When Extreme Frugality is the Only Solution to Your Money Problems

by Kevin M on October 15, 2013

in Budgeting,Debt Management

These days, a certain amount of frugality is probably common in most households. Even if you make six figures, the high and rising cost of living forces making choices all the time. But there is frugality, and extreme frugality, and both have their time and place.

Frugality is largely a money management tool that we use to get more for less – as in, more of everything for less money. But when you have extreme money problems, extreme frugality may be the only solution.

This will move you beyond clipping coupons, eating home instead of in restaurants, or forgoing the annual family vacation. It’s the kind of frugality that could see you making major lifestyle changes. There is a time and a place for this kind of frugality, but even then, many people shy away from it.

Financial Crisis

Accepting Reality

Perhaps more than anything, extreme frugality requires accepting reality at the deepest level. If you’re in debt – to the degree that it threatens not just your lifestyle, but possibly even your survival – extreme frugality has to be on the table.

In order to get to that place, you have to embrace the idea that your situation is bad and getting worse. The only way you can fix it is through extreme methods. Many young people are prematurely facing just such a crisis due to outsized student loan debts.

Unfortunately, many people try to get around a debt problem by taking on more debt. It may be using consolidation loans to lower monthly payments, or simply getting more debt to allow you to make the payments on your existing debt. Either strategy is a recipe for disaster.

Getting Yourself Out Of Your Comfort Zone

In order to implement an extreme frugality strategy in your life, you must get out of your comfort zone. That’s not easy – many of us are deeply rooted in the suburban lifestyle. That lifestyle carries the expectation of a nice home in the suburbs, a car that fits our self image, and a lifestyle that, well…looks reasonably close to what we see on TV.

That lifestyle, while very comfortable, will not help you deal with a debt problem. The first order of business with extreme frugality is a willingness to let go of all of that. It’s freeing up your financial resources to the greatest degree possible so that you can fix the biggest financial problem you have.

Making Hard Choices

Very few people practice extreme frugality because it is a hard way to live, especially when compared to the suburban lifestyle. In order to make it work, you have to be prepared to embrace at least some of the following lifestyle changes:

  • Moving out of a house, and into an apartment.
  • Moving out of a house or apartment, and into a shared living arrangement with family or friends.
  • Trading a late-model car with monthly payments, for a “beater” that you own free and clear.
  • Giving up a car in favor of a bike, public transportation, or even walking (and moving to an area where you can).
  • Disconnecting yourself from the popular culture, because you know that it entices you to live beyond your means.
  • Giving up some high cost friends.
  • Giving up high cost hobbies and past-times in favor of simple pleasures.
  • Selling off possessions you can no longer afford to keep – including reducing the number of possessions so that you can live in a smaller space.
  • Buying what you need secondhand.
  • Taking a second job, or building a side business to increase income.

Each of these steps require making major changes in your life. They clearly move you beyond clipping coupons and canceling your cable TV service. But there may be times in your life when you need to make changes that are this radical. You certainly don’t have to do all of them, but just two or three could make a significant difference in your finances.

Embrace It – It’s Only Temporary

It’s easy to see why anyone would go to great lengths to avoid the effort that will be required in extreme frugality. But it may help if you see the situation – both the financial problem you are facing, and the steps you need to take in order to deal with it – as temporary. You will be making extreme changes in order to deal with extreme problems.

The Chinese have a saying – what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger – extreme frugality won’t kill you either, and if it will enable you to solve your financial problems, it will definitely make you stronger. Two major benefits will come as a result of this effort:

Living on the cheap can be empowering. Once you realize how little you actually need to live, you’ll begin to see life in a very different way. This realization will be magnified by the indoctrination you get from TV. We see this glittering lifestyle that we feel compelled to live, but when you realize that you don’t need any of it, and you can survive and thrive, you’ll feel better about yourself and life in general. More tangibly, as you begin to overcome your financial problems, you’ll be able to save money and buy the things that you need and want without going into debt. If that isn’t empowering, than I don’t know what is.

And so will solving your own problems. These days, it seems as if everyone who has a problem is looking for a bailout. But anytime you can fix your own problems, your confidence and self-esteem grow in leaps and bounds. It’s a matter of developing self-reliance – and when you solve your own problems, that’s exactly what happens.

Implementing extreme frugality may not be pleasant, but if you view it as temporary you’ll be able get through it. And if you can see to the end, it can actually be empowering.

Would you consider extreme frugality if you absolutely needed to?

© 2013, Kevin M. All rights reserved.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MoneyAhoy

I like your statement about high cost friends. I know they’ve completed studies that show if you have overweight friends, you’re more likely to be overweight. I am very sure that similar results would surface for friends that spend much money.


2 Kevin Mercadante

I don’t think we even need studies to know this is true. Some people have expensive tastes, expensive hobbies, or are overly impressed with all that glitters. They may be good people otherwise, but we often can’t afford to count them as friends, especially when we’re trying to get a handle on finances.

It’s often said that we’re the average of our five closest friends. If you’re five closest friends are high cost, you’ll likely adopt the same lifestyle.


3 MoneyAhoy


Good point here – we really don’t need a study to tell us what we already know :-)


4 Amy Hackmann

Seems like being frgual is made out to be “not enjoyable”, can guarantee you that those who live like this are the ones who can build wealth and retire early with financial independence. eg. Mr Money Mustache and Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme from down sizing to riding their bikes, they have an enjoyable life.
From a Christian perspective, it’d be great for God’s ppl to live more simply and not consume as much and to enjoy it when they do so they can give more money for eternal investments impacting the Kingdom of God!


5 Kevin Mercadante

I completely agree Amy, on all fronts.


6 Untemplater

That’s a good point about reminding yourself it’s temporary. It’s hard to make sacrifices and often we avoid them because we’re too afraid of change or how it will affect our lifestyle. Focusing on it being temporary and for a bigger cause helps a lot.


7 Kevin Mercadante

Yes, it’s best to think of it as being on a diet, which means it needs to be temporary.


8 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

The temporary factor is critical with extreme frugality. Making it a permanent lifestyle would be like being on a diet for the rest of your life. You can’t sustain that, and eventually the whole strategy would blow up with a loud bang.


9 Kostas @ Finance Zone

Nice comparison to a diet for life. I’ve been through different phases in my life were being extremely frugal was required, but reminding myself it was the only way to reach my end game, was what made it work.


10 The College Investor

Sometimes the only way to solve a financial problem is to go to the extreme of being frugal. Being realistic about your situation, accepting it, but making sure to remind yourself very often that it is only temporary, you just need to keep working harder to make it so, will certainly help to make you feel better about it.


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