Are you an Extreme Frugaller or a Frugal Artist?

Miss Thrifty23 July 2, 2013

extreme frugality

I don’t run guest posts very often, as regular readers know, but I was delighted when Maria Nedeva asked me if she could contribute a one-off post to Miss Thrifty. Maria is the brains behind The Money Principle: do you know it? If you don’t, do take a look because it is quite unlike any other UK personal finance blog – in fact any other personal finance blog full stop. Maria is an academic at the University of Manchester, teaching Philosophy of Science to PhD researchers. The Money Principle is a blog about money management, but with hefty dollops of  logic, analysis and sociology thrown in. Whenever I visit The Money Principle I find myself dipping further and further into the posts. It’s a chocolate box of a blog.

This is Maria’s post for Miss Thrifty about two types of frugality: what she calls Extreme Frugality and Frugality as an Art Form. Which are you?

Frugal is as frugal does!

When the going gets tough, frugality gets more frugal; or at least it becomes that much more popular. In fact, during our collective adventures in the economic realm of double and triple dip depression – which sounds and feels to me like we’ve spent the last five years in an on-going crisis – frugality has become so widely spread that even people who don’t have a frugal bone to their body have been dipping their toes in.

I, myself, am finding that when it comes to frugality my intellect and my actions appear somewhat disconnected. My intellect is telling me that frugality makes little sense and that it, when brought to an extreme, can make life unpleasant, difficult and, worst of all, very wasteful. I have been known to write about my take on frugality and argue that frugality is not the answer.

homemade ciabatta Where is the contradiction you may ask? Well, the contradiction in the fact that we have not bought bread for close to three years now: I bake all of it. We have ciabatta (right), pitta bread, naan bread, rye bread, wholemeal bread with hazelnuts, brioche and all sorts of artisan bread. Making our bread at home saves up to two thirds of the cost (so a loaf that will cost over £2 in M&S I can make for about 70 pence). It all adds up and I am very proud of myself – over the month we probably save about £30.

What is even more important though is that the bread I make has only four or five ingredients and any increase doesn’t include anything beginning with ‘E’. As to the bread we buy at the shops, I have been known to stand in M&S and count the ingredients in their wholemeal bread. Take a guess? The particular loaf I was looking at had fourteen ingredients in it!

I also make pizza from scratch – no cheating, no buying ready bases, no buying pastry. Sometimes I even make the dough by hand: this not only adds taste (my twelve years old son said that my pizza is almost as good as Domino’s) but it is also very therapeutic. After days of touching only the keyboard, making something that gets my hands dirty feels so good.

Difference is that Domino’s pizza costs £16.99 for ten slices; I reckon with a growing up pre-teen, a high metabolism husband and a starving me, we’ll need at least two pizzas. Gosh, this is £33.98 for a junk meal! My pizza costs less than £5, including high quality toppings, and doesn’t have to be fatty junk.

You see, I can get rather excited about this frugality lark; in fact, the other day I spotted a younger colleague having supermarket soup.

“Why are you eating this stuff?” I asked. “If you make it at home it costs a fraction of what you paid and it contains only edible ingredients; none of this preservatives rubbish.”

“Oh, I don’t have time”, she said. “I am not a good housewife, I suppose.”

I am not buying this! My work schedule is about three times heavier than hers, I run a successful blog, have a pre-teen son and run marathons. Am I a super woman? No! I am just very frugal with my time – even in the darkest despair of debt I had someone to do the ironing and clean.  (Note from Miss Thrifty: Maria and her husband, John, paid off £100,000 of debt in three years.)

How is this frugal? Easy; an hour of my time costs about £40 and an hour of cleaning costs me £12. In effect, by having a cleaner I ‘save’ £420 per month. Even if I use the time for recreation!

This is not looking good, does it? I don’t seem to live what I preach. If frugality is not the answer how come I take so much pride in saving £30 on our daily bread?

Not as bad as one may think, though. Because I most certainly draw the ‘frugality’ line above:

  • Cutting my own hair. Give what I do this may turn out to be very wasteful through loss of employment.
  • Sitting in the cold to save 50 pence. In the long run this is wasteful since illness and discomfort have been known to lower productivity.
  • Making own shampoo or cleaner. This may be OK for most people but knowing myself I’ll probably get something wrong; it is dangerous.
  • Driving for two hours to tank up with petrol that is 3p per gallon cheaper. This one is a bit obvious, really.
  • Driving around to buy a can of beans that is 5p cheaper than the corner shop. See the one above.


To put it simply, I make a difference between two kinds of frugality. One is what I call ‘frugality as an art form‘ and the other one is ‘extreme frugality‘. I welcome and practice the former; as to the latter this is most certainly not for me. Or for anyone, for that matter; but this is a private decision.

Frugality as an art form

This kind of frugality is more about ‘stretching the pound’ without loss of quality of life. Decisions are usually made on the basis of different factors and broad considerations. For instance,  making bread for me is never only about saving £30 per month; were it only about that it probably won’t be worth it. Making bread is also about the quality of bread and me relaxing. Similarly, having a cleaner makes sense in terms of frugality only when all other considerations – like my very long working days and the difference between the hourly rate of pay – are taken into account.

Also, frugality as an art form is about the long term prospects it promises. Outsourcing household labour allow me to focus on developing different skills and competencies that in the long run will pay off handsomely. No additives (and sugar) in our bread and meals is most certainly healthy in the long run.

Extreme frugality

Extreme frugality, on the other hand, doesn’t usually build on broader thinking and wider concerns. Driving for 35 minutes to save 30 pence off your shopping misses the point that you spend much more on petrol; because your thinking focuses solely on the saving. Making your own bread, or lunch, may seem a cumbersome chore because of purely financial reasoning.

Cutting your own hair, or saving on internet, telephony and computing, will reduce your outgoings for the moment; but in the long run each of these can seriously diminish your ability to earn more.

Two kinds of frugality in a nutshell

These are differences between the two kinds  of frugality in a nut shell:

  Frugality as an art form Extreme frugality
Thinking Complex thinking accounting for a number of factors. Absolute thinking considering very limited factors.
Considerations Broad concerns including quality of life and relationships. Narrow financial concerns.
Time horizon Long term prospects. Short term gains.



I am frugal; but I believe in, and subscribe under, the kind of frugality that brings different kinds of value to my life, the one where I can get the maximum value out of my money without compromising my quality of life.

How about you?

The Money Principle

Image credit: austinevan.

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23 Responses to “Are you an Extreme Frugaller or a Frugal Artist?

Miss Thrifty says:

P.S. The picture is of a pre-war New Mexico family. I thought they embodied the best of both types of frugality: extreme by necessity but even so, those handmade dresses are beautiful.

July 2, 2013 at 3:30 am

krantcents says:

A little creative frugality is good! I think I am creative frugal person. I seek value in my purchases and dwell on what is important. After all extreme anything is unsustainable!

July 2, 2013 at 3:44 am

Sandy says:

Very interesting post 🙂

I think in the same way – frugality is an art and I enjoy the challenge. Also I appreciate the notion that frugality is not set in stone – you do what works for you and your family, e.g. I enjoy making my own household cleaners, but I would get annoyed making my own pizza bases every time (although I draw the line at ready-made pizzas – I buy the Morrison’s pizza bases and get the kids to help make the toppings).

Mind you, sometimes folk don’t have a choice about extreme frugality because if you’ve only got a few quid to last the week, you have to make short-term decisions.

July 2, 2013 at 10:13 am

Great guest post – thank you Miss Thrifty and The Money Principle. I think that artful frugality appeals more to me, and probably to most people if they are able to choose. To be able to play the long game, eg hire help to do chores so you can work more, makes sense and is very empowering.
For some though, extreme frugality, ie stretching every penny to the max, is a necessity, if living week to week, moneywise. I wonder if there are any artful frugality tips that could benefit and enhance the lives of people who are living on a super-tight budget that necessitates extreme frugality?

July 2, 2013 at 10:46 am

Pauline says:

I guess your pizza ends up being more expensive if you factor your time. But like you I am all in favor of cooking delicious, healthy meals from scratch and not spending hours trying to save a few pennies. I would also look for the cheapest-for-value item if we are talking about a computer or a car, but not necessarily for daily items, I just pick them at the store and save time. I like that you put frugality as an art, if you are resourceful (but not cheap) there is great pride in that fact. I am proud I can cook, perform basic maintenance on my car, or saw a button. All those skills make me less dependent on the outside (and paid) world.

July 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Kate Powell says:

I agree with Sandy and Skint in the City…for some people there is no choice between arty and extreme, although I’d like to think that anyone would do the maths about driving to save 30p. Now I’m living in a rural place I really do think about petrol, we keep a running list of stuff we need on our forays into our nearby town (every couple of days) and our bigger not so close town (monthly or six weekly trips) sometimes buying online and saving the petrol entirely is the more frugal move. Frugal Queen Amy Dayczyn (Tightwad Gazette) says that of all the things you have to buy/pay for you have the most control over the cost of the food you eat, I think if you can teach yourself cooking skills that is a very valuable thing to do. We eat really well, I make everything from scratch and have done for so long, I don’t think twice about it. I’m now selling food in a local producers market, which is one of my income streams.

July 2, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

@krantcents – I think you are a creative frugal person too! As with The Money Principle, I am always interested to read your posts because I think you often have a refreshing take on budgeting and money management.

@Sandy – When I make pizza dough I make it in batches, wrap in cling film and stick it in the freezer before the proving stage. If I’m honest it isn’t as fluffy and doesn’t rise like the unfrozen fresh dough, but it still tastes nicer than the shop-bought bases IMHO. And costs pennies. Super-easy Delia dough recipe. Maybe I should blog it sometime!

@Skint in the City – I think that for people on super-tight budget, it’s a different balance. For example it used to be that I didn’t have time to make my own bread (and no breadmaker – boo!) but would pick up fancy breads and giant loaves at the supermarket at the end of the day, when they were reduced to pennies. Heck, I still do that! I’d put that in the artful & extreme categories – but I think it’s only artful if you bung it all in the freezer, so it doesn’t go stale overnight…

@Pauline – Come and fix my car! 😉

@Kate – Amy has a point about food. In my skintest days I got it down to £60 for two people per month and, like you, that budget depended on being able to make most things from scratch. Well done on the local producers’ market, by the way: your grub must be delicious!

These are my thoughts, anyway; I am sure Maria will be along to share hers too…

July 3, 2013 at 2:06 am

I used the word thrifty in my blog title because to me it means using creativity to make the most of everything I have and every opportunity I come across. Obviously making the most of things will vary hugely from person to person as they see different potential due to having different preferences and skills. Being a frugal artist sounds similar to me to the concept of thriftiness.

I totally agree that being frugal or saving money for it’s own sake doesn’t always make sense, however when you add a multitude of other reasons to it, it makes a lot of sense, For example growing and making all your own food from scratch may take a lot more time to do that it would to earn the money to go and buy the food, but you can’t buy food that fresh or of that high quality. Plus some people might prefer to spend their time gardening and cooking than doing other things.

I quit my job last November because I would rather spend my time on the things that are important to me than have the money to pay for them. Obviously money is still important, but there are loads of other ways to make money which can free up a lot of time and there are loads of ways to spend less money!

I feel being thrifty or a frugal artist opens up a world of opportunities that might not have been visible previously and can vastly increase your quality of life!

July 3, 2013 at 7:47 am

Leslie says:

Thanks for explaining why we save, and why we save the way we save, so perfectly. I’m nowhere near the point of making my own household cleaners, or even my own bread, but when being thrifty turns from a chore into a game, life is so much more fun. (Any good bread recipes?)

July 3, 2013 at 9:59 am

We make our own pizza as well! My husband has gotten really good at it. Have you ever tried the book “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”? Absolutely awesome way to make your own breads at home with much less effort than other recipes.

July 4, 2013 at 12:15 am

@Krant: Definitely an artist :)!
@Sandy: Some people don’t have choice about being frugal. I am not so convinced they cannot choose to be (or become) a frugal artist.
@Skint in the City: Being a frugal artist doesn’t necessarily include having a cleaner – this was just an illustration of the type of thinking that distinguishes a ‘frugal artist’ from an ‘extreme frugaller’. And as I mentioned above, I believe that everyone can choose to be an artist. As to tips, Elaine on Mortgage Free in Three has some artistic frugality tricks up her sleeve.
@Pauline: Yes, of course it does because my time is expensive. But…this is the time during which I earn. When it is about recreation factoring the cost of my time is not an issue – it is a choice between watching reality shows and enjoying myself by making my hands dirty. No contest and saves a lot in stress relates services as well!
@Kate: Well done, Kate for selling food at the market – this is a great example of being a frugality artist.
@Zoe: My hat off to you for taking the hard decision to leave your job and improve your quality of life. And cannot agree more with your last sentence.
@Amanda: Thanks for the title – will check the book. I’ve been trying Paul Hollywood’s book recipes.
@Miss Thrifty: Thanks again for publishing my post, for the awesome introduction and for the great group of people who read your blog and offer interesting opinion and ideas.

July 4, 2013 at 11:03 pm

John says:

Dominos is a total rip off – their mark up must be about 300%!

July 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Outsourcing day to day chores is an often overlooked way to become more productive. If it makes financial sense to do so, hire a nanny or cleaner to take the pressure off. The key is to actually use that regained time wisely. Many might be tempted to get in more TV time or head out for expensive meals. Like investing in stocks, when you re-invest your time you can achieve more.

For those who can live close to work, another great frugal tip is to walk as much as possible. If you can manage to live a few years without a car, the savings will be tremendous. Walking 15 minutes back and forth to the grocery store saves on having a car and gets you some much needed exercise. Plus, you’ll buy less junk because you’ll have to carry it all back home!

July 12, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Very good post, Thanks Miss thrifty and Maria. More then saving money, I cook food by myself as it healthy and delicious as per my taste & choice. I agree being frugal is not just buying low quality for cheap but frugality is spending money wisely and saving more for good quality. Its an Art.

July 18, 2013 at 8:40 am

“Frugality as an art form”. I love it.

I feel this sums up perfectly that frugality done properly is something to be proud of – it IS art.

“I made my own XYZ. Its cheaper and I saved money. Its better quality. Its better for me.”.

Long live fruaglity (as an art)…

August 7, 2013 at 10:04 am

Michelle says:

I think that people look at being frugal or cutting costs as a form of punishment. “We’ll cut down on this until we have money again.” For me, I have been frugal all of my life not necessarily because I wanted to. Now, I have very clear sense of what I want for my self and using artistic frugal living is the key to achieving what I want. I want financial security, to travel/experiences, and to work from home. That is priceless to me!

November 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Claire M says:

We are often frugal, because we have to be – hubby makes pizzas from scratch….. and why would ANYONE in their right mind buy 2 dominos pizzas for £33 ( besides, we would need three)! That’s just completely bonkers! And is also about 4 days worth of a food shop! Choosing to be frugal is not just a lifestyle choice, it’s a necessity for many! It’s also the most sensible option. Some people are in debt through no fault of their own (rising food prices alone suggest this), but some just need educating, and reminding that, for example, 3 family takeaways per week cost the same as 10 whole days worth of food – simple really!

March 19, 2014 at 12:52 am

Andrea B says:

Perhaps if you were extremely frugal, you wouldn’t have to work outside the home. Poor thing.

November 7, 2014 at 12:33 am

Kate says:

If I had been the younger colleague, with allegedly a third of the writer’s workload, I like to think my reply would have been “just effing spit in my dinner, why don’t you?”

There’s also something sloppy about lumping together anything that you dislike or disapprove of in a single category. What does turning down the heating have in common with driving miles to pay a few pence less for a single item? In fact, unless you are frail or have very small children, turning down the heating is a good place to start saving money.

May 31, 2015 at 1:28 pm

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