October 26, 2011

Retirement Frugality: What Does That Mean?

The post of a few weeks ago highlighted the concern many of us have about our ability to retire comfortably, or even at all. The news has not been encouraging for quite some time. Maybe you have decided that it is time you take a more active role in making the best of a troubling situation. Maybe you believe that the people in Washington are likely to continue putting their interests ahead of yours. Or, maybe you are simply tired of being the victim and want to have more control over your life.

A satisfying retirement is built on much more than money. But, let's not be naive. Without financial resources retirement could be anything but satisfying. At this stage of the game, whatever the reason for your situation is almost unimportant. What is crucial is what you are going to do about it. But,, if the forces of the financial world are aligned against you, what can you do?

There are a few things that make sense to me. You can control your spending by controlling your wants versus your needs. You can change your lifestyle to reflect the reality you find yourself in. You can adjust your attitude to become a positive force instead of a negative drag on your life.

I can't solve all the problems. If I had those answers I'd be running for President....no, wait. Who in their right mind would want that job? But, I have experience in being fired with two young children and a wife to take care of, having a company collapse from under me, living on mac and cheese for several months, losing 40% of my IRA  and 50% of my house value in a year, and being bled dry by health care costs. I've been there.

If you have been visiting this blog for a while, you know about some of the steps my wife and I have taken to adjust to our financial reality. Look under Related Posts below if you may have missed those ideas. This time I am writing more about an attitude change rather than a list of things you can do to get your budget under control.

Wikipedia defines frugality as " the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the use of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance." Since few people would want to be known as wasteful or extravagant, why isn't frugality something everyone embraces? Why is it almost a dirty word to many folks?

Like anything else, there are different degrees of frugality that range from casual to extreme. For example, I can clip some coupons, look for price match opportunities, and stock up on something when it is on sale. Or, I can become an extreme couponer, getting massive amounts of products for free or low cost and spending hours on the computer to get 100 rolls of toilet paper for a few cents.

I think frugality may have become a captive of those who are extreme in their definition and pursuit. Using both sides of copy paper is fine; using it to wrap a present not so much. Taking handfuls of sugar packets home from Burger King, probably not. Keeping the air conditioner off all summer and heating the house to 55 degrees in the winter goes beyond what is reasonable for most of us. But, I would guess that the concept of frugality makes many think of those extreme examples.

As a teacher of mine used to say, "I beg to differ." Frugal living means keeping more of what is yours, yours. It means not spending money for things you don't need and don't enjoy. It means eliminating the habits and activities from your life that take your hard earned resources and gives them to someone else. Wikipedia goes on to say, "Common strategies of frugality include the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, and seeking efficiency."  All that sounds good to me. Retirement and frugality seem made to go together well.

US News recently carried a story, "The Secret to Living Well on $11,000 a year." This man's approach isn't one many of us would follow, but it makes for interesting reading. It was a follow up to "The Secret to Living Well on $20,000 a year." This fellow's life is more mainstream. It is interesting to see how frugal others can be.

So, my simple question to you is are you frugal? Are you doing all you can to avoid waste and trim your expenses by eliminating things that no longer serve you well? Are you accepting whatever your financial reality is at the moment, regardless of why you are where you are, and controlling what you can control? Have you taken a hard look at everything in your life that costs you money, time, and effort and assured yourself that whatever it is passes the test?

If so, then I'd suggest you are frugal. Wear the badge proudly.

Related Posts


  1. Bob, While my parents were not financial geniuses by any means, what they were good at was instilling a work ethic and a frugal nature, two things sorely lacking by many today. I have tended to carry both throughout my life, regardless of how the financial lives of my wife and I have progressed. Yes, we have been blessed beyond most in this country, and we worked hard to get to this point. Irregardless, we tend to be careful on many points, including:

    1. Shopping. We tend to use all means at our disposal to arrive at good prices - coupons, Internet searches, and the like. With big ticket items, like a large screen TV, I could take up to a year to get the deal I would like. Being able to separate wants from needs in these cases helps a lot.

    2. Automobiles - We have always bought new but keep them for a long time. Making sure routine maintenance is taken care of, whether I do it myself or take it to a mechanic, is critical.

    3. Housing - While we currently live in a large home, it is still below our means, and we got a super deal on it as well through a foreclosure of the previous owners.

    4. Location - We moved from a high tax state in the Northeast to a much lower cost state in the South last year (I still work, making taxes more of an issue to me than many, and my wife is retired with a pension that is not taxed in our current state). Virtually all costs outside of water were reduced by the move.

    5. Eating Out - One thing we do more than most people I am sure, but we tend to frequent very casual chains (lower prices), and take advantage of numerous coupons and specials. With takeout being the norm on almost all occasions, we get multiple meals out of each visit. While I wouldn't recommend it all the time, one can occasionally indulge at places like Sonic which has its Tuesday night "5 for $5.95 Burger Special" without blowing a diet too far out of whack, and still have take home as well.

    One last point - living below our means also allows us to do more for our only daughter and son-in-law, and both our mothers who are still alive. In addition, we do much for charity, both individually as well as through the Elks organization. So I look at my frugal nature as allowing me the luxury of giving back to others that currently need the help.

    Keep up the good work, Bob.


  2. Chuck,

    Thanks for your explanation of what frugality means for you. The point about freeing up resources that allows you to help other in need is an excellent one.

    Rarely do we make a dinner that isn't used for two meals. Local super markets offer 8 pieces of fried chicken for $5-$7. That is easily two main courses. Being frugal is really about paying attention.

  3. Bob,
    I don't like the fact that we think we have to drop our lifestyle when we become retired. What I've been doing over the last 10 years is reduce and downsize my lifestyle in preparation for retirement. So that when we do finally retire, once and for all, it's not a shock to the system.

    I've been frugal or cost conscious since the day I was born. It's just a natural way of life. If a person has always lived frugally, thrifty and cost conscious, there shouldn't be a downside to retirement then.

    Right now, I think I have gotten my life down as far as I'd like it to go. I like where I am right now. Hubby and I live comfortably at $2500 to $2700 a month. If we can keep this up (with COLA increases), well into our retirement years, I'd be happy.

    What is the level at where we are at: we can afford the basics. As in basic cable, basic cell phone, basic services, a basic home and basic car. A basic vacation every once in a while. A basic meal out. Things like that. Nothing exhorbitant. Just basic.

    A satisfying, basic retirement. No need to become more frugal or cut any more corners.

  4. Exactly, Bob. We have a local fast food chain in TN called Petro's. They have huge potatoes with toppings like grilled chicken. Easily is two meals so we are always taking half home. The local Kroger's has similar deals on roasted chickens that is easily two meals each for my wife and I (and I can eat a pretty good amount when I feel like it.) So your point about paying attention to the deals around us is spot on.

  5. Chuck,

    To control our weight and expenses my wife and I have gotten into the habit of either splitting an entrée and each having a salad, or going during happy hour when appetizers are half price. We'll get a few of those, a drink, and that's our dinner, for much less money and fewer calories.

  6. Morrison,

    I think frugality is defined by the person. If you are comfortable with your income and outgo, and have what you need to be comfortable and secure, then you have reached a nice balance.

    Frugality means not spending money for things you don't need and don't enjoy, whether retired or not. Frugality means not being wasteful even when you can.

    BTW, you are not likely to get a Christmas card from Rhode island.

  7. Great article and great comments. With my retirement package running out next spring, frugality is going to take on a whole new meaning for me.

    Some people might think that I should have saved this "extra" money, but I looked at it differently. I was prepared to retire even before the retirement package was offered, so in a sense this money is bonus money. And yes, I'm saving some of it, but I've used most of it to make bigger donations to my church and to Edwards Center, an organization that servies adults with developmental disabilities and runs the group home where my two autistic sons live and the sheltered work site where they work.

    I've also set up retirement accounts for my daughters and education accounts for my grandchildren.

    I won't have a lot of this bonus money left, but I believe that I have used it responsibly and wisely. Frugal? Perhaps not, but I'm okay with that.

    Frugality will be the guiding principle for what I live on when the retirement package is gone. I have no debt, which helps a lot. I've driven the same car for 8 years and will keep it as long as possible, at which point I will switch to a smaller, more energy efficient car. I am not interested in traveling anymore, and I am not a fashionista, much to my daughters' embarrassment. I don't like to shop, which limits impulse buying.

    My biggest financial indulgence is maintaining my cabin in the mountains, which costs slightly more than the the therapist I would need if I didn't have it!

    Thanks for another great article. I think you know this, but I really love your blog.

  8. Galen,

    First of all, congrats on your second grandchild in rather short order!

    Giving money to charities and organizations that are meaningful to you actually fits my definition of frugality very well. You are using your resources mindfully and in a way that brings you lasting joy and contentment. That, Galen, is frugal living at its best.

    We owned a cabin in Payson, about 90 minutes from Scottsdale, but sold it when the girls were too old to want to be there on a regular basis. Now, we, and they, wish we had it back!

    Your blog is a must-read for me with every new post. I may not leave a comment, but know I've been there.

  9. Bob, a couple more frugal badges over here please.

    Good post that happily seems to take some of the glamour out of conspicuous consumption. Also interesting that you touched on the concept of being frugal with more than just money. Someone has surely said that time is the ultimate form of wealth.

    You do a great job with this type of blog and each reader certainly has the opportunity personalize your wisdom and apply it appropriately


  10. QwkDrw,

    Thanks for the nice compliment. I just enjoyed a pleasant afternoon watching fall league baseball in the 74 degree sunshine...all for $6. That was frugal and fun.

    Your badges are on their way.

  11. That was a wealthy person's afternoon.

    It just took 4-1/2 hours and eleven innings of game six baseball to find out that the 2011 World Series Champion will be ...

    tomorrow night's winner of game seven


  12. QwkDrw,

    The nice thing about watching a fall league game is I really don't care who wins or loses. The league is made up of the best prospects from every major league team, several of whom will be in the "show" next spring. So, the crowd just cheers good plays on either team, eats jumbo dogs, and enjoys the weather. The tickets $6, the experience, priceless.