Frugality and American Culture: a Lonely Road

lonelyIn case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been MIA, I’ve been sick for the past two days.  I promise to be back in full force on Monday.  Pinky swear!  In the meantime, please enjoy this post from staff writer, Mitchell Pauly.  On most days, you can find Mitchell blogging over at

Being frugal is like deciding to wear a giant feathered cap and a monocle. It might isolate you from people you formally knew as open-minded and caring, but you know you look awesome.   Frugality isn’t exactly a national obsession on par with weight loss, fast food, and terrible catch-phrases, you feel me?  In a country where the average person consumes about 1.7 tons of pork in a lifetime (fact), a little frugality is usually considered as strange as idolizing a Nobel Prize winner.

Yet, the U.S has these cultural obsessions in a macro-atmosphere of stagnant wages, elongating work days, and widening economic inequality.  This is like dating a girl who throws knives at you, releases farts so harsh they kill plants, and refuses to shower any more than bi-weekly- yet you continue justifying your decision based on how she was in college.  It’s over and she kind of sucks now. 

Frugality is Isolating

This brings us back to frugality which can be socially isolating.  I have personally lost a multitude of friends as a result of my frugal ways.  We just want different things based on our view of American culture.  They want to cultivate a group of friends and lifestyle on par with the D-bags in Entourage, date women who can’t see what is offensive about Carrie beaming with joy when Mr. Big shows her a large closet, and write 16-hour work days off as “hustling.”  Good for them.

I want the freedom to use my time how I see fit.  I want a lifestyle that is geared towards what makes me spiritually happy, not superficially.  I want to participate in activities that challenge and engage me, and are in complete alignment with who I am and who I want to be around, not activities that are “synergistic” to my career (looking at you, golf and drinking).  In fact, I don’t want to hear the word “synergistic” outside of an ironic context.

Frugality is My Business

As lonely as being young and frugal can be, it is ultimately my business why I am frugal.  I mean this in layers.

  • My focus is on my financial situation from a cash flow perspective, and frugality reduces spending.
  • Frugality forces me to focus only on activities that better me.  It forces me to utilize my time in more meaningful ways than inanely spending money like some consumerist zombie.
  • My lifestyle and values are mine only.  If someone has an issue with them that is their business… I will continue to run mine.

Discussing frugality and American culture is like comparing fine French dining to Chipotle: they are just two different approaches to the same thing—life.  Chipotle takes the approach that more is better, making burritos that could double as mortar shells but not bothering to melt the cheese while fine French dining focuses solely on taste and quality[1].  Chipotle therefore, is very American—large and filled with stuff with no regard to how it all should synergize into something ultimately more satisfying.

I guess what I’m saying is this: don’t be Chipotle burritos.

[1] Seriously, not melting the cheese? This should disqualify Chipotle from any discussion of Mexican food.

Why have you chosen to be frugal?  Do you think that frugality is lonely?

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.


  1. I am attempting to live a very fugal life but my friends and coworkers often use the word cheap to describe me when I pass on the daily coffee shop run.

    Most of my friends can afford to spend and do so freely and I miss out on a lot of activities because of it. Yesterday several of them decided to fly from where we are in Canada to a spa in Arizona in May because they had suffered through such a long winter they needed a week of pampering to recharge and get ready for summer. They all had at least one get away to a hot climate this winter but apparently that was not enough.

    Of course I am not going. Even with the frugal choices I continue to make I am still pretty broke and will continue to be broke for the foreseeable future.

    • Jees Jane… have you thought about what you do for a living? No idea what it is, but maybe you need to reconsider?

      • I made $50,000 last year and I am at the top scale for my health care job. I was even lower income until I paid for a lot of retraining to increase my income. Throw in being a single mom and I am doing a lot better than many in my situation.

        I need to get a side hustle going to increase my income or meet a sugar daddy.

  2. I hear you. It’s hard being the frugal one in a culture where pandering to every consumer-driven whim feels like the norm. It does feel isolating at times. On the other hand, it has helped us discover which of our friends can embrace the frugality vibe happily, so that has been a great thing to learn :-)

  3. Frugality does not necessarily mean you lose friends. There are ways to cultivate relationships without spending much. Like visiting family/friends once a month at their home for tea. Inviting them to you birthday at home with food that you prepare. I understand why you are frugal because i am too looking at retirement options and less spending means more options for me. How many friends to you have now?

  4. My decision to be frugal is primarily motivated by my desire to be financially independent and retire earlier. I also want compound interest to work for me as quickly as possible. I also do not have the desire to consume, consume, consume as most Americans do. I am okay with enjoying the simple things in life while building my financial security. 1.7 tons of pork!? Wow!

  5. “Chipotle takes the approach that more is better, making burritos that could double as mortar shells…” Lol, that is hysterical AND true. I think it can lead to a bit of loneliness, especially if your friends and those you work with are not that way at all. At the end of the day I just choose to not let it bother me, though easier said than done at times, I’d rather be wise with my money than have the approval of others.

  6. Love this post…and the PF community. It makes being frugal AWESOME rather than awkward. I think it can be lonely UNTIL you find friends that value money the way you do. Reading all the PF blogs first thing in the a.m. is like checking in with my new frugal friends, thanks for all you do.

  7. I hope you get well soon Holly. I’ve been trying to cut some expenses, reducing eating out, and living a simple life, that’s frugality for me. I’m surprised that daughter understands it also, she even doesn’t want me to buy her a pair of sandals because she said that her old sandal is still fine.

  8. Funny, I never felt isolated being frugal. I guess it helps if your friends are supportive, but I do need to be creative.

    • Well good for you, Krant!!! If we could all be so lucky.

      I think its a factor of who your around. For me its sucks because I work in finance and make finance-money but don’t spend it at all, which everyone finds baffeling.

  9. I would say in my younger days I was very frugal but as I grow older and have a family we find ourselves splurging on small luxuries while still making sacrifices for big ticket items.

  10. My frugality has sometimes become an issue- particularly in group settings or social occasions. I was at a bachelorette party a few weeks ago and it was particularly bad. I wanted to opt out of certain more expensive things and was happy to do so, finding my own alternatives. But it just wound up creating a huge, uncomfortable mess.

  11. So if Chipotle is American and you say we shouldn’t be Chipotle, are you saying we shouldn’t be American? Just wondering. :)

  12. Chipotle isn’t so bad…you could always get a “mortar shell” burrito and then make it last 3 days. That’s pretty frugal.

  13. Interesting…I actually just turned in a post that takes the opposite stance, that frugality seems to be kinda trendy lately.
    Maybe I’m just old! When I started being more open about my frugality, I noticed that friends and people in my life really embraced it, too.
    Lol @ “on par with the D-bags in Entourage”

  14. Good point about golf and drinking. I hate the idea of spending my free time pursuing hobbies that will help my career instead of hobbies that I truly enjoy and want to invest in.

  15. I chose to live a more frugal lifestyle almost two years ago, and I literally lost “friends” who thought it was weird that I preferred to go out for happy hours or stay home rather than spend $15 for a martini. I am okay with the “loss” because I know what I am doing is smart for my short and long term goals, and I like to surround myself with smart people, so no loss for me.

  16. Sometimes it feels lonely, but I’m lucky I have friends who are frugal too. I think where it’s lonely is at my work. People live really Jonesy lives at my work. Which I just don’t follow in the same way.

  17. I have recently started living a frugal life. Oddly enough, I’m making much more money than I used to and I have realized that I need to make hay while the sun shines. In other words, when I was making ends meet, it seemed hopeless to live frugally, and spending was the only solace to that reality. I know, it’s counter-intuitive but there it is. And so, I’ve come to realize that by not leaving the house, I don’t spend money. It’s a simple formula and I like my own company so it works for me. I can take advantage of living in a beautiful part of the world at any time and I do. And I interact at work and I do go for coffee with friends but the days of stopping off at the mall on the way home are over. I now walk to work so I only buy what I can carry – that’s a great way to control spending. Now that I’ve strung a few months together of keeping a watchful eye on my spending, I’m developing a new way of thinking and behaving towards consumerism. My current attitude is “it’s my money and you’re not getting it”. One final thought: I heard someone say the other day that “we are totally defined by what we consume” and it really hit me, it’s true. I think it’s time we changed that trend. Thank you for opening up this worthwhile discussion – I feel less isolated.

  18. Interesting analogy. I agree that it’s sometimes hard to be frugal if the people around you are not used to it so the mentality is there. That’s why I like to read blogs about personal finance and find like-minded people so I don’t feel alone and motivated to be financially conscious!

  19. There are much more important things in life than spending big. If you have friends that can’t manage your frugality, then they probably haven’t really identified whats important. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing differently! Keep your head up high!

  20. It wasn’t so much of a choice as a necessity… that morphed into a choice. We had to be frugal to be able to afford to get out of debt, and from there it was a straight path to awesomeness and FI. Now that I don’t necessarily have to be frugal, I still want to because it’s way better. And seriously about the cheese, right? I’m okay with that on a burrito bowl, but then I don’t get the tortilla.

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