Our Version of Frugal

New wood look tile is starting to go in.

New wood look tile is starting to go in.

Mr PoP is now home safe and sound from his recent trip. In addition to camping in Yosemite for a few nights, Mr PoP also stayed with one of his oldest friends (OF) at his place in the Bay Area. From everything Mr PoP has said, it sounds like the trip was great, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is that at some point during the trip, Mr PoP’s friend called Mr PoP cheap. =/

OF made the insinuation while making a joke about another friend being the second cheapest person he knows, second only to Mr PoP. Though Mr PoP wasn’t really bothered by the joke, I kindof was. I was despite the fact that OF is (without question) one of the nicest people we have ever known in our lives. So I am confident that OF didn’t mean any harm by it. But the words stuck with me and I’ve been chewing them over in my head ever since Mr PoP related the story (which Mr PoP probably regrets doing so now…).

My thoughts end up chasing each other around my head when it comes to defining us financially…

We’re not cheap, we’re frugal!

In my mind, the difference between being cheap and being frugal comes down to looking at price over value. The cheap person will pick the less expensive item (the chefmate in this old story) every time, while the frugal person is going to figure out how much value can be derived from items at various pricepoints and will seek to maximize value per dollar rather than just seeking the smallest dollar amount in the short term.  It’s my job to maximize value, so we’re frugal… Not cheap!

Well, we’re kindof frugal. But we have some serious luxury purchases.

Are we really frugal, though? By comparison to a lot of our friends (especially those that fall in the same income-tax bracket), we are definitely less spendy. But we’re hardly Frugalwoods or MMM extreme when it comes to our frugality. Everyone in our household either has gotten or will get a truly opulent (and definitely spendy) treat this year. We just got Mr PoP a $950 pair of glasses. I’m almost counting down the days to my upcoming purchase of a Scooba robotic mop (MSRP ~$700) so I never have to mop our (installation in progress!!) new tile. Even Kitty PoP had his own truly luxurious purchase within the last year where we spent over $300 on a Litter Robot for him. (For the record, he and I are both still loving the Litter Robot.)

But we still manage to save a significant portion of our income – last year we sent ~60% of our gross income to savings, with the remainder split pretty evenly between our personal spending and taxes (FICA and income).

Aww, hell. Who am I kidding? We’re spendier than the US averages.

Our typical yearly spending is right around the median household income. Which doesn’t sound that bad. But given that this number includes taxes and savings rates for households, it’s likely that we’re spending more than the median household in the US. Not only that, but the average household size* is ~2.5 people, making our 2 person household even spendier on a per-person basis. And I don’t think it’d be fair to equate Kitty PoP’s expenses with those of an extra half-person. So maybe we’re not really as frugal as we like to think…

And yet, we seem to buy less stuff than most. So maybe we are frugal?

“Shopping” for a hobby just isn’t something we do. As a result, we really do end up buying much less “stuff” than pretty much everyone we know (including those who earn both more and less than we do). I like to think that the smaller volume of purchases makes up for their higher costs, landing us closer to “more” than “less” on the frugal spectrum.

Whatever. I don’t care about comparing to others as long as we’re happy.

Really though, the amount of time I have spent thinking about measuring our relative spend-thriftiness and frugality recently has been a waste of time and energy. Instead of worrying about what others our doing or others’ perceptions of what we are doing, I need to remember two things.

1. Our spending is aligning with our values. It’s not perfect, and Mr PoP and I have different values that need to be accomodated**, but for the most part, our spending hits those values pretty well.

2. The combination of our income and spending is allowing us to reach our financial goals on a timeline that we’re happy with.

From here, we’re happy and content… but I still would rather not be cheap.  =)

* My apologies for mixing medians and averages. I hate to do it, but I couldn’t find the median household size anywhere!

** For example, in Mr PoP’s eyes, gourmet donuts are darned-near priceless, while you couldn’t pay me to eat a donut. Resolving and finding compromise in value conflicts like these has been instrumental in our marriage!


How would you describe your spending habits?  Or is the categorization and comparison to others’ not something you think about?

43 comments to Our Version of Frugal

  • Since moving, our spending has definitely gone up with the nicer shops and restaurants and all our renos. I figure we’ll figure it all out though, so we’ll just be temporarily spendy.

    Nice tiles! We’re considering vinyl plank floors for our apartment upstairs kitchen. Maybe these will go in our kitchen…
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted..Real Estate Is ExhaustingMy Profile

    • I think of this year as temporarily spendy, too – with all the renovation costs. We definitely won’t be doing this every year! =)

      Thanks for the compliment on the tiles. We love them so far! We tried for vinyl planks in the kitchen in our rental but the install went so poorly that Mr PoP ended up laying 16×16 ceramic tile there instead.

  • The median is exactly 2 people (as of 2010). 31.4% of households are one person, and 39.5% of households are two people. The general trend is moving towards more and more one and two person households.


    Also, the average income for “families” households is $64K (families are households greater than one person), so you maybe you’re not so very bad after all.


    • I guess the median household HAS to be 2. I didn’t even think of that! It’s not like that family in the exact middle would have 2 kids and then an extra pair of legs.
      Norm recently posted..Building The Patio, Part 2: Treasure Hunt!My Profile

    • Ahhh, thank you for looking it up! I should have checked census data, but was apparently lazy when google failed me after a quick attempt. Though it does feel a bit like a stretch for us to use the average income for “families” as a basis of comparison since by definition we’re the smallest household that can be considered a family. =)

  • You guys are so relatable to me! I save ~70-75% of my net income, which is around 55% of my gross income this year. That is a ton of savings compared to most of my friends who are in similar income brackets. But my friends who make much less money think I’m spendy!

    I pre-ordered an iPhone 6S, which I’m very excited for. But some of my frugal coworkers were confused why I would spend that much on a phone. I use it a ton and not having a working phone has really been stressing me out. On the other hand, I have a small data plan (Ting) and spend very little on the monthly bill.
    Leigh recently posted..August 2015 net worth update (-1.2%)My Profile

    • It’s funny to me that your coworkers would judge your 6S purchase, especially working in tech! Around here we’re pretty much the only ones left still using our 4S phones – and we’re data sippers on Ting like you! Mr PoP is considering upgrading to the bigger phone and has tried to talk me into it as well so I could get an iWatch, but I want to try and keep my small phone as long as possible.

      • I am just now seeing how creepy the name iWatch is. I guess that’s why they officially call it Apple Watch. =)

      • I think it was the buying it unlocked, full price part that confused them, rather than the phone purchase itself. I hate the 4S – it never stays connected to WiFi and does everything really slowly. I’m really looking forward to the new phone! 😀

        I actually haven’t paid for my Ting bill myself since my first one because of referral links though that has dried up and my boyfriend and I are going to switch to a family plan with T-Mobile soon.
        Leigh recently posted..August 2015 net worth update (-1.2%)My Profile

        • ahh, that makes sense. Most people would assume you’d be buying it on subsidy/installment plan. My 4S is still going pretty quickly (or maybe I just don’t know how fast the new ones are by comparison!)

          • Heh yeah some apps are okay on the 4S, some not. I had a Nexus 5 which was two years newer than the 4S and it died on me, so I’ve just been using this to tide me over until I made a decision. My mom was amused because it’s the same phone she has! I’ve been having a really hard time deciding on what phone to go with, mostly due to phone size. I don’t want a huge phone!
            Leigh recently posted..August 2015 net worth update (-1.2%)My Profile

          • I concur on phone size! That’s why I got a 5s. I am hoping that phones start going the opposite way soon again (like the “iphone 7 mini”). The 6s are just way too big for me to hold comfortably or fit in my pocket.
            Leah recently posted..Time and seasonsMy Profile

      • I got a 5s. It’s not as big as the 6s, but it still can be updated. I have a watch app, so I assume you can use the 5s with a watch. My favorite part about upgrading is the health app, which I use to count steps. I previously had a 4, so this was a big leap for me.
        Leah recently posted..Time and seasonsMy Profile

        • Depending how long I can stretch the life of my 4S, a 5S is my next plan, which I think you’re right is compatible with the watch. The main reason I care about size is that I wear it on an arm band when I exercise and my biceps are only so big! The new huge phones are bigger than my arms! =P

  • For the record, your blog is my favorite personal finance blog because I think you balance frugality and life quite nicely. You save well, but you also spend when it will increase your quality of life. I truly love reading your blog. We aim for the same thing. Our savings is lower, but we also make considerably less than you, so we call it good 😉

    Haters gonna hate, but I think you’re doing absolutely fine. And I can’t wait to hear more about the scooba, tile installation, and kitchen building. I love being able to live vicariously through you!
    Leah recently posted..Time and seasonsMy Profile

    • Awww, thanks for the kind words, Leah! FWIW, when our earnings were considerably lower, so were our savings – so we’re with you on calling it good. =P

      For the record (and in case OF ever finds out about the blog and sees himself in this post), OF was definitely not being a hater. (Thankfully we have blessedly few haters in our lives.) And Mr PoP didn’t think he was referring to me at all, which gave Mr PoP a good chuckle because I’m generally the less spendy person out of the two of us.

      And I will definitely be writing about Scooba after getting him and the tile floors acquainted. (Is it weird that I’m designing cabinetry that he will fit into nicely?) Purchasing him may wait until Black Friday depending on what deals look like since he’s going to be such a big purchase.

    • You are definitely not weird. I would love to custom design some cabinets for particular things I own. We’ve done some cabinet/pantry hacking here (with some help from my dad) that has really made our kitchen function way better. Moving is a reality at boarding school, and I’m nervous to leave all the nice upgrades we’ve done behind.

      Maybe I have something to aspire to, earnings wise, as well 😉 Tho maybe not as a teacher. We’re going for the tortoise approach. We did start using personal capital. I keep meaning to show my husband your monthly posts so we can do something similar.
      Leah recently posted..Time and seasonsMy Profile

  • Unless there’s some national average, I don’t compare ourselves to anyone else. And I’ve never been able to find some national spending census or poll. So we’re left with personal details and anecdotes to compare ourselves to on a one-by-one basis, which is just a recipe for disaster because there’s so many circumstances playing into that. Who knows what the truth is? Like I’ve said before, other people are basically unknowable. I really don’t have a clue what anyone spends on anything. Maybe they’re spending more on some things than me, less on others. For example, there must’ve been something that prompted the other guy to call Mr. POP “cheap,” but does he know how much those glasses cost?! Without an average to work from, you don’t know the whole picture.

    Send Mr. POP to upstate NY where the best doughnuts I’ve ever had are 50 cents each.
    Norm recently posted..Building The Patio, Part 2: Treasure Hunt!My Profile

    • The closest I could find to national spending was a combined total number of personal spending, which when you divide it by the number of households gave a number in the $90K range for average spending. Definitely seems skewed by the higher earners, so I don’t think it’s particularly useful.

      I don’t think Mr PoP did anything in particular to prompt the joke, just more a matter of OF knowing him for 15+ years and knowing how much Mr PoP despises things like going shopping and isn’t into some of the other more spendy hobbies (like buying expensive wine) that OF has.

  • We spend a lot of money. Rent this year is 4k/mo, mortgage 2K/mo, daycare 1.4k/mo. That is more than a lot of families make combined, and doesn’t even count our other expenses. (Granted most years we don’t have that rent payment!)
    Nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Would you ratherMy Profile

  • If your saving 60% you are anything but average! Don’t feel guilty about the occasional luxury.
    Adam @ AdamChudy.com recently posted..What I’m ReadingMy Profile

  • I hear you on the value part of spending. I would rather get good quality than the lowest price (for most things). I think just evaluating a purchase is a step many consumers just skip.
    Vawt recently posted..The Homemade Laundry Soap ExperimentMy Profile

  • I think cheap and frugal are terms that get tossed around pretty frequently. Is there a term for buying something of extreme value that you plan to keep for life. Value, I subscribe to this as the best use of one’s money, like your mop example.
    Even Steven recently posted..The Really Quite Good Guide to Negotiating Your Comcast Xfinity Cable and Internet BillMy Profile

    • I think the best way to describe what you’re looking for is BIFL – Buy It For Life. It’s the idea that you want to buy an item exactly once and keep it forever. We have some BIFL items in our lives and want to add more as time goes by, but they can be pricey upfront investments!

  • Oh man, that living room/kitchen area is really coming together!

    As for frugality, you are probably frugal in terms of your peer group if not by the US as a whole. And, considering you very much LBYM, I figure “frugal” is still apt.

    My spending this year has kind of skyrocketed. Whereas before I think I could be considered “frugal”, my spending is getting more toward “normal” range. Still, much less than my income so whatever I’m fine with it.
    Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents recently posted..Sunshine Blogger AwardMy Profile

    • Thanks, Taylor! We still have a ways to go, but it’s starting to feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel with the kitchen.

      I think going from “frugal” to “normal” in a year when you bought a condo and did major renovations on it is still pretty darned good!

  • I love watching your renos, yours and Taylor’s, so pretty! :)

    Seems to me you’re not throwing away your dollars on stuff you don’t care about so that you can spend it as you please on what you do care about. Totally reasonable! The mistake people make from the outside is assigning their values to our spending so it’s almost natural that where we see misalignment, we seem cheap.

    We’re situationally frugal – generic medications and secondhand gear, yes! But high quality (and correspondingly expensive) for truly health-improving things, also yes! I refuse to eat out when I’m alone, looking cheap, because it’s not that important to me. All those dollars I save not eating out goes to take care of the dog(s) – they ARE important to me. Heck, I won’t spend money on shoes but PiC is all about shoes. I look like a frumpy shoeperson and he’s got great shoes, but it doesn’t bother either of us.

    Until we don’t pay for 2 households (uhh … when?) we only save 25% gross, and I aspire to hitting the 60-75% savings rates like y’all!
    Revanche recently posted..Real Estate Investing: principles, maintenance, and budgetingMy Profile

  • I’m definitely more frugal than most (especially in NYC) but I’m not cheap. I define cheap as buying low quality items that are of less quality. Or wasting time and energy or creating a hassle to save a few bucks (cents).
    Fervent Finance recently posted..Leveraging Friends and Family for Cheap TravelMy Profile

  • If it’s not too late, you might want to reconsider the Scooba. Granted, I had the first model, but it became an expensive paperweight after about 3 months. It needed to be constantly cleaned (it stops and beeps plaintively at you – it’s almost cute). I was using it on a *very* small kitchen floor, and it just wasn’t doing as good of a job as a simple mop or swiffer could have done :(
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Detailed Financial Picture – September 2015My Profile

  • Rose E.

    Hello! Found your blog this morning via Rockstar Fiance. I subscribed today! I am an avid reader of all things financial. I took some time away from the office in order to streamline my life, search for something more meaning and de stress. I am ever so thankful that we lived frugal for over 25 years of marriage as it has afforded me this time off. Life is Good!

    Thank you for sharing! I look forward to catching up past posts.

  • Rose E.

    PLEASE edit my post for correct spelling!

    Thing should be things
    Every thankful should be ever thankful

  • Can’t remember where I just read it, but someone had written about making the distinction between being frugal and making lifestyle changes. They said that being frugal is simply finding less expensive ways to obtain what you still want – similar to how you described being frugal vs. being cheap. A true lifestyle change is deciding what you can actually live without and making that sacrifice. Both I think are important – all about balance what you truly value against what is just a luxury!

    DP @ Someday Extraordinary recently posted..Seeking Alpha Article – “A Golden Opportunity: Minor Minors”My Profile

  • “Whatever. I don’t care about comparing to others as long as we’re happy.” Bingo! You said it best there.

    I’ve come to this realization too with our finances and frugality and spending. I realize, we are WAY better off than most of our peers, but probably at the “spendy” end of the PF blog spectrum. That’s a tight line to toe, Haha! However, like you, we saved about 50% of our income the last few years, and while we do have convenience things in our budgets like maids, and well, maids anyway, I don’t care if someone sees it and is “judgey”.

    We found a nice balance of saving and frugal’ish living that works for us. If we lose a salary soon, well, we’ll still be fine. We spend more than and less than most, and it works well for us.

    We do choose value over price if it’s a matter of quality vs cheap. There are many things that you can still get good quality inexpensively.
    Mr. SSC recently posted..Are soft skills worth highlighting?My Profile

  • In my experience, friends who like to comment on others’ excessive (in their view) ‘cheapness’ are the same people baffled by and resentful of their cheap friends lack of debt and big nest egg at age 40. Somehow they never quite grasp that there’s a connection. :-)
    Kurt recently posted..It’s Not About the LatteMy Profile

  • It’s SOO important to live your life how you need/want to. Especially in this niche its too easy to see what so-and-so is doing and compare. Most of our day-to-day definitions (frugal, indebted, rich etc) are applied personally. Though I consider myself pretty frugal some would definitely argue against me (for example we still have cable)…it’s personal :) Also, I want one of those kitty litter things!
    catherine recently posted..5 Things We’ve Done to Pay Our Debt Off FasterMy Profile

  • Cheap is an insult…frugal is not! I would be really annoyed if someone called my husband cheap. He is both generous and very good with our money. Frugal is a wonderful way to be. It sounds like you two are doing a great job of things!
    Jess @ Best Credit Cards Canada recently posted..RBC Cash Back Visa ReviewMy Profile

  • I’m not sure where my spending falls relative to others in my income bracket- so much of money goes to my debt payments, so technically, I spend a lot every month. I do know that in a very, non-scientific, observation of mine, I tend to spend less than those around me on clothes/accessory/gadget shopping (me- none this year) and restaurant eating (me- none this month), etc. It does seem like those that call others “cheap” don’t have the best grasp on their own finances; not sure if this is true, but it’s another very non-scientific observation of mine:)
    Ms. MyCountdown recently posted..The “Our Next Life” SeriesMy Profile

  • LOL! It may not be that you’re “cheap” (puhleez!) or amazingly frugal, but that most other people are not very frugal at all.

    Seems to me a lot of folks spend whatever they have on hand — which can be quite a lot, all things considered — and so (being human) they tend to think everyone else is comfortable doing the same. Each to his/her own. In these parts, I do without a fancy cell phone because I can’t afford it. But I don’t feel deprived (a throwaway flip phone will send and receive phone calls and text messages for no monthly fee). If I did, I’d find a way to afford it.

    That’s not cheap. That’s just common sense.
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