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Pity the Frugal


When my husband and I entered into our first careers three years ago we met a lot of people who were at the same phase of life as us: Newly married, young professionals paying off student loans and renting their homes. By living off of 37% of our income we quickly paid off our $30,000 debt from student loans within 9 months of starting those payments. We valued our simple lifestyle and continued to live off of a small percentage of our income so we could give more, save more, and invest more. While I would say we are making a wise choice by living frugally, I think we sometimes come off as being broke to those around us.

Pity Party

Example 1: We had an entertainment budget of $50 per month while we were paying off debt. When the end of the month rolled around and we were nearing the $50 mark we would just order waters so we could still join friends for an impromptu get together downtown. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford to get a drink or split an appetizer; we just had a goal on the horizon we were motivated to reach. However, on multiple occasions friends would buy a drink for us or share their appetizer. It could be my pride, but at times I internally interpreted these kind gestures as a response of pity.

Example 2: Recently I went to a local craft show with two friends and didn’t buy tickets because I honestly didn’t need anything and just wanted to look around. One of the friends I went with bought a Christmas cookie for each of us and the other friend insisted I use one of her tickets to enter a cake walk since my two friends were doing it. I didn’t pay a dime that day but wound up with a free cookie, a free dessert from the cake walk, and part of my friend’s lunch. These are all such small things to fret over but this happens a LOT and makes me feel like a mooch! I am content with the experience and don’t care to spend money yet I wind up with freebies while my friends pay.

Tactful frugality

Maybe you can answer this question for me: If you live a frugal lifestyle, how do you do it without appearing like money is tight? Is there a right way to live frugally without sending the wrong message? No one sees what we deposit into our Roth IRA or tithe or put toward our mortgage principal but they do see us saving a few dollars here and there:

I don’t see the need to buy new so we are content with getting things from Craigslist or waiting for a great sale before making a purchase. We share a car because we’re in a position to do so and just don’t need a second car. If I can find a free parking spot downtown I’m fine walking a couple extra blocks rather than paying for the parking garage. We could buy a Halloween costume we’d wear once but why not make our own Fred & Wilma costume for less? Sure I’d love to see the latest movie but I’d rather rent a $1 RedBox DVD and use the $20 I would have paid for tickets toward a future outing. Why bother paying $3 for a coffee at Starbucks when I have plenty of coffee and tea we can enjoy on a comfy couch in my home? I don’t do these things because we need to save money; I do them because they take little effort and why not? However, some who see all of these actions may gather that they are done out of necessity.

We’re not about to become hermits and stay home or skip events because we hit our spending limit. We’ve been improving our creativity and thinking of ways to avoid the cost of going out every time: Movie nights, game nights, free local events, progressive dinners (appetizers at one couple’s home, dinner at another, dessert at another), and good ol’ ugly sweater parties with the winter season in full swing. I’m not sure if we’ll ever avoid the occasional freebies (pity-inspired or not) but I am curious to learn how other frugal folks do it.

If you live a frugal lifestyle, how do you do it without sending the wrong message?



My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. I believe that people assume that because you don’t want to spend the money that you can’t afford it and this is the society that we live in, it can be difficult to live a frugal life and stick to a budget when others think you are doing it through lack of funds.

    • That seems to be true about our society. Not many people follow a budget either so they may not even be aware of how much they’re actually spending on a monthly basis! Thanks for sharing, Sharon.

  2. Yes, I live a frugal lifestyle and I’ve found that the key is to have the support of friends and family. That way, they understand that I’m living frugally to pay off my mortgage and they won’t ask to go out for a $100 dinner.

    • You’re right- it does help having friends who know your situation. Many friends have become pretty creative with thinking up cheap yet fun ideas for hanging out!

  3. I used to be SUPER frugal, but my friends knew that I had money so they just mocked me for being so tight. Now that I’m older and have a large disposable income, I don’t mind going out to lunch once in a while or treat others to a coffee. I do draw the line at sporting events though. Many of my friends ask me to go to basketball or football games that cost $100 a ticket. I just tell them that that’s outrageous and would rather watch the game on my big screen TV at home. 😉

    • Agreed! I’m not a huge sports fan but I’d rather enjoy a game with the luxury of a warm (or cool) home with good food and a comfy couch!

  4. There are times I wish I’d lived more frugally, so I wouldn’t have to pay off all this Amex debt now! But I’m glad to be able to get the income thru writing to pay it off.

    Anyway, sounds like you have some pretty nice friends. Yeah, I don’t blame you for not wanting to spend when you don’t want anything — at the same token, I don’t want to go all the way over to the other side, where I’m kind of afraid to spend stuff.

    My grandmother lived thru The Great Depression, and as a result, she didn’t want us wasting too many paper towels and stuff I didn’t understand as a kid. I think there’s a way to find a happy medium.

    • At least you’re taking charge of paying off that Amex now! I’ve heard similar stories of grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and never quite transitioned out of that ultra-frugal lifestyle. Thanks for sharing, Paula!

  5. In your example 1, you should reconsider hooking up with friends at venues that require some expenditure of money. A better thing would be to have friends come over for a pot luck, meet at a park to hang out, or just go for walks after work. Just yesterday my wife set up a get together for a friend’s birthday that included her walking group friends, as well as other friends. They spent an hour or so just walking around a well lit track talking to each other. My wife made her friend very happy for no cost.

    • Thanks for the tip! Going for walks is one of my favorite things to do when meeting up with friends.

  6. I don’t know that these friends pity you.
    It sounds like they were raised with manners
    to share. However, this can backfire. When
    you are sitting financially pretty and, your giving
    friends aren’t. They will feel you took advantage
    of their kindness.

    I think it best to say no when offered freebies(from friends)since
    you could buy it yourself. A friend enjoys sharing when
    there is a real need. A friend feels
    used otherwise.

    • I agree, Betty- I know none of my friends would do these acts out of pity and they know we’re not moochers. Often we’re not aware a freebie is coming until the deed is done. At that point I find it rude to send back a beer a friend ordered for us rather than accepting it with gratitude.

  7. Writing down every penny I spent is the only way I could budget. I have to admit I’ve fallen off the wagon and plan to jump back on after returning from a holiday vacation, but its amazing how quickly your wallet can fill if you have to think about writing down what you are going to spend!

    • You’re right! Especially if you spend a little here and a little there. I saw this first hand when I was working at Starbucks during our time in Calgary. Some people would buy a $3 coffee every morning but when you do that it adds up to $750/year!

  8. I am still working on that one. Thankfully, my family knows our situation (they also read my blog, so they know more about my finances than most families do!) and I never feel pressured to go out to dinner or spend oodles of money. But it’s hard when Christmas comes around and my mom really wants to get me a gift but knows I feel bad when I’m not reciprocating with a gift. I’m trying to be a grateful gift receiver! But I do still feel guilty. Thankfully, this year I found some old cards addressed to my mom, that she will hopefully enjoy, and it is a gift I can give her that’s free to me.

    • We have the exact same situation with my family. They know we spend less on each person than they spend on us but are happy to give and we’ve been thankful to receive. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca.

  9. My question would be….why would you care if you made it appear that money is tight? If you have goals, and you’re taking the actions towards making those goals a reality, then outward appearances shouldn’t matter. Live your life for you, and if you’re comfortable with it, then carry on! 🙂

    • Good question. I’ve just been aware that these situations occur when we live more frugally than others we do life with but it obviously hasn’t changed the way we live. I’m glad we’re not trying to keep up with the Joneses!

  10. When I do my budget the money set aside for goals is already spent! I may have the money in the bank for a drink, but that money isn’t actually available to use on a drink. Technically money is tight because I choose to spend that other money on my goal. It’s the same thing for people who are actually broke with no money in their account. They choose to spend that money on something else.

    I don’t think you should feel like they are taking pity on you, and if you have any uncomfortable feelings about it just explain what you are doing. I don’t think anyone will look down on you because you want to save money up for something bigger.

    • Thanks, Levi. While it sometimes appears we’re getting a pity party I know that isn’t the situation since these people are friends and know us well. That’s great you actually set up a budget and have goals you’re pursuing; you’re way ahead of many folks!

  11. One option I highly recommend is to take a look at where you live… we are in a high cost of living area, but it is warm year round and the beaches are close. This is a great “free option” for entertainment, and I’ve found over time we actually spend less here as we don’t need to go out and spend money on entertainment.

    • That’s a very good point. It’s a LOT easier to find things to do in the summer but Michigan winters keep us indoors. Thanks for sharing, Chuck!

  12. Betty,
    It isn’t pity they’re feeling for you. They are simply ignorant – not in stupid, as in uneducated. Keep your eye on the ball. You know what YOUR goals are so stick to them and disregard any judgments you feel are being tossed your way (which may or may not be accurate). I’m sure I’m twice your age and trust me, there is always going to be that difference between those who are smart with their money and those who still have a lot to learn. There are no “tricks” on how to handle these kinds of situations. Just be yourself(ves) and enjoy those whose company you like and lose the others. Seriously, at twice your age I’m telling you it never ends. You do what works for you and your family and let them do their thing. It really is that simple.

  13. We’re frugal, but not to an extreme. We budget a reasonable amount of our income to “fun” each month with the requirement that we spend it every month.

    We’ll occasionally decide to spend it on something besides fun, but by budgeting to make sure our long term financial goals are on track, we can spend money on fun things without worry.

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