Motivation For Frugality - It Is Not Always About The Money

by golbguru on June 25, 2007

Last week, I posted a list of 25 things that “we do to save money” and I have been thinking on it ever since. Some introspective questions resulted from the thinking, like: were all of those things done *actively* to save money? or were there other motivations behind the actions - and saving money just happened to be a passive outcome? if money was not a constraint, would we still be doing some of those things?

There are no generic yes/no answers to these questions, but as I was attempting to answer them, I realized that a lot of our actions that save us money (or appear to do so) are (or were) situation specific - probably, saving money was not the main motivation behind all of them.

So, if it’s not always about the money, then what else could motivate you to do something frugal?

To answer that, here are six motivational factors off the top of my head. I will try to explain these through examples to make it easier to understand.

  1. Time: I walk to school/work and I count that as a frugal activity that saves me money. However, I have pointed it out earlier that it simply takes more time (and more hassles) to reach school if I drive - and that is probably the main reason why I walk to school. The fact that it saves me money on parking permits is only a secondary motivation. It doesn’t matter if I had a billion dollars (or if someone gave me a free parking permit) - I would still walk to school/work if driving is not saving me significant amount of time.
  2. Energy: We cook regularly, but we don’t cook everyday - mostly, on alternate days. Not cooking everyday is frugal in many ways: there is less washing of cooking vessels, less utilization of electricity (or gas) for cooking, less wastage of food, fewer grocery trips, etc. So yeah, it saves some money - but are we really not cooking everyday to save money? I don’t think so; we just don’t have the energy to cook (and clean things up after cooking) everyday. Here, lack of energy is the frugal motivation.
  3. Attitudes: There are some things we do “just for the heck of it”. One such example is my worn out pair of jeans in the list of 25 things that attracted a lot of public (and private) attention. Yes, it saves me money because I wear some of my clothes till they wear out (to the point where they get holes in them) - but that’s not the main motivation. Stronger motivation is provided by the fact that I hate shopping for clothes, and that my “attitude” just doesn’t let me get rid of that torn pair of jeans. Even if someone gifts gives me several new jeans, I would be still wearing the torn one for another year.

    torn jeans and attitude :)

    My favorite (and dilapidated) jeans

  4. Preferences: Another frugal example, in which saving money is probably a secondary factor, is our homemade lunch routine. Of course, not eating out for lunch saves money, but even if I had a ton of money, I don’t think I would prefer eating at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or Subway (the three fast food joints closest to my workplace) - I hate those places (for various reasons). The main motivational factor here is probably the hatred for fast food and preference for home-cooked meals.
  5. Lack of Resources: During my early days as a graduate student (when I was single and sharing apartment with roommates), only one of us had a car (and it wasn’t me). That sort of restricted the frequency of my grocery trips, out of town socializing trips, movie theater trips, etc. It wasn’t like I was going only twice a month for groceries to “save money” - it happened because I didn’t have a damn car (and I didn’t like asking someone for frequent favors). Agreed, it was a frugal thing to do, but it was very situation specific. It’s very likely that I would have had a different lifestyle (probably with less “money saving” habits) if I had a car at that time. A resource crunch also encourages the “make-do” attitude - which is probably one of the most fundamental reasons behind a lot of frugal habits.
  6. Habits: Here, I will quote my own words from the list of 25 things post:

    I am also in the habit of extracting the last drop of shampoo from almost-empty shampoo bottles by filling some water in them - doesn’t save diddly-squat of money, but it’s a fun thing to do.

    It’s pretty clear right there - it’s a habit. I would probably continue doing it even after I become a millionaire. I am sure it will save a few bucks over several years, but that’s not the main reason why I keep doing it. It’s just for the heck of it.

So, in summary, there are things that are done specifically for saving money (buying a used car, renting a small apartment, etc.), but there are a lot of frugal things that we probably do due to other motivational factors - and save money in the process. The six factors listed above are only some of them and depending on your situation, they may or may not be influencing your frugal behavior.

What are the motivations behind your frugal actions? is money-saving your only driving factor?

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caro 06.25.07 at 8:16 am

I think my other big motivator that sometimes results in saving money (and a lot of times not) is being more “green.” I am not any sort of fanatic, but I think it’s only common sense that the less we waste, the better off the world will be. Often the resulting savings to me isn’t big enough to motivate my by itself, but feeling like I’m doing the right thing for the world at large does.

2 DD 06.25.07 at 8:37 am

One of my biggest motivational factors is health. For example, I feel healthier by walking more even when driving is convenient…same goes for bringing my own lunch vs going out for fast food.

3 Kevin 06.25.07 at 9:16 am

Like DD, a big motivation is health:

A big glass of water is healthier than a soda. Both benefits reinforce one another.

Walking to work is much cheaper than driving — and I end up getting my exercise (2.25 miles twice daily!) as well as good “transition time” between work and home.

Recapturing lost water: we recapture water that would otherwise be lost. Usually this is water we run waiting for it to get hot for a shower or dishes. We water our plants with it. Not only do we save a little on our water bill, but our plants are the healthiest they’ve ever been.

Drinks: everyone knows that buying drinks out costs a fortune. We’d rather mix a drink at home. Of course, I took up bartending as a hobby a year or so ago, so am I saving money or just having fun?

4 moom 06.25.07 at 11:31 am

The environment features just as strongly as saving money in my frugal habits…

5 stidmama 06.25.07 at 9:38 pm

being “green” is high on our list too …

saving time (I don’t like making multiple trips to town at 40-50 minutes drive time every trip) by bundling errands into one

reducing stress — the fewer things I have and have to do, the easier my life

being cheap — I don’t like paying more over the years to replace something like furniture that was “cheep” to begin with, I prefer to buy well made items once; at the same time, I hate paying premiums for well-made items that that are used only once… and will buy the least expensive I can find

6 Minimum Wage 06.25.07 at 11:11 pm

While my frugality was pretty much forced on me by poverty-level wages, it has lasted so long that I’ve become used to it and there is nothing I would run out and buy if I had the money. I once visited a shopping mall within easy walking distance of my job, and discovered there was NOTHING in the mall I wanted.

This indefinite frugality has produced in me a feeling of smug superiority, as in “you’re a spendthrift, I’m more frugal than you.” It has also made me wince more than a few times when reading bloggers discuss how frugal they really are. Ha, they don’t know frugal until they have to live it.

7 plonkee 06.26.07 at 4:16 am

I’m mainly frugal through laziness and trying to be green. I don’t have a car so I’m also resource constrained.

8 Debbie 06.26.07 at 12:12 pm

Interesting topic.

Control. A lot of times you can save money by doing something yourself or otherwise relying less on others, and this can give you more control over the outcome. For example, you don’t have to worry about parking if you’re walking. You don’t have to worry about allergens in your food if you’re cooking (and have already figured out what you’re allergic to). You have more motivation to do things right for yourself than some random stranger you’ve hired is, so your DIY jobs might be better, garments you sew might fit better, you finances might be earning higher returns with lower fees, etc.

Comfort - my house is more comfortable than the outdoors (too cold, hot, rainy, etc.) and even other public places (too overly air conditioned, too loud, too crowded), so I do things at home that are cheaper than their public counterparts. For example, I’d rather watch a rented movie at home, where I can control the volume, add subtitles if I can’t understand a character, and stop at any time to go to the bathroom, than to go to a movie theatre and have to wear earplugs and a sweater.

Also as others have mentioned:

Health - walking, using fork or wire whisk instead of electric beaters, doing my own housework, etc., gives me needed activity.

Environmental concerns - wasting less is good for the environment.

Laziness - Being too lazy to go shopping definitely helps me save money. Cooking enough of something for a large family and then eating myself it all week long saves a lot of money compared to eating out and is also better for lazy people, once the food has been cooked.

And I also stay attached to some things long after anyone else can find any use for them. By the time I’m ready to give something up, usually it’s impolite even to give it to charity.

9 Debbie 06.26.07 at 12:14 pm

(I meant “eating it all myself.” Doh.)

10 golbguru 06.26.07 at 12:24 pm

Minimum Wage: That’s a very interesting comment. I think it goes with “lack of resources” type of motivation. I am sure people who go through hard times have a better sense of frugality that people who don’t. It’s probably that “make-do” attitude that plays a role.

Btw, this leads to an interesting topic - are poor people more frugal than rich people? or it’s just that a poor man’s frugality is different than a rich man’s frugality?

Plonkee and Debbie: Lol… I saw laziness being mentioned more than once. :) I am sure it must be a factor with me too.

Caro, Stidmama, and Moom: Yep, green options are usually more frugal on resources.

DD and Kevin: Health is wealth. I am glad to hear people are walking more and drinking water instead of soda. :)

11 dimes 06.26.07 at 1:45 pm

Laziness. The shirt I’m wearing today I got probably ten years ago before I started my sophomore year of high school. I hate shopping so unless my clothes are on the edge of ruin/unwearability, I won’t throw them out and replace them (they’re in NO condition to donate).
Also possible pregnancy and increasing family size. You want to avoid getting yourself entangled in smaller expenses when the great big ones may come. I think marriage would also serve as a motivator for frugality, if I weren’t already married.

12 Sunitha 06.26.07 at 8:36 pm

Completely agree with the author. When we adopt a simiple lifestlye saving time,energy and money are its pleasant side effects. For instance I enjoy entertaintaing or visiting my close friends and relatives than visiting pubs or discos or cinema halls. By doing what I enjoy doing I realized that I have not only strenghted my bond with my friends and relatives I also ended up saving tons of money which was not my original intention at all.

13 Cascadia Girl 06.27.07 at 7:32 am

For me, it’s something like a spiritual ethic. Living lightly, not being wasteful through overconsumption, is the “right” thing to do for so many reasons: environmental impact, life priority mindfulness (what REALLY matters? What doesn’t?), less financial burden so therefore more options/flexibility in life choices, less stuff equals less stuff management equals more time/energy for people and relationships, etc.

Frankly, it’s also a creative challenge. I challenge myself to get rid of at least one (non-consumable) thing every day or clean out at least one small space.

14 Cascadia Girl 06.27.07 at 10:10 am


My daily “letting go” challenge is a great exercise to keep me emotionally detached from posessions, which I think is healthy.

15 Missy 06.27.07 at 7:03 pm

I enjoy shopping in consignment shops for clothes. I love to shop, and by finding deals at a much lower cost I have the gratification I need.

16 j2r 06.29.07 at 7:36 am

I think my main motivation is Culture. The way I was raised. My parents and grandparents are quite frugal. I remember my grandma asking us to fold the toilet paper only 5 times. As a kid, I remember folding it 10 or more times and that would piss my grandma off. Not leaving food in my plate too. We had to eat everything. If we left anything, we would always hear stories about kids in Africa starving.

17 story 07.09.07 at 5:49 pm

I agree with all of these! I feel the same way about a lot of the simplification I do - it’s more about the time and the environmental impact than the money. When I started bringing my lunch to work years ago - at a job where I was paid by the hour - I realized that I could sit on the porch and eat my bagel with my feet up while reading a book, rather than spending my entire allotted lunch hour fighting traffic to get to the nearest deli.

18 Dr. Artfredo C. Abella - Philippines SLU H 12.13.07 at 9:14 pm

I truly believe that when one is motivated to frugality it is not always in terms of money. When you say a person is frugal it is not always equated to money but to many other things in life although generally the perception of most people it is in terms of resources which is money. The motivation to being frugal is not immoral per se, however it is the intentions why we want to be frugal that counts most in life. When a person would delay his instant gratification by being frugal that means saving most of his money for a greater prize then that kind of frugality is justified. Simply what is then the rationality why a person must be frugal in life especially in terms of his money - it is simply to make his money work for him rather him working for money. You become the master of money if you let your money work for you by investing it thereby making it your employee and providing you with ample income in the future days to come. You become the slave of money when you become so heavily indebted, hence you have to pay skyrocketing interest charges which makes you the slave of money. Money is a dual thing, it is like electricity, it can be used for good purposes but it can also harm a person defending on its use. Electricity can light a house while it can also decimate a person. Many other things in life must be motivated to become frugal, the hassles dazzles of modern life sometimes has caused more harm than good. As Thorough once said: “simplicity, simplicity and simplicity”. In other words the more we change the more we remain the same. This is similar to the story of the King of Africa who was invited to go to New York and start all over his life because in the beginning he first becomes a laborer until in the end he will become the President of a large corporation and will have plenty of wives, plenty of cars, mansions, buildings and planes. The answer of the King was simple he said: ” Why do you offer those things when I already have it in my kingdom of Africa, I have plenty of elephants more efficient than cars, I have plenty of wives in my tribes, plenty of huts more comfortable than your mansions, plenty of food which I can serve many people and so therefore why do I have to go to New York when I have all those things already in my backyard.” So there it is, frugality in terms of resources or possibly even on our needs can make a difference in our lives. In the end for me the motivation to being frugal has no significance at all unless our lives are centered to service. Our lives whether frugal or not would not be really that meaningful unless our intentions is serve other people who are in dire need. Unselfish Service towards others is the essence of a happy life. Coupled with service we must also look at our other aspects of life, frugal or using our resources in the proper perspectives whether in terms of finances or money, time, efforts and even I would say intentions.

19 Mercy's Mom 08.23.09 at 10:12 am

Creativity…I think that living frugally has encouraged me to be creative in finding things at home which I can use versus going out and buying something.
Connection with the past…my great grandparents made it thru the Great Depression….I remember finding a rationing booklet in my grandmother’s house. I think that frugality connects me with the past and I just keep remembering that if they could prosper thru hard times then I certainly can.

20 Cancun Mexico 08.14.12 at 11:18 am

I would have to say that some people are just frugal than others. And Not everyone has to have a particular reason for doing so like you said you do somethings because you find them fun.

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