Why We Stopped Trying to Keep Up with the Frugal-Joneses

Frugality is all the rage. When Joseph and I decided to pay off $30,000 worth of debt this year, we naturally decided to frugalize our budget. But what started out as a tool to help us reach our financial goals faster, quickly morphed into this strange pressure to spend less and less because it was the “right way” to manage our money. In other words, we were trying to keep up with the Frugal-Joneses.

If frugality means avoiding spending money as much as possible, then we are not frugal.

When it comes to money, we try to spend the least that we can while getting as much what we want as possible. Everyone wants their dollar to stretch as far as possible. And  most people also have a list of wants that's even longer. In a perfect world, we'd have enough funds to meet all of our financial goals with plenty to spare, stage seven of the seven steps to financial freedom, buy we're just not there yet.

Until we reach that stage, we have to manage competing financial goals as best as we can so that our money goes at far as it can. That's where being frugal comes in.

Frugality is is a tool that we use to help us reach our financial goals, but it does not define our money mindset. We always want to make sure that we are being intentional about how we spend our money, but that doesn't mean that we will always choose to be frugal.

We have talked about how being frugal can turbo charge our financial goals. As we've worked to be more frugal to free up cash for other things, we've started to bump up against the darker side of the frugal mindset: the pressure to keep up with the Frugal-Joneses.

Are we frugal?

A few months ago we sat down to film a new Youtube video and on a whim decided to make a list of some of the ways we were incorporating frugality into our lives in order to help us meet our goal of paying off $30,000 worth of debt this year. Normally we'd spend days if not weeks planning our video content but this one was a total spur of the moment. We made the list of ten things we don't buy, shot it in one take, and uploaded it that day.

That video turned out to be our most popular video by far at 220,000 views and counting. The comments ran the gamut. Some were sad for us that we lived such deprived lives. Others said they couldn't relate because our frugal was just their regular lives. And a smaller, but very vocal subset, insisted that we weren't nearly frugal enough and so should not call ourselves frugal at all.

Frugal by choice vs necessity

Before I go any further, I want to take a moment to recognize that when we talk about frugality here on OBH, it is from a place of privilege because for us frugality is a choice. Having once been a single teen mom I am acutely aware of the difference between the two. Because of that, frugality looks a lot different to us as dual-income lawyers, than it does to someone living in poverty or even someone with a lower income generally. When we talk about frugality or saving money it's always going to be a reflection of how much money we have available to spend vs. how much we choose to spend.

Who are the Frugal-Joneses?

I think we are all pretty familiar with the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” The basic idea is that we see other people living lavish lives and feel the urge to spend to keep up with them even though we can't really afford to. Then we end up saddled with mountains of debt that are hard to dig out of. And in the end we aren't actually any happier because the high from buying things is only temporary.

The frugal mindset, on the other hand focuses on reducing comsumption, spending less, and living simply. One of the best aspects of frugality is that it encourages you to be more intentional about your money and your life. It encourages you to figure out what kinds of things actually bring you joy.

The problem comes in when frugality starts to take on a life of its own and becomes the end instead of the means. When insead of frugality being a choice, it becomes something that you have to do because you new frugal crew will judge you if you buy that new designer bag that you fell in love with a few weeks ago.

The Frugal-Joneses want you to spend the least amount possible all the time and are waiting to rip off your frugal merit badge if you don't toe the company line.

You might also like: How to Live a Happy Life: Tips for Creating a Life You Love Starting Today

Getting past the pressure to be uber frugal

Part of what makes One Big Happy One Big Happy is that we believe that life isn't just about one thing. It's about finding balance in the midst of competing priorities and defining what your best life looks like.

So what that means is that I may do my own hair at home to save $100 per salon visit but then turn right around and spend hundreds on home decor by  making a DIY poster bed  or decorating our nursery. It means that we have a budget and are constantly on the lookout for budget travel deals, but we also have a $3,000 mortgage. We might have an uber frugal no-spend month then turn around and take a family vacation to Singapore in the same year.

What initially seems like contradictions are actually just us sticking with the priorities and life goals that we have decided are important to us.

We are always reevaluating our goals, so there will be times where we will lean towards being more frugal. There will also be times when we are spending in ways that don't even remotely qualify as frugal (like when we finally take that luxury vacation that's on our life bucket list).

What's important is not how much we do or don't spend, but that whatever we do is intentional and furthers our goal of living our best life on the journey to financial independence.

Why I Stopped Trying to Be Frugal




  • Student Loan Hero Giveaway: I feel a person can choose where to be frugal and each person’s frugality will look different. I choose not to have cable because I found I didn’t need it and it saves me money. I still travel. I coupon for certain things where it is time effective. Frugality looks different for everyone and I agree with the sentiments expressed in this article.

  • I sure appreciate the example you give just by being you and sharing what works. It’s helped me stay focused on my goals.

    • Yes! We think that one of the key components of a sound financial plan is to connect your financial goals to your life goals and the vision. Personal finance is not one size fits all.

  • great vlogs… enjoyed catching you guys LIVE last weekend (funsahw here). I think I’ve read everything on the website now after trying to find out where to enter for the student loan hero charger bank giveaway .. LOL

    i dont think many people know that you guys have a website. you should consider putting your website name on your vlogs somewhere.

    love you guys.. peace and blessings always


    • Thanks for stopping by! And yes, I remember you from the live webinar. You asked a lot of great questions. I think we’ll start talking more about the blog when we have more content on here. We have a pretty intense content schedule for Youtube for the rest of the year so stay tuned for lots of good stuff!–Tasha

  • I couldn’t agree with this more. What’s frugal to one person might not be frugal to the next person, and that’s fine. It’s just a matter of what each person is willing to sacrifice in order to reach their goals.

    • Yes! And its so important that we make those decisions for ourselves because at the end of the day we are the ones who will have to live with them!–Tasha

  • I like your approach- we take a somewhat similar one in our family. While we still have about $50,000 in law school loans left to pay off, we are not forgoing everything to reduce this debt. We have a plan to be done in about 18 months, but could probably be done in less than 6 months if we drained our savings and went all in. However, we also believe in balance. We have had years where we struggled and out of necessity had to forgo things like vacations, new clothes, hobbies, etc. But we are now in a position to have these things and pay off all remaining debt (except our home) within a year and a half plus save for retirement and maintain a 6 month emergency fund. We have each lost a close family member at a young age- so we also believe that there is an argument to be made for a carpe diem approach (within reason).

  • Hello. Have you started sending the January money refresh emails? I thought I signed up but I haven’t been receiving them. Thanks!

    • We have! If you didn’t sign up before January 1st, you weren’t included in the Mindset Refresh. Shoot me an email (link at top of page) and I will add you.

  • Thanks for sharing about being a teen single mom; can’t wait to read more about that. I am new to the FIRE movement and actually stumbled on your youtube video on root of good’s twitter page where i was lead to from millenial-revolution… another google rabbit hole. It’s good to see people new to the Journey and a little less extreme on the spending front!

    • Thanks for stopping by! Yes, we are all about balance. Some people thoroughly enjoy the simplicity of extreme frugality but we know that it’s not for us. Instead we just try to be very mindful about our spending and work on creating lives that we love today while also working towards early retirement.

  • Wow,This is spot on. Being frugal shouldn’t be an end because it looses the essence of what you want to achieve. I love your posts. Thanks for sharing

  • As soon as I read the caption, I KNEW exactly what you meant! I have to completely agree with you. Frugal is a term used loosely when it comes to money. We watch what we spend such as eating out too much or cutting back on unnecessary spending but by no means do we live like cheapskates. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel “sorry” for me for living a simple life because it is something I chose to do. Can’t wait to watch your vlogs!


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