How to Deal When You’re Forced to be Frugal

Throwing out Frugality

As Kermit the Frog once lamented, “It isn’t easy being green.” I think he was on to something, especially if you apply his wisdom to being frugal. For most of us, being frugal isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright dreadful. In a world where material objects and exuding a facade of inflated success on the exterior is prized, it can be a tough pill to swallow when you’re faced with being forced to be frugal.

My Tough Road to Frugality

I learned this all too well myself years ago when I was staring down a $14,000 credit card balance. For years I had spent my way into oblivion, but I luckily had a wake-up call the size of Texas one day. That day literally changed my life, as it was then that I committed myself to a new, more frugal lifestyle.

I also went cold turkey on my spendaholic ways, got my butt in gear about paying off my debt, and slayed my proverbial debt dragon in less than a year.  Along the way, I learned a thing or two about becoming a responsible consumer. Dare I say, a frugal consumer–one who was building a strong financial future for myself instead of being a slave to money for the rest of my life.

But don’t get me wrong–changing my ways wasn’t easy. It wasn’t sexy, or fun, or remotely enjoyable for a while. However, over the course of a few months, that began to change as I became more at ease with my new reality. Here are some of the things I learned along the way:

Embrace The Process

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been forced to become frugal by an external factor or you’ve just decided to make some changes proactively. If you don’t fully embrace your new reality, you won’t ever be able to maintain the new habits you put into place. As you work through each phase, remember that your goal is to keep moving forward despite any challenges or setbacks you have to overcome.

There will be good days and there will be bad days. The great news is that if you keep stepping forward, eventually the good will outweigh the bad.

Celebrate Small Successes

Maybe you’re no longer able to indulge in extravagant meals out. Perhaps you’ll have to scale back your gift-giving. You might even have to sell a car or your home. Rather than let yourself wallow in frustration and self-pity over what’s lost, concentrate your efforts on appreciating what you’ve gained: The ability to know (and respect!) your financial constraints, the strength to say ‘No’ when something doesn’t fit in the budget, and even the satisfaction of knowing you’re a strong person who can weather the storm no matter what life throws your way.

Celebrate the small wins (cooking a fantastic dinner at home at a fraction of the cost or choosing a free beach day instead of hitting up the mall with friends) as a way to motivate yourself. Take stock of your progress and use that information to catapult yourself forward.

Appreciate What Truly Matters in Life

At the end of the day, those things in the closet don’t hold a candle to the people and experiences in your life. There’s no shirt or suit or dress that’s going to hug and kiss you. There’s no car or vacation home that will keep you company when you’re feeling lonely. As you move towards embracing frugality, take some time to appreciate all of the non-monetary, non-materialistic joys in life.

Sure, you might have a tight budget but will that really prevent you from stopping to smell the roses? I certainly don’t think so…

What are your thoughts and opinions on living a frugal lifestyle?


Photo courtesy of: Stephen Depolo



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Jen is the owner of The Happy Homeowner, where she writes about living a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time. Previously, she paid off $14K in credit card debt in less than a year and hasn’t looked back since. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


  • Margaret Polino Nicholas says:

    I just am frugal because if I cut down in some areas I can indulge in other things I may want.

  • Wow I really enjoyed that last paragraph, and it’s so true. I was watching Million Dollar Listing: New York yesterday and when Hurricane Sandy hit and everything was out for a few days, he had no friends or family to go to and no one was trying to call him. He realized how lonely he was when work stopped and that he had no one. Relationships are such an important part of life; far more important than having a huge house or spending money on extravagant things.

    • Thanks! And thanks for sharing–such a powerful example of what the cost of materialism and workaholic tendencies can have on our well being. I feel sorry for people who can’t understand the necessity to instill even a wee bit of balance in their life–you never know when things could change in an instant!

  • pauline says:

    I like living a frugal lifestyle because there is no point in wasting more than you need. That said, if you are forced to extreme frugality, that can be tough. But there are tons of awesome free things, a hike, a sunset, the library, etc. it forces you to be resourceful and find more ways to make money go further.

  • Celebrating the small successes is pretty important. Especially if you’re making a drastic change like you ended up doing. I’m frugal where I can be because I’d rather take an awesome vacation with my wife and see the world than have 5 iPads, 4 TVs and 3 cars, even though I can currently afford those.

    • YES! I’m with you on the travel piece—I will happily sacrifice and cut back wherever I can in order to fill my life with memories and experiences (travel provides both) in lieu of material objects that I’ll lose interest in anyway. :)

  • We enjoy being frugal for a number of reasons: we like to have money if we need it, we choose to spend it on things we like, we don’t like clutter, and we like to conserve resources when possible…among other things.

    • Awesome list–I agree! I love the frugal aspects of my life now, but I wasn’t always that way. I think it’s interesting to post this in the PF world as opposed to outside of it because I knew most of us already enjoy the benefits of frugality rather than focusing on any perceived constraints.

  • I don’t mind being frugal/cheap whatever name people want to give it. I enjoy my lifestyle because it fits what my family wants and the goals we have set. Being able to have money to do things and to know that we are not struggling but building wealth and enjoying life while doing so is a goal of ours. I don’t feel the need to buy things just because other are doing so or because people think I should. Why waste money? I know people who buy a new TV every few years for no reason but its what makes them happy and I dont bother them about it. The funny thing is we aren’t being forced to be frugal we choose to be.

    • I love it! Good for you and for your family for being all onboard with a simpler, more whole way of living your financial life. I agree with all of it–having that peace of mind is something that took years to build. I’m happily frugal (and cheap!) to maintain it…

  • AverageJoe says:

    I think embracing the process really helps you celebrate the small wins. When you know every step, you realize how much each on matters!

  • Michelle says:

    We are starting to live a more frugal lifestyle and love it! :)

  • Matt Becker says:

    I think it all comes down to understanding what you truly value. If you can narrow your focus down to just the few things that are really important to you, it becomes easier to cut out some of the other stuff. It can be scary to think about losing things you’ve had for a long time, but most of the time I find that I barely miss them when they’re gone. We all have a lot we think we need, when the reality is that we’d be totally fine without it.

    • Excellent points–thanks for sharing. I’m currently reading a book, What Happy People Know, and it’s based on the premise that people most often let fear rule their lives–fear of not having enough and fear of not being enough. It’s a remarkable read and hits on some of things you’ve mentioned here. :)

  • “At the end of the day, those things in the closet don’t hold a candle to the people and experiences in your life” Amen! All the material possessions in the world do not bring happiness. True joy and peace comes from connecting with those closest to you.

  • Alexa says:

    I have always been fairly good with money. When I turned 18 I ran my credit cards up to $1,500 but that’s as much credit debt I’ve ever had. At about 20 I got really interested in pf and have been since then. In the last year my circumstances have forced be to be *extremely* frugal and it has been hard. I now have to watch every dollar I spend but I think it will only make me stronger in the long run.

  • It’s unfortunate when somebody is forced to be frugal, but it happens quite often; many people experience job loss and other things that force frugality.

    • Definitely–I’m always amazed by the stories I hear about how people had their financial epiphanies. Mine wasn’t good, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as some which gives me huge amount of perspective and drive to ensure I have a strong financial foundation now and in the future.

  • Keren says:

    “Appreciate what really matters in life.” — Brilliant.

  • The hardest part about being frugal for me is balancing my frugality with my desire to still be able to “hang out” with my friends. Most of them don’t live frugal lifestyles, so the events they want to participate are usually more costly (like golf).

    • I know exactly what you mean! I’ve fallen in and out of the “See and be seen” crowd in Boston and it’s a brutal balancing act sometimes. That being said, I enjoy standing my ground and being true to myself despite their attempts at influence :)

  • Sicorra says:

    Excellent post Jen! I am not a naturally frugal or thrifty person either so living on a tight budget has been a struggle for me. Some days it is easy because I can see the progress we are making but some days I simply wish we had more money.

    • Thank you! I think it’s always an ongoing roller coaster ride for all of us–even those who seem rock solid in their frugal resolves have times where temptation and outside factors influence their decisions. All part of being human, eh?

  • Justin @ The Family Finances says:

    My family chooses to be frugal so that my wife can stay home with our little boy. It’s all about cutting back on things that don’t mean much to you so that you can concentrate on what truly is important to you. In our case, this is my wife staying home with our son. Sure, there are times when we get tired of the “frugal” lifestyle, but overall we’re quite happy with it.

  • Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says:

    It’s not always easy being frugal, but it’s worth it. I think you bring up a great point that people need to be happy with what they have and not strive for the next materialistic item. I find that being tough for me at points because I’m always thinking about what I want next. It’s easy to wish away today and not realize how good we have it.

  • Chris @ Stumble Forward says:

    Great advice John. For us once we built our house we pretty much had no choice but to live a frugal lifestyle. No more ordering out, or buying things on the whim. I think this was easier for me than my wife but we’ve both learned to adjust over time.

  • I think frugal has such a bad stigma. I enjoy being frugal in some areas, so I can enjoy the others. That is the whole reason for being frugal for me. I don’t want to live with being frugal, just to save money. I want to be frugal, so I can enjoy other parts of my life.

  • I don’t mind being frugal. Once you get use to being frugal, you’ll be a lot less stressed. I think of it as a sacrifice to obtain the items or go places that we really enjoy.

  • Being frugal has never really been a choice for me, it was ingrained in me at a very young age so it’s always just come naturally (thanks mom!). I think the key is to focus your spending on the things you really value and be “cheap” with the things that you won’t truly miss.

  • I’m naturally frugal by nature, but I definitely took frugal to a whole new level when I was paying off my debt. Glad that I can relax a little now and not be quite as intense in my frugality 😉

  • Greg @ says:

    You’re definitely right that in the end, the material things don’t matter. For myself, the only reason I don’t mind being frugal is I am always paranoid that someone is putting one over on me. I never want to pay too much for something and then end up not purchasing anything.

  • Derek - says:

    Frugal is the way to go. Material things can never make you truly happy.

    Protect your cash and you’ll always come out ahead

  • Debbie says:

    I became frugal last September. Since then I’ve eliminated more than $6,000 in debt and put away $5,300. Being frugal allows me my small luxuries, buying a more expensive skein of yarn for that Christmas gift I’m making or anonymously buying someone’s lunch at Taco Bell on the rare occasion I go there. Those things bring me pleasure and being frugal gives me the opportunity to save more then 60% of my salary and still indulge myself occasionally.

  • You’ve got it absolutely right. Celebrate the small successes! I’ve been making a few dollars here and there, and it helps to recognize that I’m slowly getting a control on my budget.

  • Jen, excellent post!!! It’s not always easy to make those kind of drastic changes, but always, always worth it. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  • From undergoing a few years of extreme frugalness forced by studying full time while supporting myself, I have found that I am now content with less than I used to be. As the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I’m glad I don’t have to be so strict with my frugalness now, but there is comfort in knowing that I have got through it once and I could do it again if I had to.

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