What Is Abundant Frugal Living?

by Dana George | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on May 5, 2020

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An older couple smiling with their arms around each other and holding a picnic basket in the woods.

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Living a frugal life may just lead to a more abundant life. Here's how.

At first glance, the words abundant and frugal may seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, one means overflowing and bountiful, while the other essentially means being thrifty and economical. And yet, abundant frugal living is a real practice. 

The National Debt Relief website describes abundant frugal living as purchasing things in moderation, so you don't compromise your ability to pay bills or to focus on important expenses.

Reframing the word frugal

Maybe one of the reasons it's hard to imagine a frugal life being abundant is because frugal feels like a dirty word, something we have to be when we are flat broke and busted. The truth is, frugality is one more tool in our financial arsenals, a practice that can:

  • Prevent us from getting in over our heads financially
  • See us through a crisis like COVID-19
  • Refocus our attention on what's important in life
  • Offer financial freedom by increasing savings and reducing debt

For many who practice abundant frugal living, the lifestyle also involves paying themselves first. What that means is putting savings at the top of your financial priorities every month, ahead of any other expense.

Poster children for abundant frugal living?

Some years ago, my husband and I moved to central Mexico where we met a retired couple. They both came from middle-class families and as adults, had enough money to buy a home, drive a nice car, and otherwise live the middle-class dream.

But what struck us as odd at the time was their relationship with money. They tore paper towels in half and reused plastic bags. If they ate out, they took leftovers home that would, without question, be consumed the next day. We're still quite close to this couple and in all the years we've known them, I have never seen one of them waste anything.

Here's where the abundant part comes in. If you didn't know them well, it would never occur to you that these people pinch pennies. They had a huge circle of friends, an active social life, and a keen ability to find amazing things to do for free or at a reduced cost. They were our go-to travel buddies when we wanted to explore a historic old prison, stroll through a small mountain town to watch women weave ponchos, or act like modern-day Indiana Joneses and check out a 16th-century Spanish mining settlement. 

The point is this: Their unwillingness to needlessly spend money did not compromise the quality or abundance of their lives.  

A series of deliberate decisions

The reason these friends sprung to mind when I thought about abundant frugal living is that they know how to enjoy life, while also living within their means and not wasting money.

Even though they're on a fixed income, they always rent a home they can easily afford, and only purchase a used car if they live somewhere without dependable public transportation (and then sell that car when they move somewhere with a bus stop or subway station within walking distance). 

They consider regular check-ups with their doctors a cost-saving measure because it helps head off serious medical issues. And they save for what they want. When there's a splurge coming up, like a trip to their granddaughter's wedding, they put money aside for it in their savings account. The only time I've known them to use a credit card was for an emergency trip to California, and they paid it off in full when they arrived home.

The best of both worlds

There's no rule in abundant frugal living that says you can't have nice things. It's all about finding a balance between what you want and what you need, what you can buy without racking up high-interest debt and still save for the future. Here are some ways practitioners of abundant frugal living make it work:

  • Purchasing a "regular" car rather than a luxury vehicle and taking such good care of it that it lasts for years.
  • Discovering store brands they enjoy as much as big-name brands.
  • Staying in their starter home longer than anticipated.
  • Using credit cards as a tool rather than a crutch. Frugal folks know that credit cards can make good financial sense. Carrying one is not only safer than carrying cash, a good credit card also offers rewards like airline miles, money-back offers, and discounts. The caveat is that it must be paid off in full each month so the user is never hit with interest charges.
  • Making it a practice to shop mindfully, only purchasing the things they need and will use.  

Abundant frugal living in the days of COVID-19

I called those same friends last week to see how they're holding up during the COVID-19 crisis. They are utterly fine. In fact, after a few minutes of video chatting, it became clear that they are built for a crisis like this. 

They have enough because they don't waste and so can get by on less. They're financially sound because they have always tucked away a little money each month, no matter how much (or little) they brought in. They don't feel deprived because they learned how to appreciate the little things in life decades ago. And because they already know of cheap ways to entertain themselves, they are less likely to get cabin fever. 

Those who practice abundant frugal living tend to be goal-driven, happy with non-material experiences, and care very little about what "The Joneses" are doing -- all great practices for anyone who wants to make the most of their finances.

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