Written by Dominique Jarry Shore
Wednesday, April 24th, 2019
Are you frugal?
Do you use candles to save on electricity? Do you avoid showering to save on hot water? Do you buy canned tuna on sale and eat it most days of the week to save on groceries?
Can you go too far living minimally and holding on to things? Here's my story of how I started to question my frugality.
Getting Hooked on the Frugal Life
I first started thinking about extreme frugality when I bought a new winter coat a few months ago. Everyone needs to replace old clothes once in a while, but I'd been wearing the same old winter coat since 1994.
Was there something extreme about holding onto clothing for that long? The coat in question — a Woods parka — was still warm and in pretty good condition until the last couple of years. I still have it as a backup. I was kind of proud that I'd kept the coat so long because for me it represented being frugal and not spending money on something new unnecessarily.
I got in touch with personal finance author Rob Brown by email to ask for his thoughts. I needed some outside perspective on whether I was going too far with my frugality.
“I laughed when I read your winter coat story," he wrote. “I too replaced my winter coat this year after having my old one for 20 years or so."
“I don't think you were being too frugal at all," he reassured me. “It's a coat, as long as it still looks decent and keeps you warm, why would you replace it?"
Can Frugality Go Too Far?
But how do you know when frugality has gone too far?
Dr. Fugen Neziroglu, the director of the Bio Behavioral Institute in Great Neck, NY, and an expert on Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) says there's a difference between being frugal and being cheap or miserly.
“Miserliness is a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder and is very in line with hoarding," Neziroglu said. A person can hoard objects like clothes or magazines, as well as money.
Saving on electricity by using candles, or eating tuna fish every single day to avoid spending money on meat or chicken provided they could afford it, could be examples of excessive miserliness.
“I would say individuals who are going to that extent — it's a sense of deprivation. Their quality of life is tremendously altered… when there's no need for it."
Another example when frugality could go too far, or even verge on illegal, could be the person who goes into a restaurant bathroom and stuffs their pockets with free hand lotion, tissues and mouthwash. They don't need the free stuff but take it anyway.
Frugality as Want vs. Need
A frugal person, on the other hand, is always looking at need versus want, and value.
“An individual who's a saver will save X-amount of dollars a month without compromising on what they want and need," Dr. Neziroglu said.
Dr. Neziroglu said people who advocate a frugal lifestyle may be "pulling people to a state of moderation, not necessarily into being miserly."
Next time I do something that I consider excessively frugal, I'll consider whether it's something I really need to do and if it doesn't cause any detriment to my life. I'll always want to save, but I don't want to go overboard.