Saturday, April 4

Frugality vs Utility

Live a little!While a lot of us would agree that frugality is good, and a lot of people need to be frugal during periods of economic risk, there are still good reasons to spend a little bit more than you absolutely have to.

I'm talking about utility. What is the value of the item that you purchase? What is it going to contribute to your lifestyle?

Here are some examples to consider:

Purchase Alternatives

TunaNo Name: Save two or three cents per can. Pungent odor.Brand: Costs a few extra cents. Normal odor.
TableSkip It: No workspace. Continue to use coffee table. Inconvenient.Buy It: Convenient workspace. Extends budget.
TiresAll Season: Save money on winter tires. Less traction. Mediocre on snow. Risk.Snow Tires: Significant expense. Great on snow and ice. Safety.
BoozeAbstain: Save money. Deal with life au naturel.Drink Responsibly: Costs money. Relaxing. Promote enjoyable conversations.
VitaminsSkip It: Eat healty food. Save money. Miss potential benefits.Buy It: Additional nutrients and antioxidants. Potential health benefits.

If you can't unclench the wallet (thought I was going to say something else?) and appreciate some added utility from time to time then maybe you are letting frugality get the best of you. I know my frugal nature was born of hard times, but when those times pass you have to take the foot off the brakes and start to think about utility, value for money and even enjoyment of life. I've seen this problem in myself and I've seen it in some of the visitors to my blog.

I'm not advocating wastefulness, but at the same time we aren't here on the planet to spend as little as absolutely possible during our stay. Nobody is going to give you a prize at the end for being too cheap to enjoy life.

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Anonymous said...

Great post!! If we dont' buy some treats there will be no jobs. We have to splurge here and there. I bought some of those new Soft Scrub cleaning spongies that are real nifty, some brand name Pepsi and stuff like that ect.. to do my part. If you can't live an little why die like Scrooge and keep people unemployed? You can't take it with you when you go. Besides booze is a great stress reliever lol

Anonymous said...

We had a relative die recently that treated himself like crap. He never got himself the goodies he desserved unless someone got them for him. He could have lived a much better longer life if he just showed himself a little love. Once you are gone you are gone. Go out to eat once in awhile, get you some nice shoes, get that cd you wanted and buy a smile or some fun for once everyone. You could provide jobs to people and have fun. Besides they will start stealing from you and thefts do not help the bottom line.

Jan said...

Of course, living "better" is all in the eye of the beholder, but I'm surprised by some of this post and especially the comments. Name brand tuna costs much more than a few cents a can (.40 where I live)and smells no different to me and my family. I guess my point is, truly frugal people don't have to change their lifestyle when tough economic times hit-they have real savings and don't have to live in response to big companies' folly. Don't get me wrong-my DH buys beer with no argument from me. Perhaps I have more quarrel with the comments-Pepsi doesn't employ more people to bottle than off brand soda, and our economy will never get genuinely better if it is based on spending more than we have to spend. That's how real estate got so messed up, people! Give to charities who will spend to feed hungry children if you have money to burn-they employ people and buy goods to save human beings. Or buy to encourage environmental responsibility-that creates jobs to save our planet.
In short, make sure utility IS utility, and not just a thrill.

Jan said...

O.K., I feel really guilty now...reading more of your blog I see you aren't faux frugal ;). I guess the tuna set me off! I was really railing against the comments. I am impressed with your site.

Anonymous said...

Jan the more money spent on products the better jobs and benefits it creates. IF you really enjoy a certain product spluring won't harm you. You only live once enjoy yourself. People don't need charity. They need jobs, education and ect.. One free meal will not solve the economy. What difference will your savings make when you are dead in a grave?

Frugal Guy said...

Anons, Jan,

Thanks for the comments.

Obviously, I'm not always in agreement with everything my readers think -- witness the economic and political posts -- but I'm not too concerned with varied points of view.

For example, I don't think spending just to try to push on the economy is something I'd do, but I know there are some (perhaps many) who feel that way.

Based on my time blogging about frugal issues I know there are some hardcore people out there with very severe attitudes towards frugality and use of money.

Somewhere there is an appropriate balance... but I'm not sure it matters what any one person thinks the appropriate balance is.

Anyway, welcome, and keep the comments coming!

Anonymous said...

There is this old boring miser who is so cheap he will not replace his underwear with holes you can see through his clothes and racing stripes because, he does not buy bleach. Boy does he stink. He has holes in his shoes, bad teeth, grease ball hair, a crappy car, an ugly rv he lives in, crappy food, no fun, no pets, no wife and is worse than the father on the old Beverly Hillbillies show. What a wasted life but, he does have a $2,000,000 bank account. Whoopy crap he will be dead soon and the money will go unclaimed. He needs decent stuff and a vaction. When will you misers who pubish yourselves see? Will your headstone read Here lies a miserable miser who lived like the homeless and suffered for no damn reason at all. I sure hope not. Golly gee!!

Anonymous said...

Frugality isn't misery if you're consciously choosing less expensive items (or abstaining altogether) in order to "purchase" more valuable assets, such as a secure retirement or quality time with your kids.

Even amongst the most frugal of the frugal, I think most would agree the greasy-haired gentleman in the trailer may suffer from psychological malaise. On the other hand, if he's showered and has that $2m wad stashed in 529 college saving plans for his grandkids, we'll probably laud his efforts.

Hey frugal guy ... what's wrong with generic tuna? And why -buy- a kitchen table when so many people leave perfectly good ones that only need a screw or two to tighten up the legs and perhaps a quick coat of polyurethane out to the curb or sell it at a yard sale?

Talk about tradeoffs ... we're the only tightwads in our snooty neighborhood with a simple home, no granite countertops, no lawn service, thrift shop clothing and "Early Yard Sale" period furnishings, but on the other hand we've also got the only house directly abutting the wildlife refuge with a view of the ocean. I'll gladly eat generic tuna and sleep on my yardsale bedroom set every day of the week in order to wake up to that magnificent pink sunrise over the ocean every morning :-) Perhaps the gentleman in the trailer simply values the beauty and solitude of living simply in a private area over living in a McMansion?

Frugal Guy said...


Those are good questions, if perhaps a little obnoxious, and I'll answer them for you.

First, my family is now a double income family with a small child. When I started the blog years ago I was a single guy who was living off a very small income. So, we have some disposable income but we certainly don't have much free time.

With that as the background, I find some of my decisions changing.

As for the tuna, the one brand available here legitimately stinks, so I'm willing to pay a bit extra to not use it... especially since we supplement pet food and it lies around a while.

You make your choices and I'll make mine. ;)

As for the table, the one I picked up was pretty cheap. It's not "furniture" quality that's for sure. However, it works.

So, I'm saving for my son's college education, I'm paying down my bills, and from time to time, in this situation, I also choose to spend money on things based on preference and utility.

Perhaps it would make sense to not come across as judgmental on the spending habits of others... merely applying your own metrics as suitable for your situation?

Jan said...

I'm confused and disappointed that those of us who are sticking up for real frugality on a "Frugal Guy"'s blog are termed obnoxious.

Frugal Guy said...


I said the questions were obnoxious, not you, nor the person who posted them.

I have a problem with the concept of "real frugality" and the "us vs them" mentality it creates.

Similarly, if you care to, you'll see I have problem with pointing out that "someone" could or does have it worse than another when they share their story.

Frugality is not a contest. It's not about being more frugal or better than another. It's about finding ways to achieve more with less.

Where people draw the lines, or cross the lines, is a personal issue. The fact that I'm no longer unemployed and living off the last ounces of my available credit isn't a bad thing.

Now I practice voluntary frugality instead of forced frugality. Some of my readership, those still enduring forced frugality, may not like to hear about the choices I make these days.

Heck, I've even blogged about this frustration on my own part in the past!

In short, I believe it is an obnoxious question when a reader chooses to get in someones face about the choices them make according to their own situation. I'm not sure it is anyones business why I prefer one locally available brand of tuna over another.

Shock, horror, but I also buy expensive vitamins, and did so even during my period of very low income. What a wastrel am I! Or, perhaps, I value my health very highly?

Let each of us make our own choices. If you cannot stand to read about someone who is making choices concerning frugality from a voluntary standpoint, I'm sorry, but I'm not willing to be destitute just to satisfy those who have been with me through tough times.

Yo Prinzel said...

This is a great post....but I don't see insurance on your grid. That is one expense that many people forgo that, in my opinion, should never be skipped.

Anonymous said...

Hey frugal guy ... when I asked what was wrong with generic tuna, I was being facetious (maybe I should have put a smiley face next to that sentence)? Since I tend to drown it in lots of mayonnaise, celery and onions it's hard to taste the difference. My no-compromise item is the mayonnaise ... it's either Hellman's or nothing or all.

Frugal Guy said...


No worries... too bad I didn't catch that!

It raised an issue though. The whole idea of the incompatibility of frugality by necessity and frugality by choice.

Why can't we all just get along... ;)

save said...

A frugal living doesn't exclude buying the things you need. People should start realizing that more consumption doesn't mean more happiness. Savings can help you live an independent life, especially in times of crisis.

M. Williams said...

Frugal Guy, speaking of frugality and utility, would you be so kind as to consider adding a blog entry about my site: It is a tool for creating, saving, and printing your grocery list online. It also estimates your total before you go. My inspiration was my frugal wife, for whom I created the site so that she could manage her grocery spending more easily. Thanks for your consideration in advance!

GutsyWriter said...

I find your blog very interesting especially after my family, including 3 sons, decided to move to Belize to live a simple life. Our year in a 3rd world country taught us so much about cutting back, mainly out of necessity. We're back in California and have been able to continue with our core values.

Wendy Thomas said...

Great post. As a mom of 6 kids I've found this to be so true. If a food product costs less but the kids won't eat it because of taste then no money is saved.

Frugal Guy said...

Thanks for the comments - especially those of a supportive nature!

Barb said...

I must say I am amused at the notion that we "should" buy unnecessary things (a/k/a "treats") on the grounds that this will provide jobs. Huh? Since when is it a good idea to throw money around irresponsibly in the hope that it'll somehow do some good? Isn't that what the government is for?

Another good chuckle is provided by this whole "MY Frugality is better than YOURS!" attitude. Some folks seem to have lost sight of the fact that different households have differing needs, and that people's needs and wants change with the passage of time. Also, this is still America - at least it was when I got up this morning - and we all have the right to make our own decisions. We do not have an Official List of Acceptable Choices (at least not yet...), so if I would rather put my extra bucks in a savings account than "feed starving children" (the PC Thing To Do), that's my business and nobody else's. It does not make me a Scrooge anymore than your giving 5 bucks to the soup kitchen makes you a Saint.

ben said... conducted a study among 222 viewers of a news clip on frugal living. Results found that in the past year, the key areas that consumers have cut spending in are dining out (81%) and personal luxuries (79%). Among the other top areas that consumers reported having cut back on included buying clothing/accessories (69%) and vacations/travel (62%). In addition, 47% reported that they have sold personal items to earn extra money, and 22% indicated that they have worked more overtime or picked up extra shifts at work.
More in depth results can be seen at: