Dad’s Frugal-Intense vs. Mom’s Frugal-Lite

Mom and Dad in our last family photo

DH = Dear Husband

We’re in the 34th month of our journey out of debt, and I still find myself having “Aha!” moments. This week I had another one.

Two brands of frugal: -intense and -lite

I don’t know about you, but when I think about “frugality”, I think of doing without and toughening up. We used to hire cleaners for our house, but we’re doing without, and we’re (I’m) doing our (my) own house cleaning. (Sometimes). We used to spend over $200 per week on groceries, but we’re doing without, and we’ve cut that bill down to $150. We used to eat at nice restaurants occasionally, but we’re doing without and spending way less – and way less often – on meals out. We used to go on mini-get-aways the odd week-end, but we’re doing without and staying put.

I like feeling tough. My dad was tough. He grew up on a prairie farm during the Great Depression, with only the basics at the best of times. Scholarships were his ticket out of poverty. Physically strong and athletic, academically rigorous, socially aware and contentious, my dad was adamantly frugal with a sort of reverse pride about it all. A bit of contempt in his attitude towards his “softer” fellow men I must admit. I suppose I feel a bit of an “atta girl!” pat on the back when I tough it out.

But here’s the thing. I’m not really that tough. I’m a product of my mother too, after all. Like my dad, she grew up in the era of the Great Depression. But she was a city girl. And her family had a live-in maid. AND a house-cleaner who came every Wednesday. Her name was Jessie. I just found out about that a few days ago. My mother’s hush, hush disposition towards certain topics is giving way to more disclosure now that she’s 90 years old. There had always been a bit of teasing towards my mom for having come from some privilege, and there were jokes about household staff, but I didn’t know it was beyond anything that I have experienced myself – house cleaners doing their wonderful work every two weeks. A stay-at-home mom, a live-in maid, and weekly cleaning service? OK.

My mother’s lifestyle changed dramatically after she married my dad, but she never complained. It wasn’t in a stiff-upper-lip way of not complaining – stoically suffering in silence. She didn’t suffer. She really didn’t miss the privileges of her upbringing. Perhaps she knew that they hadn’t afforded her any more happiness than she was enjoying as an adult having to live within her means.  But she was never “tough”. She indulged thoroughly in the charm of life – just not by spending money.

Our frugal groceries: both -intense and -lite

My big New Year’s resolution this year has been frugal grocery shopping. I set the limit of $150 per week, and so far, so good. My first forays into the grocery store this year were characterized by a fierce determination. Calculator in hand, I weighed the vegetables and bananas and studied comparative prices with great focus. I was tough. Atta girl! But in the last few weeks, I’ve forgotten to bring the calculator. And I haven’t bothered to weigh everything. And I’m still coming in under $150.

I actually LIKE this frugal grocery thing. I love the abundance of food that happens when I slow cook large quantities of chicken, beef, beans, pork. I love the high quality hanging out time that takes place in the kitchen as people linger to talk or just share the space while I chop or stir or clean up. I love the enthusiasm with which these new old meals are anticipated, and the way they draw us around the table together again after years of separate eating and separate diets and separate schedules.

My dad’s frugal intensity is present in the time and work devoted to preparations. But my mom’s frugal-lite is also present. In the slowed pace and the casual chit-chat. Something of great value that we’ve done without for far too long – until we started doing without. A few weeks ago, on a Saturday when I was cooking up a storm, DH came through the door and stopped in his tracks. “Hmmm!” he said, eyes closed and nose in high gear. “It smells like home.” We’ve been living in this house for almost 17 years. But I knew what he meant.

Moving forward . . .

Each one of us is a product of two parents. I have approached our journey out of debt almost exclusively with my dad’s frugal-intensity. And there’s been a lot of good that has come of it. But I’m going to embrace my mom’s frugal-lite as I move forward, and I suspect the combination of these two brands will prove to be better for us than either one on its own.

But what about house cleaning?

I’m especially curious to see if it will have an impact on house-cleaning. Is there a frugal-lite side benefit here? I think there must be, but I haven’t found it yet. I really do miss our house-cleaner days. I really am jealous of my mom’s mom. Where is MY Jessie? I really do feel like we’re doing without – and that I’ve got to toughen up. Or not. Maybe what I’ve got to do is open up to the frugal-lite side of cleaning – whatever it might be. I’ll share any discoveries I make. Stay tuned.

 How have your parents influenced your attitudes towards frugality? Do you operate with the frugal-intense or the frugal-lite brand? Your comments are welcome.

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  • My mom scrimped and saved and invested in savings bonds. My dad never knew what they had. He was a spender, and mom was afraid of being poor like she was growing up. My dad was poor growing up too, but when he started making some cashola, he liked to live it up! My mom taught me, through her actions and words, to be afraid of money. She has a sizable stash today, but she’s still afraid to spend it. She’d rather sit in her 60 degree house with a blanket over her legs complaining about the cold. Some people seem to fight comfort and joy.

    Love the picture of your parents, Prudence!. They look like a very happy couple. 🙂

    • That save-and-don’t-spend scared mentality is something I cannot relate to. It’s a problem that is opposite to the one that I (and your dad by the sounds of it – not to mention millions of others) used to have. Interesting how the same background of poverty led to two very different styles of money management. But you’re changing your family tree, and I think your son will be a huge beneficiary of all the growth he’s seeing in you and your husband. Thanks for your comment, Kay!

  • Both my parents always worked hard. My dad taking a second job at times, and often working overtime or side jobs to bring in extra money. I’m not sure if they ever really taught me anything about frugality, but certainly not be be afraid of working hard. We were frugal-intense for 50 months as we paid off debt. We’ve eased up a bit now, but not so much as to become careless again. It’s always a fine balance. My wife often works weekends, so I do a good bit of house cleaning myself.

    • Even if your parents didn’t overtly teach you anything about frugality, you probably got a sense of their money outlook just by the example they set. It’s great that you had hard work as a role model. After reading about Kay’s mom (above) and her fear of spending, I think it’s good that you and your wife are balancing that intensive frugality these days. And it’s WONDERFUL that your wife isn’t stuck with all of the housework! Do your kids get in on the action too?

  • This was a great post — really nice stuff about your parents. I think I’m more frugal-lite than frugal-intense. I like to enjoy the fruits of not spending much money, especially the cooking and social-life-related ones. High-quality hanging out is a great way to put that. I also take pride in my ability to live lightly and to make use of things for a long time. Sometimes I do get intense, but even then I try to have fun with it. My parents…they’ve never had a budget, but they’ve also never spent beyond their means. They were really frugal when we were kids, because they had only one income and it wasn’t very big. After we got out of college, and they were both working full time and making pretty good money, my mom definitely got very spendy; my dad isn’t much of a stuff person, but my mom is and would buy stuff she liked when she was stressed about work. I think too much, but again, they weren’t going into debt…anyway, I think they’re basically fine now, enough money to retire on (fingers crossed). But, what I learned from them was to try not to outspend what you’re earning, but also to go after a career you want and not after one that will make money. These aren’t necessarily terrible things to have learned, but in retrospect I wish there’d been a *little* more discussion of why it might be a good thing to make some money and start a retirement account, and I wish I’d learned to budget properly about twenty years ago…. Oh well 🙂

    • If it’s any comfort, I learned to budget just about the time I turned 49 – and in the two and a half years since then, it’s made a significant difference. So as far as I’m concerned, you young things in your thirties are way ahead of the game. I also wish that my parents had spoken more about money management. It was such a secret. It was in bad taste to discuss such things. I talk to anyone who will listen now : )
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment,, C.

  • My parents divorced when I was seven. What I saw about money or being frugal from my parents was very little. Although my mom was more frugal than dad has ever been. Money saving or spending wasn’t talked about but somehow we always had just what we needed and nothing more. My money and frugality education has mostly been a learn as you go kind of thing. Although I will say that my mom did teach me the value of buying on sale and the value of buying used as a way to save money.

    • “somehow we always had just what we needed and nothing more” I think there’s a mind-set that goes into that state of finances. It’s that tendency to spend to zero and not save. I am inclined that way myself, and I’m trying to correct it before the savings part of our journey out of debt kicks into high gear. (That will come after we’ve finished paying off our business debt. Another $15,000 to go.) I am trying to adopt a mind-set of abundance, and to get there by frugal living, debt-freedom, and significant savings and investments. Money talk didn’t happen in my home either. I wish it had! Thanks for your comment, Tennille, and all the best as you keep learning as you go : )

  • My parents both worked hard, my Mom was the money master though. My Dad was a bit of a dreamer but Mom kept it real. LOL. I wish I had a housekeeper – never have and it is tough working and keeping up with a big house and kids. Several years ago I found fly lady ( and started taking on some of her routines and it has made a huge difference in the cleanliness of my house and my sanity.
    On the groceries — for some reason our spend has drifted down too. I have been thinking about it and wonder if maybe we have become acclimatized to a lower spend and different food choice and now it is natural – if that makes sense. Good luck with your challenge.

    • I just took a quick look at, and I felt intimidated pretty quickly! I’ll give it a real go, though, and see if I can navigate my way to ideas that would work for our household. Thanks for the tip! I think that we do become acclimatized to lower spending – and that’s a good thing. Something that seems super frugal eventually just becomes normal. Thanks for your comment, May.

  • I’ve had to settle in a frugal-lite way of life. We did a more intense version when we were paying down debt, but to keep my husband from going crazy, we’ve lightened up some.

    Plus we practice imperfect frugality (more so than most) thanks to health problems. They keep us from being as strict as I’d like.

    I do think that my husband has been a great influence on me (and vice versa). He reminds me to occasionally live in the moment. I keep his eye toward the future.

  • I’m pretty sure that we’re going to “lighten up” once we get out of debt too – but I’m even more sure that we won’t go back our old careless spending ways that ended up causing so much grief. It’s great to realize that you’ve got the makings of a good balance in your relationship. Thanks, Abigail!

  • My parents were not very frugal all the time when I was growing up and they weren’t the best at managing money but I still learned some good financial habits from them anyway. I learned how to find frugal entertainment and make meals stretch and stick to a grocery budget from my mom and I learned how to shop around for the best deal from my dad.

    • It’s great that you can take the best of their practices and leave behind the not-so-good aspects of their money management. Thanks for stopping by, Chonce!

  • We used to have a house cleaner back when I was working, and it was nice. But the way I see it now- no one sees my house as dirty as I do, so I just try to make sure it’s picked up. If I haven’t dusted my house in a week (ok, or a month), I don’t beat myself up about it, because no one notices it like I do.
    But wow about your mom having a live in cleaner! I can’t imagine!

    • I have found that to be the truth as well. Someone will come over, and I’ll say, “Sorry for the mess,” and they’ll say, “What mess?” Picked up is good enough most of the time. Thanks for your comment, Robin : )

  • I grew up with parents that were complete opposite of each other. My dad was extremely strict with his money and tracked everything he spent in his checkbook, while my mother never did this. She was a spender and seemed to be always shopping. I basically got the best of both worlds, because I learned to live a little but to also be wise about my money.

    • Thanks for your comment, Alexis. That’s wonderful that you were able to take only the best from each parent. Conflicting role-modelling can cause confusion, but clearly it didn’t in your case!

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