When I started my debt repayment journey, I spent a lot of time learning everything I could about personal finance, debt repayment and living more reasonably.
We all know the adage: Spend less than you earn.
It really is what all this personal finance business comes down to. If you make millions of dollars and spend billions, you'll still be broke.
I spent more than I earned and that's how I got my butt into trouble. So, once I got religion and went on my debt freedom quest, I worked to reign in my spending. I wrote posts about using coupons at the grocery store, cutting off the cable, eating in and not out, on and on. I got really excited when I saved some money! I patted myself on the back for eliminating drains on my income.
But something happened. Instead of motivating me and saving me money, the frugality tips I employed started annoying me. They took a lot of work, but saved me pennies. Save money by making your own toilet bowl cleaner! Save money by gluing the holes in your socks, don't buy new ones! Mash together all your soap scraps to make a bar of soap, see you saved $1.50.
Or, no matter what the savings were my life was getting boring and unbearable. That's how I got caught in the "binge-purge" spending cycle -- purging by severely curtailing spending and leaving no room for goodies. Binging when, out of frustration,I spent WAY more money than I should have or that I even had available to me on something only marginally fun or rewarding. The buyer's remorse would lead to more purging.
What a mess!
But frugality, I believe now, isn't something you do. Frugal is something you are. Either you're frugal or you're not. Some may call being frugal being cheap, but I think frugal and cheap are two different things.
Frugal means you're willing to tough out certain things to save money (i.e. bargain hunt, buy less than you need or use, never buy on impulse, make do with what you already have, clip coupons, etc.). I cut down on seeing movies out, went to the library more and I still take ketchup packets! But I can't be bothered with collecting nickels for soda cans and bottles. I may or may not purchase used furniture. Sometimes I make my own lunch. You get the idea.
Cheap means that you're willing to scrimp, freeload and inconvenience yourself and others to save a few pennies. If you don't want to leave a reasonable tip, don't eat out. If you're going to take free things that are really meant for people far less fortunate, I'd call that wrong.
Furthermore, I don't believe that frugal and sensible are the same thing. I think you can sensibly manage money and build wealth without being frugal at all. The key is to set your financial goal and saving targets and take care of those before everything else. Then do whatever the heck you want with what's left over, but give priority to things that build you assets (to me, that includes taking classes, investing in your community or your relationships, etc).
Don't feel guilty because you don't make your own soap or keep your heat at 60 degrees all winter. Likewise, don't be haughty and feel superior because you do. We all respond to money differently. All I care about is that we're all being smart. If you love finding ways to pinch pennies, pinch away! If you'd rather just pay for it, fine. Just don't spend more than you earn.