This article explains the meaning of frugality, its synonyms and antonyms, and how it differs from being ‘cheap’. It also discusses the relationship between frugality and financial independence and whether you can still achieve FI if you’re the opposite of frugal.
The word “frugal” is often used to describe people who are careful with their money and seek to live a simple lifestyle without materialism. While being frugal is often viewed negatively as being stingy or a cheapskate, it can also refer to making cost-effective choices and minimising waste. This article will provide a deeper understanding of frugality and its implications, and discuss why frugality can also be an asset to those seeking financial independence.
What does frugal mean?
“Frugal” is a word used to describe someone who is economical or careful with money, and who often chooses to avoid spending on unnecessary or frivolous things or activities. A frugal person typically seeks to live a modest lifestyle without materialism. Being frugal can also refer to something that is cost-effective and minimises waste, such as a cheap meal that utilises inexpensive ingredients or the use of resources in a way that maximises efficiency.
The term can also be associated with the stigma of being “stingy” or a “cheapskate,” however this is not always the case when it comes to frugality, as we will go on to discuss later in this article. You can find some technical definitions of the word “frugal” on sites like Dictionary.com1 and Britannica.com2.
“Frugal: economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful”dictionary.com/browse/frugal1
What are some synonyms of frugal?
Other words for “frugal” include thrifty, economical, saving, prudent, conservative, sparing, simple, stingy or miserly. However, as mentioned, there is a stigma attached to the word “frugal” which is certainly not true of everyone that practices frugality.
For example, “stingy” and “miserly” suggest a reluctance to spend money, even when it may be necessary, while “prudent” and “conservative” suggest a careful consideration of financial decisions rather than a strict avoidance of spending. You can find synonyms of frugal on online thesauruses, such as Thesaurus.com3.
Is frugal the same as cheap?
While people tend to place frugality and cheapness in the same basket, these two words have different meanings. Frugal people attempt to spend money wisely, by finding ways to save money while still getting value from their purchases. They may strictly limit spending on non-essential items, but they are willing to spend money when it makes sense to. Frugal people focus on long-term value and sustainability rather than short-term cost savings.
Cheap people, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with spending as little money as possible, even if it means sacrificing quality or value. They may be unwilling to spend money on essential items or anything they perceive as a luxury and may prioritise savings now over value in the long run. These habits can often result in buying low-quality or poorly made products, which may cost more in the future.
So while “frugal” and “cheap” are both concerned with saving money, frugality is more about making wise spending choices, while cheapness is about being reluctant to spend money at all, regardless of the long-term consequences.
You can read more about Frugal vs Cheap in my article HERE.
“Cheap: not willing to share or spend money”britannica.com/dictionary/cheap2
What is the opposite of frugal?
Someone who is the opposite of frugal may be termed extravagant or wasteful. They may overspend on unnecessary items without considering the financial consequences. These individuals may be more interested in immediate gratification or flaunting their wealth and status rather than being mindful of spending and saving for the future. They may be less likely to hunt for bargains, preferring to make impulsive purchases without worrying about their budget.
In some cases, people who are the opposite of frugal may even go into debt to fund their extravagant lifestyle. This is what I would refer to as Bad Debt, which you can read more about HERE.
What are some antonyms of frugal?
The opposite of frugality could be branded, in addition to extravagance or wastefulness, as lavishness or profligacy. While it’s important to be mindful of spending, being too frugal can sometimes lead to missed opportunities and a lack of enjoyment in life. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance between frugality and enjoying the fruits of your labour.
Are most people in the FIRE community frugal?
Most people in the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community are frugal. The FIRE movement is the pursuit of financial independence by maximising savings and minimising expenses. This often involves living in a frugal way and being intentional with spending. Most people in the FIRE community adopt a minimalist lifestyle, meaning they live with less and prioritise experiences over material possessions. They often save a high percentage of their income and invest it to achieve their financial goals, which include early retirement.
While not everyone in the FIRE community may be extreme in their frugality, living a modest lifestyle and being mindful of spending is generally considered a core principle of this movement.
Can you still reach FI if you’re the opposite of frugal?
It is certainly possible, albeit much more challenging, to achieve financial independence (FI) if you’re not frugal. However, it requires a much higher income to compensate for higher expenses. If someone is the opposite of frugal and tends to overspend, it will take them longer to achieve FI as they will need to earn substantially more money to save the same amount. It’s also important to note that being the opposite of frugal can lead to debt and financial instability, impacting progress toward achieving FI.
Does everyone go through stages of being the opposite of frugal?
Everyone may go through stages where they aren’t as frugal as they could be. These stages could be due to factors such as changes in income, lifestyle changes, personal priorities, and other life events.
For example, someone may go through a period where they prioritise experiences over saving money or have an unexpected expense that forces them to temporarily put frugality on hold. Additionally, some people may struggle with maintaining frugality consistently over time and may experience changes in their spending habits.
However, it’s important to note that not everyone will experience these stages to the same extent or at the same frequency. Some individuals may naturally be more inclined towards frugality and find it easier to stick to a budget, while others may struggle more with managing their finances. Ultimately, individual experiences with frugality will vary based on these personal factors.
When I look at my own experiences, there have been times I have been able to maintain an 85% savings rate, and other times when I had family health emergencies, or I was dealing with other life pressures such as relationship breakdown, I have been much less frugal than normal, splurging on take away, gifts for family members or just on a good night out! I think this is pretty normal kind of spending behaviour for someone who is going through difficult life events, but what really matters is what I’m doing 90% of the time, my long term habits, and my alignment to my financial goals4.
“Setting short-term financial goals, as well as midterm and long-term, is an important step toward becoming financially secure. If you aren’t working toward anything specific, you’re likely to spend more than you should. You’ll then come up short when you need money for unexpected bills, not to mention when you want to retire.”Amy Fontinelle – investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/100516/setting-financial-goals4
If you’re interested in better managing your finances, the budget planner5 on the Australian Government’s MoneySmart website may be a wise place to start. You can also check out my review of WeMoney – an App I use to help me manage my bills, track my spending and check my credit score.
Making intelligent choices when it comes to spending, rather than avoiding spending altogether, is what frugality is really about. While being too frugal can lead to missing opportunities and experiences and a lack of enjoyment of life, being too extravagant or wasteful can hinder progress towards achieving financial independence. For this reason, a happy medium between frugality and enjoying life without compromising your financial goals is crucial.
Whether you’re naturally frugal or tend towards extravagance, being mindful of your spending habits6 can help you achieve long-term financial stability and independence.
What do you think about frugality, or about the opposite of frugality? Can someone still reach FI if they don’t have frugal habits? Let me know your thoughts!
- How to Set Financial Goals for Your Future, Amy Fontinelle, Investopedia. Published: Oct 8, 2022. Accessed online at https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/100516/setting-financial-goals/ on April 24, 2023.
- Budget planner, MoneySmart.gov.au. Accessed online at https://moneysmart.gov.au/budgeting/budget-planner on April 24, 2023.
- How to Stop Bad Spending Habits & Stop Spending Money, Melinda Opperman, Credit.org. Accessed online at https://credit.org/blog/how-to-control-bad-spending-habits/ on April 24, 2023.