Sunset in Mexico. One of many trips for FFF and her husband.

I wish I had this problem! Is it possible to be too frugal? Is there ever a time to let up on frugal habits? My financially-free friend (FFF) thinks so.

History of reluctant spending

Old habits die hard

Changing long-standing habits is tough. Anyone who has ever tried to stop chewing their fingernails or spending hours on Facebook, or tried to start going to the gym instead of the couch after work knows this all too well. The idea that I’ve been playing with since being asked to write this entry is that, through my life, the way I have been with money is habitual; a well-practised, well-wired pattern of behaviour that is resistant to change regardless of changing life circumstances.

We hear a lot about the habit of over spending. I’m a reluctant spender. Spending isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally. I’m getting better at it, I’m happy to say. It’s about time!

Growing up, I had very frugal role models in my parents. I learned, through my observations and deductions over the years, that spending a lot of money, especially on self and personal possessions was a weakness. No-name brands were the way to go. Zeller’s jeans were good enough. It was far more impressive to ride a 15-year old rusted Canadian Tire bike than to give in to media and peer pressures to buy the latest and greatest.

So I learned not to spend. When I travelled, I travelled on the cheap. I used the book “Europe on $10 a Day” as a guide, but I made it my own personal challenge to spend even less! I got my first job as a teacher in 1981. Over the next 30 years, my yearly salary would increase from $18,000 to $80,000. I furnished my first “working girl’s” apartment with garage sale acquisitions. Two years after starting my career, I finally purchased something new: a Sony record player. It felt great but also a little excessive.

When my first husband and I went to buy our first home, I couldn’t stand the idea of owing anyone money (ie: having a mortgage). We agreed to buy the smallest fixer-upper we could possibly find close to our favourite part of town but definitely on the wrong side of the tracks, and do all the renovations ourselves. We took in renters upstairs to pay off the small, but necessary, mortgage. After 2 years we sold this house for a lot more than we paid for it and were able to move into a bigger, more comfortable home to start our family.

A slow letting go

We slowly allowed ourselves to start taking holidays and replace second-hand furniture with new pieces. There was a slow letting go of the self-imposed restraint I had come to know so well. I sometimes even ordered something from a menu based on what I wanted to eat rather than what was the cheapest option! It felt liberating on the one hand, but risky on the other. There was still a strong voice within me that cautioned against throwing caution to the wind. I reminded myself to keep it under control.

Six years ago, I remarried. I feel very fortunate on so many levels, but what is applicable here is that my husband and I have a lot of financial freedom. We are both retired. We have a nice home that is completely paid for. We can travel, pursue our interests, eat out and buy artwork. But old habits die hard. I’m still wired for frugality. I still hesitate. I still find myself buying the boots that are on sale rather than the ones I like best. When shopping for things for the house, I still ask, “do we need it?” The difference now is that I sometimes allow “want” to have importance too, regardless of need. I don’t need to go to Hawaii this winter, but when my husband suggested it, I didn’t hesitate to jump right on board.

What do you think? Should FFF abandon her frugality copletley? Or is it still serving her well? 

Comments are welcome!



Join the Conversation


  1. As I read your post, FFF, here’s what came to mind: Frugality is a really good thing if it’s motivated by a desire to create a life of financial freedom. It’s not so good if it’s motivated by such things as unhealthy guilt. I also noticed that although we have very similar role models in terms of frugal parents, your response to your frugal upbringing and my response to mine were completely opposite!

    1. Those are interesting observations. I learned frugality as a value quite separate from any goals or desires. It was, the way I processed it, an admirable way to be. I felt conflicted, however, when I heard about trips other families took together (Disneyland or Florida) because it all sounded so appealing and it was a challenge for me to rationalize that our Ontario camping trips were preferable. There probably is some unhealthy guilt involved in my continued reluctance to spend. I’ll have to watch that and think about it over the next weeks approaching Christmas. Thanks for the comment.

    2. Great article FFF and great comment PD!!

      I’m frugal. But I’m frugal because I enjoy what generally comes with frugality. I enjoy rambles and bike rides outside (they’re free), I enjoy spending time in the park or at the beach, I like playing volleyball or tennis (relatively cheap).

      I don’t like going out and buying a ridiculously overpriced car that brings no real benefit to my life and my happiness, or spending all day in the shopping mall, which I quite frankly find depressing.

      Therefore, “letting go” of frugality will be hard. But, not because I’m used to it or its an addiction. But because its how I enjoy living life.

      1. Moneystepper, I want to develop your mindset! As my husband and I get out of debt, we do still have the attitude that we have to “deprive” ourselves now for long-term gain. That’s not a bad thing necessarily – but how much better not even to want the things we’re “depriving” ourselves of! I’m aware of this sense developing in us slowly. But you and FFF are already there. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      2. Thanks for your comment moneystepper. I have the same response to shopping malls as you. I become overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted within minutes. The Black Friday race to the malls leaves me baffled by my fellow human beings. I’d much rather be hiking in the woods, deals or no deals.
        “The best things in life are free” rings true for me too!

  2. I think you need to find that balance. If you have done a good job of saving and being frugal all your life, at some point you need to make a choice to spend a little. What’s the point of eating out or shopping if you are purchasing things you are unhappy with? If they fit into your plan (budget) buy the item that you want.

    1. I agree that finding a balance is important. That’s what I”m shooting for. I want to clarify, however, that I never suffered by choosing the cheaper option. In the case of eating out, I was just so happy to sit, visit with whoever I was with, and let someone else do the cooking. Ordering the sandwich special was fine. It was good. I’m sure the filet mignon would have been good too! In the case of clothes shopping, I wasn’t unhappy not to have spent more money. It was good enough and that was OK.

  3. I would say for the most part continue with your frugal ways but not miss out on amazing opportunities just for frugality. Meaning maybe the boots are no big deal so why bother buying them at full price, but Hawaii is a GREAT experience and will provide you with long lasting memories. Spend only where it really counts, and be frugal with the rest.

  4. I don’t think you can or should completely shed your frugal mentality but continue to relax the reigns as you’ve been doing. Don’t feel guilty for spending money that you have diligently worked so hard to save. I always say that life is to be lived, just not above one’s means. Enjoy the simple pleasures and at times splurges in life, with equal gusto. 🙂

    1. Thanks. I didn’t realize that, in agreeing to write this guest post, I would receive so much encouragement; helpful nudges in a healthy direction. Much appreciated!

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