugality

To take frugality to the extreme you can go dumpster diving for your food and never have to buy food in your entire life. This is definitely possible and I have several friends that used to dumpster dive in college behind the grocery store. When you are a poor college student frugality comes natural. It is only when you have access to money that frugality then becomes a choice rather than a necessity. This post is for those that have the choice.

Is it possible to be too frugal?

Health is Important

You may be too frugal when your decisions for being cheap and frugal start to effect your health. If, like me, you don’t throw away food when it goes bad, but instead keep it and continue to eat around the bold you are playing with the odds on whether you will get sick or not.

Health is one of those things that you should not mess around with. Granted the US FDA regulations on food in a restaurant are a little stringent and at home it is perfectly okay to go outside the keep by dates marked, you should exercise your better judgement when bypassing their recommendations.

The least frugal thing that you can do is skimp on food or water or whatever else and drive yourself to get sick and end up in the hospital. Medical care in the US is outrageously priced and should be avoided at all costs. It may be world-class care, but you will go broke affording it. The frugal action in this case is to pay attention to the risks you are taking with your health. Health is of the utmost importance because nobody enjoys being sick. Sickness also leads to a quicker death of your financial independence dreams then anything else possibly could.

Since we have the choice to be frugal or not, we should make the wise choice to place our health first. This is not to say, that we should not take any risks in life.

Life without risk is simply not worth living.

However, proper risk management, acknowledging the risks you are taking will lead to a long and healthy life. If you go through life pursuing only the frugal path with no thought of the risk involved with your choices, then you are running down a dangerous path.

Minimalist Frugality

Pursuing financial independence can be very easy if you just don’t buy anything. Extreme frugality would be to never buy anything and just make do with the things you have. The Buddhist monks are an excellent example of extreme frugality and they seem perfectly happy. Their lifestyle works because they choose to separate themselves from society and live together in a monastery that takes care of them.

However, for the rest of us, we need to have some amount of things in order to satisfy our desires.  During your pursuit of freedom, if you do not buy things in order to reach financial independence quicker, then you may end up just prolonging your purchases and it all hits at once. You cannot squash your urges forever. Minimalism is a great concept and works out very well for pursuing financial freedom, however, if you simply do it to reach your end goal and don’t truly embrace it, it may come back to get you later. Frugality is only works if it fits your lifestyle and desires.

There must be a balance struck, as in everything. It is unfortunate that not everything is black and white. The world only seems to be made in shades of grey.

A Frugal Life

Mrs. Atypical brought to my attention that I can be too frugal at times. I have an aversion to doing activities that require a direct cost to participate. I love cycling, hiking, running, kayaking, and all kinds of outdoor activities. These are all free besides the cost of gear, which can sometimes be a one off purchase. When I am asked to go out to eat at various restaurants or head over to a charity concert, my first reaction generally is, “that costs too much.” Or my personal favorite, “I am not a charity.” During the pursuit of financial independence I put myself first. Once we are free, then we will give to charity.

This uber frugal attitude can distance you from friends. Many people invite their friends out to dinner at different restaurants and then split the bill. If you continually refuse these invitations because you do not want to spend the money you can be looked down upon. The invitations may also dry up and not come anymore. Mrs. Atypical told me that because others know we have money, they look at us with disdain because we do not want to spend it like they do. This is a side effect of frugality. Not everyone will understands. Actually, most will not understand.

The question you have to ask yourself in this situation is this: Are these people really my friends?

If you answer yes, then you should spend the money to enjoy yourself with them. You can always invite them over for dinner at your place and enjoy each others company. There are also many other activities you can do as friends that don’t cost anything. It seems, currently, that the only things other foreigners deem worthwhile in China cost money.

If you answer no, then you should look elsewhere for new friends. Other frugal friends are the best, but they seem to be few and far between.

I struggle with the balance of frugality and non-frugality, as do most frugal people. We must look inside ourselves to decide what is right. Happiness is the real goal.

In Conclusion

Generally, I do not worry too much about the risk of my actions, but I got a waking up call this morning as I ate my moldy yogurt. Pursuing a life of freedom and happiness is the ultimate goal, but on the way and while free, you should still keep in perspective your own mortality. Health is too important to not pay attention to. Financial independence and retiring early and the pursuit of such causes many of us to go to the extremes to make it a reality. We all want to achieve it as soon as possible for our own personal reasons. In that pursuit, we may opt to cut corners that should not be cut. Just keep in mind that every action has risk associated with it and that frugality taken too far can actually be harmful to your pursuit of happiness.

Have you ever taken frugality too far? I know I have. Let me know in the comments.

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  1. Interesting post. I’ve always been a natural saver -some people say I’m stingy but I like to think of it as frugal. I personally would rather stress less and live a simpler life. I enjoy the basic pleasures of hanging out with friends, home cooked food and keeping healthy and active especially walking and playing pickleball (much less $ than a gym membership).
    Matt recently posted…Best Pickleball Paddles For Spin | 2017 Paddle ReviewsMy Profile

    1. Me too. I enjoy the basic pleasures, plus of course cycling (not so basic of a pleasure). Riding the line between frugal and cheap is a constant battle, but it makes life so much more fulfilling.

  2. Shelley Jones

    Umm…eating food that is moldy and might be too frugal…friends like to spend time together…sometimes going out and sometimes hanging at each others houses…are you trying to bring moldy food to these events? If your wife is telling you that you are too frugal you might be. Listen friends that want you to go somewhere super expensive might not be your friend if they know your frugal…but if the want to go to Chili’s and you are always saying no…too frugal..and they might give up on you …Finally thought eating moldy food…getting sick then having to go to the doctor or worse hospital….is going to cost you way more then just buying fresh food.

    1. Indeed moldy food is a touchy subject for many people. And no, I don’t bring moldy food over to people’s houses. That would be ridiculous.

      It really is all about balance. Finding the right balance of frugality/cheapness that works for you and doesn’t hurt you nor scare everyone else away.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. I can definitely take it too far sometimes as well – though usually on the “better for the environment” side of things (like taking 2+ hours to bus somewhere just because I’m determined not to take my car). I’ll eat around moldy cheese, but not sure about yogurt 😉

    1. Nice. We all have our secret frugal habits that may be a little much. Its a step in the right direction when we admit it to ourselves. Cheese is simply too expensive to throw out! It’s mold anyways, right?

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The line between being cheap, unhealthy and dangerous, and being frugal is thin.  It is definitely possible to take frugality too far. Sometimes it takes the ones closest to you to show you.