Frugal Living vs. Simple Living

A few weeks ago a friend, someone I consider to be quite frugal, was telling someone about a good, nearby source for low-prices on produce, and that a few days earlier she had stocked up on organic mangoes, on sale at 3/$1.00. The listener asked her what she did with all of them, and my friend said they kept three freezers full of all their frugal finds.

Three freezers? My first thought was that there was no way I would want to manage or keep track of three freezers full of food, that this was w-a-y more complication than I needed or wanted to take on in my quest to live more frugally.

That got me thinking about frugal living versus simple living. What was I after, anyway, and which was more important to me and our family?

Frugal living does not necessarily equal simple living. Even if I shop at Goodwill, other thrift stores or yard sales, if I buy a lot of stuff and bring it into our home, that’s not necessarily living simple although it might have saved me some money. We still end up with more stuff. If I’m driving all over town to get the best deal with my coupons, that uses up both time and a lot of gasoline in the pursuit of saving a few dollars. For me anyway, it’s complicated keeping track of a lot of food, or taking the time to drive all over town, and there are lots of other things I’d rather be doing with my time. The same goes for our girls’ extra-curricular activities. The one they each take part in keeps me and my husband on our toes and is more than enough for all of us. I honestly listen to other parents going on about their kids’ multiple activities and how tired they are and I ask why?? No one has to say yes to everything.

For me, simple living simply means doing more with less. This does not mean we don’t look for the best prices, have reserves (we do), or buy extra when something is on sale, or enjoy the hunt at a thrift store. It means we set limits that work for us. Being frugal for frugality’s sake isn’t an end in itself. It means that we, as a family, continue to learn how to do it better with less.

After three years of consistent effort we remain a work in progress. So, one freezer full of food along with a well-stocked pantry is enough for us. I know what we have without having to resort to spreadsheets or calendars in order to use what’s on hand in a timely manner. We all have enough clothes for work, school and time off to where we only have to do laundry once a week. We don’t need more. We have less furniture than we did three years ago, and it’s turned out we really didn’t need so much after all. It’s less to clean and dust and the house is more open and light. Our garage now has lots of space, again just from getting rid of all sorts of stuff we once thought we needed.

More than anything else we’ve done over the past almost three years, cutting back on not just possessions but on the time we spend acquiring possessions (including food) has allowed us to focus more on paying down our debt. It’s been liberating, and helped me get more to the core of what I need to feel secure, content and even happy.

Just being frugal wasn’t the answer for us because frugal living doesn’t always equal simple living, and that has turned out to be our ultimate goal: A simple life. Getting rid of our debt is only the first step.

What simple living means to me or our family might be too complicated or too bare-bones for someone else. We all need to find our “sweet spot.” For my friend, that may mean having three freezers full of food. For me, that has meant not only spending within our means, but having the time to do the things we enjoy, and not feel burdened by the need to always find the best deal around or “have it all.”

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Filed under Living a Frugal Life, Simple Living

14 responses to “Frugal Living vs. Simple Living

  1. I love this post. We’re somewhere in the middle – I’ll pay extra for convenience many times, but we do try to keep things simple. We try (aren’t always successful) to not collect “things”, we declutter regularly, we menu plan but don’t have a huge inventory of things, I stopped doing the drugstore game because I found that I didn’t go through 1/2 of what I bought, & it was just collecting dust.

    I also try to think of everything we buy in the lens of, would I pack that if we had to move? If the answer is no, I try not to purchase it.

    • That’s where we are right now – “Do we want to pay to move this?” and if the answer is no, we don’t buy it or we get rid of it. One of my fellow WW partners lives part of the year in Hawaii, and she’s been a great source for what works there and is worth taking and what doesn’t.

  2. EcoCatLady


    It seems to me that for many people “frugal living” is a project or a hobby – and part of the purpose is to give them something to focus on and spend a lot of time and energy pursuing. To me, this kinda seems like the antithesis of simplicity.

    • Agreed! I think many believe that one automatically equals the other. I do some people for whom frugality is a hobby, but their lives are anything but simple (more like exhausting, if you ask me).

  3. I’d contend that 3 freezers full of food is only frugal if your friend is feeding a family approaching the size of the Duggars of tv fame. lol
    While the other things you mention….the time and effort and gas expended to gather that quantity….nudges their efforts out of the frugality category, there are other hidden costs to this level of stockpiling. There is the cost in electricity–1 freezer will necessitate energy generation and consumption but 3 freezers worth is not so frugal to your wallet or simple for the environment. And having that much space taken up in your home physically by cold storage boxes means your friend is either losing space in which to enjoy their home for other purposes or it means they really don’t need a house that big and could downsize and really simplify and make frugal their lifestyle. lol

    I have always said that stockpiling food as a hedge against inflation can only go so far as a frugal measure….unless of course, you can afford to buy enough food at today’s prices to last you until you die(and who really can do that?lol). Otherwise, at some point, you will run out of the food bought before inflation raised the prices to unfavorable levels and then you will need to restock/rebuy even more food at the higher price point.

    And let’s all take a lesson on how the unpredictability of the physical world can cause us frugal pain. I am sure if Superstorm Sandy had hit your friend they might be sitting on 3 x the amount of rotting unusable food that some in parts along the East Coast are having to contend with now. Disasters can wreak havoc on frugality and simplicity.

    • They currently have only two more people than we do living in their HUGE house (I don’t want to even think what they pay to heat/cool the amount of space they have – definitely NOT frugal, and their water use is most likely astronomical). Maybe she sees the savings in one area (food) balancing the expenses in other areas (utilities & water). I’d rather balance the three and save all around, but that’s just me. (I should also add though that they’re a very nice family, very involved in the schools and community).

      I had the same thoughts about losing that much food if there was a natural disaster here, or there was a sustained power loss (and we do get those here). But stockpiling food is her thing – to each their own, I guess. It just seems so complicated to me.

  4. You are so right! We no longer keep a freezer. I get rid of boxes of stuff each week. I’m done couponing, stock-piling and thinking I have to wring the last value out of everything I buy or make. A clear home is better for our emotional well-being than just about anything I can think of. I swear, you hit all my hot points right on… good job!

    • Great post-way to many people assume one means the other. That said,
      I fully admit that I am on the frugal vs simple side-or was for most of our lives. I have no interest really in less stuff. I’ve written more than one blog post on the fact that I am not “simplistic in anyway. I’m frugal so that I can have more (within reason). I would have three freezers if I had my own garden, otherwise I dont need one. And since I get most things for fifty percent off, driving around time is worth it. I do agree that most people are one or the other, with a few in the middle.

      • I think everyone needs to find what works best for them. My friend apparently needs to keep three freezers full of food – that works for her, maybe so she can save in other areas. You like your stuff, but find and maintain it in a frugal way.

        I still have stuff, and stuff that’s not necessarily simple either (cake stands, anyone?). But as Hawaii Planner wrote below, these days we are asking ourselves more and more, “Do we want to move that?” (or pay to move that), and the answer is no. But that’s us, and what works for us might not be right for anyone else.

    • Thanks! I feel the same way, that having our home cleared of so much as really improved our emotional well-being as well. I like knowing that I could still live with less if I needed to and stay content.

  5. Wished I had wrote this… I am like a tuning fork, resonating with this one with all my heart…

  6. I completely agree with this. I think we can a have frugal, simple, cheap and tightwad life. These are really just words but basically mean all the same thing. Two words that really need to be mentioned are common sense. If you watch the extreme coupon program, it dosen’t really make sense to have 2 or 3 thousand tubes of toothpaste, but buying enough that is needed for your own circumstances does make sense if you buy it on sale with a coupon.

    We have so much information on frugal living ideas, that we can pick and choose which of those ideas make sense in our lives, and really that is the best choice of all.

    • Common sense is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? And respect for others – what’s frugal to me might not be to another or seem cheap to someone else. Cheap to me means whatever I’m doing will impact someone else, or make them go along whether they want to or not; being frugal is “low-impact” or no-impact on others. Cheap is also all about spending less; frugal means doing more with less.

      My kids watched a few of those coupon shows – the only one they liked is where the man and his wife donated all the food/toiletries they were able to get for $0 to food banks and shelters.

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