Day 16: Frugal Out of Necessity

bound with chains of the spirit and of men11 
Some of us are frugal by choice, others of us are frugal out of necessity.

It’s no fun when money is tight and we find ourselves stretched to the limit! In fact, it can be down right debilitating if we allow it to be. I understand first hand what it’s like to live on one income. I know that housing costs are extremely high, and I also understand what it means to be underwater with your mortgage. I know that raising children costs a lot of money. I know the stress of working 2, and sometimes 3, jobs at a time just to make ends meet. I understand fully the burden debt. I know what unexpected health care costs can do to a budget. I hear you when you say that cooking real food for one or two people is expensive and time consuming. I hear when you say that cooking real food for a family is expensive and time consuming. I know all of these things because I’ve found myself in a lot of these situations. 

It can be frustrating living frugally out of necessity. But let’s just be honest with one another…all the reasons for financial difficulty listed above, are just symptoms of a much larger problem. Please note…I am in no way suggesting that this is the case for everyone. I know a lot of people are struggling right now, and I am sensitive to that. However, I think that the majority of us are “struggling” because our standard of living is being rocked — not because our needs aren’t being met — and there’s a big difference.

So…are you ready to put the fire out on blaming life’s circumstance for your unhappiness? Are you ready to find the remedy to living a frugal life out of necessity? If the answer is “yes,” then let’s get real and take a good look at some of the potential reasons as to why we are dead broke with no way out. 

1. We see frugal living as a burden. We have no extra  money at the end of the month simply because we spend it trying to make ourselves feel like we got it. We think living frugally = boring, dull, and bland. But what we don’t understand is…freedom. The freedom that is found in enjoying what we already have.

2. The definition of our wants and needs is all messed up. If you all still love me tomorrow…stick around ’cause we’re really going to take a good look at this particular issue on Day 17 of our 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge. 

3. We flat out buy too much. I find it so interesting that — especially here in the United States — the “Decluttering Market” (I just made that up) is taking off! It’s a good thing — if we can declutter without buying it all back. And what about all of the extras? Extra foods, cosmetics, clothing, shoes, body care products, candy, specialty drinks, interior decorations, etc. We simply spend too much.

4. We don’t take responsibility. Not taking responsibility by admitting that yes — the majority of the time (not always) — it’s our own fault. Only when we take responsibility for the way things are…and only then…will circustances have the opportunity to change.

5. We don’t have a budget. It can be painful to sit down with your spouse and discuss “money.” Because what happens is…that discussion ends up looking nothing like a discussion. It’s an all out fight. Money’s a touchy subject (I can’t believe I’m even writing about it…don’t hate me!). But again, let’s be honest with ourselves, we can’t expect to save money when we don’t know how much we have or where it’s even going! Budgeting can be a painful experience — which is probably why people hate doing it — because it forces us to look at the reality of our financial situation. Creating a budget, and sticking to it, is vital to our financial stability. 

6. We don’t earn enough money. I know what it’s like to work 2 jobs. Once, when I was in college, I had 3 part-time jobs; but hey…I was in college. If after looking at your budget and you realize that the ends simply don’t meet, first cut everything — and I mean everything — that’s not a necessity. If the ends still aren’t coming together, it’s time to start building other revenue streams. Let your creativity flow! Get out there and start working your relationships with people. Pump up your resume. Be willing to do what it takes to get yourself out of the hole. Start living frugally by choice and you may never have to live it out of necessity again. Please note…I hesitate with this one because I’ve heard women say things to their husbands — or about their husbands — like, “He just doesn’t make enough to support this family or our habits.” When the truth is their husband’s make well over the national average. Remember, just because our standard of living is being rocked and we feel forced into this life of frugality — it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Learn to find joy in what you have.

7. We don’t have an emergency fund. Not having an emergency fund of at least $1,000 is a recipe for disaster. Lack of an emergency fund almost guarantees the addition of debt. Illness is another big money sucker. Most people don’t have enough money in an emergency fund account or, insurance to cover, the unexpected costs of a major illness in the family. What then? Start saving your emergency fund today! It doesn’t matter if all you can do is put $5-$10 away a month. $5 turns into $10 and $10 into $100 and before you know it, you’ll have $1,000 in your emergency fund.

8. There’s to much clutter. We’re spending our precious time and hard earned money on maintaining our stuff. Take an objective approach to it all and get rid of it.

9. We’re living trying to impress others. We’ve got to let go of think that it’s important to have the things our friends and neighbors have, and that’s true whether you need them or not. We’ve become stressed out, depressed, and flat broke trying to keep up with them. It’s time to let it go.

10. We shop for therapeutic or recreational purposes. Shopping should only be reserved for those one or two trips a month. You know, the one’s where you go with a list and stick to it. Shopping centers, boxed stores, and online merchants are out for your money — they don’t care about your well-being. Shop only for what you need. If it’s therapy or recreation you desire…there are plenty of free options out there. Research, google, and discover all of the free offerings in your local area.

11. We think that vintage wisdom is a thing of the past. Well guess what…there is a wisdom revival taking place! If you think vintage skills — like finding ways to get the most for your dollar, cooking from scratch, growing your own food, making your own cleaning products, mending clothes, repurposing and upcycling things, etc. — are boring and sad, then you probably are unhappy, broke, and frustrated.

Okay! This post is over…thank goodness! I hope you don’t hate me and I hope you know that my family and I are fighting our way through this right alongside of you and yours. I write this just as much for myself as I do for you.

Now It’s Your Turn

Daily Goal:
Identify the reasons why you are living frugally out of necessity. What will you do to correct yourself and set a new course for your family? What are some other reasons that you feel like cause people to live paycheck-to-paycheck?

Download: The 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge Daily Goal Sheet

Connect With The Community: Take a few minutes and head over to the forum. Share your “Frugal Living Daily Goal“, encourage, and support one another.

Subscribe: Be sure not to miss a day of the Challenge! Click this link to receive the 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge by email.

Shared here: Simple Lives


  1. I want to thank you for being willing to lay it all on the table. I have ( as I have said in other comments) that I have been learning the art of frugality over the last 18 years. But, you have struck some heart cords and I am seeing the mindset or attitude I need to work on some more. Contentment with what we have…what ever “that” is. Learning to make do and wait is not a easy thing to do. I learning this at a much deeper level this year. I hope to be posting soon some of the things that I am mulling over because of this challenge. I will let you know when I do.


  2. I think I’ve always been had a somewhat frugal mindset. Growing up on a farm with a big garden, canning our own veggies, raising our our meat, and wearing home made clothes tends to instill that in a kid. But I have to admit that over the years I have allowed myself to spend a little here and there, on a blouse I didn’t need or lunch out because I didn’t bring one with me, and I have realized that I need to pare down the extra spending.

    My husband would like to retire in years and we don’t have enough saved for retirement…so living more frugally is pretty high on my list right now!

    Thanks for the gentle reminders….and don’t worry, I don’t think anyone will hate you for saying it like it is 🙂

  3. “Start living frugally by choice and you may never have to live it out of necessity again.”

    I think this is so absolutely true. Both my husband and I grew up without a lot so our level of what we think of as “needs” reflects that. In this economic downturn, we are doing well and are about to pay off our mortgage – 20 years early! And we’re a one income family and my husband is a mechanic, so we aren’t rolling in money. Throughout our frugal living, we’ve lived well and managed to pay extra mortgage payments, homeschool our kids, eat wholesome food, and have a really decent sized nest-egg as well as emergency fund. I’m pretty happy! I know that we’re lucky in that we haven’t experienced illness or loss of employment, but I’ve seen couples who made twice what we made almost lose their homes because they couldn’t understand how to budget. Great post!

  4. Thanks you for writing this post…I am an avid reader of yours…very much like your blog
    My husband and I are having to live a very very frugal lifestyle right now…because of the economy but mostly because of some of very bad choices do we find ourselves in a very bad pickle…

    It’s hard at time to do with so little money but it is blogs like this one that inspires me and gives me great courage…Thanks you 🙂


  5. This is a beautiful post and more people definitely need to take stock and really rethink wants and needs.

  6. “However, I think that the majority of us are “struggling” because our standard of living is being rocked — not because our needs aren’t being met – and there’s a big difference.”

    Thank you for saying this! It irks me when people say they are struggling and they have two large cars, live in a gated community, and buy name brand everything. I mean, that’s fine if you have those things, you can do what you wish with your money, but it slaps in the face of those who don’t have food or basic shelter available. Our family is very blessed in the area of finances but I find myself wanting to give more and more of it away. Money is a great tool and can be used well but it is very tempting to be numbed by it also and want more! Thanks for the blog. 😀

  7. Andrea – Isn’t it interesting that many of us are coming to realize that the frugal ways our parents or grandparents embraced were really based in common sense, practicality and wisdom. Learning how to live well with less can be a difficult, uncomfortable lesson, if that’s your approach to it. But, if you come at it with the attitude of discovery, there’s no end to the wealth of knowledge you’ll accumulate, all of which will require very little storage space!
    Thanks again for some great writing!

  8. How could anyone hate such straight talking? Once again your wise words have struck a chord. My husband is amazed by the changes in my attitude towards our finances, and he has started to ask what your topic has been each morning when I log on. You have certainly got this household talking about money! I am definitely learning more about true necessity and am starting to enjoy life more as a result. Hope you have a great day and looking forward to tomorrow!

  9. good post, its the the tough thing to be honest with ourselves as to what we NEED vs. what we WANT. :)sml

  10. We are not living paycheck to paycheck b/c of some positive choices and discipline on our part. However, as my kids get bigger, certain costs increase. And then for us, taxes are taking a big increase as are certain other bills and I realize that I have to figure out how to cut and make more compromises here and there to work it out. Ouch. Nonetheless, I believe we are incredibly blessed. My husband’s family still lives in West Africa and that helps me keep things in perspective. Well, most of the time. Sometimes, I feel sorry for myself 🙂

  11. Wow, great post I think you’ve truly hit the heart of it for most of us. Most want every “thing” now, and not save or plan for it. My husband & I were both raised in frugal homes and have through the years continued those ways but, there is always room for improvement! Thank you for the reminder and keep in mind if your comments made some angry? well,maybe they need to do a bit of self reflection and figure out WHY they are upset!

  12. Andrea,
    Please, don’t ever apologize for giving good stable advice. What you are giving here is wisdom and compassion. What the consumer world sells is pride and selfishness. You preach it, girl!

  13. You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s critical for people to embrace the fact that the US is a consumer based society and therefore there is tremendous pressure to participate by media, friend, family and other social pressures. Needs vs Wants a concept that while is painful to acknowledge is incredible liberating once you do.

  14. I love this blog post….it was a good kick in the pants to remind me that frugality is not a burden but a blessing and there really is great satisfaction in living within our means. I constantly struggle to balance needs vs. wants.

  15. This was a wonderful post! You said a LOT. I started living frugally out of necessity, but at the same time it became a hobby. I loved looking for new ways to survive. Even now when things aren’t as they were, It’s a hobby that still continues. And it’s even more enjoyable doing it by choice.

  16. I love your post and read it often. I grew up not knowing I was poor in the 50s with no indoor plumbing, water, etc. We put out a garden (huge) and canned our food. We raised a calf or a hog and always had chickens for the eggs and meat. Now I’m 66, lost my job when the bottom fell out of the market in ’09 and have been trying to live on Soc. Security and look for a job that is impossible to find because of my age. I have chickens and rabbits, put out a garden in the summer and hang my clothes out to dry rather than using the dryer. Still the bills are more than I can keep up with. I attempt to be very very frugal but have to admit sometimes the shopping urge comes over me and I head to my local Goodwill. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but its more of an expensive habit than I can afford. My closet is full of clothes and I certainly don’t need more. Just need to try to put that thought out of my mind! Thanks for all your tips.

  17. My husband and I have always tried to live frugally. We’re both not big spenders and hate spending money so that does help. I would love to have a garden but I live in an apartment so I don’t have very many options at the moment. Most of the people we know complain about bills constantly but yet they are the first go out and buy a new car every year or buy every brand new device on the market. More people need to go back to living simply and maybe they will find more joy in their lives and be less stressed. There is more to life than the things you own.

  18. I love this post! It may not be 100% popular with everyone’s views, but it needs to be said. We have been working hard to live frugally so I can stay home with our little one. No matter how tight we make our budget, we’re still coming up short. Your post inspires me to work even harder to find an alternative income stream to make up the difference. I look forward to your suggestions in upcoming posts.

  19. I agree with another reader–please don’t apologize for speaking the truth. I think you should shout it from the rooftops! I enjoy your blog and have added it to my favorites. All the best to you and your family,

  20. I think what you have written is mostly true, however I do think that a lot of people ARE struggling because of the economy right now. With gas more than 3.50 a gallon, a gallon of milk here is more than 3.50, and a loaf of plain store brand bread is more than $1.00 yet our pay checks have not gone up near as much as the cost of living.
    Our home is paid for. I admit too that we do not live in a really ‘nice’ neighborhood any more, yet our taxes on our home have almost doubled in the past 3 years. That makes me upset.
    We drive a car that is a 1998 and yet it cost almost $100.00 to get state tags for it. Almost $50.00 to get it inspected.
    Right now our electric company is trying to get a rate increase passed that will add $22.00 a month to the average bill. The gas company just raised their rates too. So did the water supply. Our city passed a law last year that forced us to recycle. Our bill went up $22.00 for that. No choice was given.
    We do not have cable, we do not go to movies, we do not travel much, we live a quite life…yet every time I turn around something basic is costing us a lot more.
    We are blessed to have good medical insurance; yet the cost of that is almost double what it was a year ago. My husband has a good job, he is lucky to have the job and he does enjoy the job…yet, I think if something does not ‘give’ soon the job is going to kill him. My husband is a ‘salary’ employee. No over time. He works at least 12 hours a day and most days it is closer to 16 hours. (no, I am not kidding and I am not lying) The more he does the more they give him to do. It is endless.
    So, I think that there are a lot of people out there who ARE doing the best they can in a difficult time in our country. Yes, many people have too much…but a lot of people have had their world rocked by the economy of this country right now and just flat out don’t know how to change. That is one of the reasons blogs like yours are so important. It is a good teaching tool.
    I am 60 and a more frugal person you will not find. I can pinch a penny till it screams. Yet there does comes a time when that penny is gone and you are wondering where the next penny is going to come from.

  21. M C McIntosh says:

    I have learned over time that $$$ is not everything and that I am much happier living frugally to sustain my livelihood and not my checking account. Occasionally, we have to say no we don’t have that extra cash to go out with friends BUT we have learned many ways to squeeze in the places we really want to go and to make what we have work.

    I grew up in a completely different environment that $$$ was always needed. Most weeks after paying bills and moving cash to savings, we have $100 in our checking account (money that we can get too quickly)…We do this on purpose as it has allowed us to save even though we don’t make a lot of extra money. Material things are just things to me, My husband and I would rather have a dinner party at home then go out and share it with friends than eat alone at some fancy restaurant ANY DAY. We have had to change our way of thinking and even moved to a neighborhood in Mpls (Northeast) that embraces frugality and sustainability.

    Loving life and wouldn’t change a thing about frugality in our lives currently! The changes weren’t hard as we made them gradually…My best of luck to all of you who are changing your way of thinking!

  22. Such a timely topic. If any of your readers are interested in extrapolating this, I’d welcome them over at my blog, Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity.

  23. I learnt to be frugal when I came over to London to study. Living alone, I learnt to be more responsible for my money, and to be independent. It’s not easy, but it’s taught me so much, and also gave me the chance to discover my passion for cooking (: so I’m not at all ashamed of being frugal!

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