Are you stuck making your own soap because you can’t afford to buy dish soap? If you are, you may have been disappointed to hear what some personal finance bloggers had to say today. I know I was.

Being Frugal-not-by choice

This week on Twitter, I let off a little rant. (I hope you are following me!)

I saw some personal finance bloggers making fun of a frugal tip: a video showing how to make your own dishwashing soap to save costs.

They were making the point: It’s stupid to spend time trying to save a few dollars on dishwashing soap. The return on these types of hacks is small and negligible.

In a way, they are right. Making your own dishwashing soap will not save you more than a few dollars. Those few dollars will not make you rich. It won’t let you retire earlier (which has slowly become the ultimate goal for many bloggers). It gives you very little return for your efforts.

This is all true but missing a very key point. Some people actively choose to live frugally. They are frugal-by-choice. But there are very many people out there who aren’t lucky enough to have a choice. They are frugal-not-by-choice. The difference between the two is vast.

Frugal-by-choice versus Frugal-not-by-choice

Those arguments only work if you are frugal by choice. If you don’t need to be frugal, but you are being frugal regardless then its worth it to calculate how much money you are actually saving versus the time and effort you are expending on the frugal action.

However, what if you are not frugal by choice but rather frugal because you have to be? What if you are frugal-not-by-choice? What if you are not saving a few dollars for the sake of saving money but because you LITERALLY do not have a few dollars to spend? What if those few dollars are the difference between debt and no debt? Or between food and no food?

That changes the conversation a bit, doesn’t it?

My take on all the popular advice given to those struggling and forced to be frugal out of necessity and not a choice.

Get a JOB

This is the best advice ever. Seriously, the absolute best. The reason why it’s the best advice is that it’s true. There is no better way to have money than by actually making money. We do that by working at a job. Everyone who needs money should get a job. I don’t disagree with this advice AT ALL.

What I disagree with is that jobs are just handed out to whoever wants one. What I have a problem with is the simplistic way this advice is dispensed. I need money. So go and get money. Great!

Some people are not able to work. Some people want to work and can work but are simply unable to find work. This may be for a very long time or for a short amount of time, but the fact remains you can’t simply wake up and decided to get a job and then have the job by the time night comes.

Even if you are given a job interview the day you apply for it, there is still an interview process and a starting date. This is usually not a matter of hours but days and, more commonly, weeks.

Additionally, many factors go into finding a job. There are geographical limitations, childcare limitations, physical limitations, etc.

Increasing Income

The conversation on Twitter evolved into a discussion over the merits of increasing your income versus saving money with extreme frugality. I don’t think anyone disagrees that increasing your income gives you more bang for your buck, so to speak.

If someone offers me $100 to work for 30 minutes, but I decide to spend that time making dishwashing soap and saving $3- that would be ridiculous. But real life doesn’t work that way. First of all, the trade-off is not usually so clear-cut. Second of all, what if increasing your income is not an option? What if increasing your income requires hours of unpaid labor in the hope of increasing income?

Meaning that first, you have to expend significant time and energy, hoping that maybe, someday, you will see a profit? What if increasing your income means laying out money? Investing in yourself or materials? What if it means taking out debt (if they will give you a loan) that you will have to repay? Assuming it, all works out. The options are not so clear-cut.

The Duty of a Blogger

One of the hardest things about giving advice is understanding that not everyone has the same life and circumstances as you. It understands that the view that you have of the world may be a small snippet of the true story. It is understating that there are so many layers of nuance in every circumstance and decision. It understands that your personal circumstances are not universal.

We Need Different but KIND Perspectives

I think it is crucially important to have many bloggers speaking their experiences and trying to dispense advice that they think is helpful. I have gained tremendously from bloggers from all walks of life and income levels, even if they are not speaking directly to me.

What I AM NOT OK WITH is mocking or making fun of people’s circumstances.

Specifically about people who are frugal-not-by-choice. If you can’t identify or relate- that is OK. There is nothing wrong with having a high income or having opportunities that others don’t have. What is wrong is making fun of or light of those people who do not have what you have.

Having to be frugal-not-by-choice is not easy. I don’t think many people enjoy counting every single penny and finding ways to cut their expenses beyond possibility because they don’t have the money to do otherwise.

I have lived on a ridiculously tight budget when I was unemployed, and let me tell you. I would not wish it on ANYONE. I fully believe that everyone is doing the best that they can with the tools that they have. They do not deserve to be mocked or be made fun of by people who have it better than them.

Additional Reading:

Now, in the interest of putting two sides to every argument, here are some blog posts that came up in this conversation:

Me: This is Condescending Post

Contrarian Saver: Does Financial Independence make Inequality Worse?

Financial Wolves: How to Make Money

Are you frugal-not-by-choice? I would love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get all new blog posts straight to your inbox. It’s a bunch of rants interspersed with some sort-of helpful advice.

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Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.

11 thoughts on “Frugal-Not-By-Choice”

  1. I’m in a good position now, but had years of very necessary frugality. My “don’t spend $ on coffee story”: Once our drip coffee maker broke & we went months using a soot stained camping percolator because there wasn’t an extra $20 to buy a new machine. (Eventually a visiting family member took pity and bought one for us!).
    I wasn’t reading $ blogs back then, there wasn’t time between attending school full time & working multiple jobs, but if I had I would have scoffed at frugal tips. Tips? That’s just necessity and ordinary people’s lives.

    Now that we make a yearly salary that at one time seemed rich, we still try to practice many of those frugal skills. But when my coffee maker dies I IMMEDIATELY go out and spend the $ to buy a new one. If that’s lifestyle inflation, I’ll take it!

    • Its great to be in a better place financially! Its so freeing! I like to remember when it was so tight- it makes me grateful and keeps me humble

  2. Yes! There are so many bloggers out there saying that if you’re frugal then you can live much better… came across one recently that stated you can live a “limitless” lifestyle if you’re frugal and while I agree if you have a good job but you live like someone who doesn’t choose to live frugally then you would have so much extra money. Yet many people don’t choose to live frugally they just do it as part of their budgeting and by the end of each month most of that budget is used up. I mean yeah the only way is to have more income and live like you used to increase finances but if you can’t and you manage to frugally live by then that’s still an achievement even if you don’t get the extra rewards that people promoting that lifestyle say that you will.

    • Absolutely! Living frugally won’t make you rich unless you have money in the first place. There are so many of us not spending money- not to live frugally- but to just survive!

  3. This is a great article. People need to be more sensitive of other’s circumstances. Another great and often overlooked way for individuals who are frugal-not-by-choice to increase savings is by focusing on recurring costs. Cancel your gym membership (or change it), pick up the phone and pressure your cable/internet carrier to lower costs, get a great cash back card for your monthly grocery purchases, etc. Some of these tasks are really boring and administrative to take action on, but the recurring savings are well worth it. Saving $5 is awesome, but saving $5 every month will really add up over time.

  4. I am frugal not by choice . every penny and dollar counts. sometimes i make mistakes and use my dollars for the wrong thing, sometimes there are not dollars to spend. Just taking it one decision one lesson, one changed behavior at a time. For instance right now I am writing without lights on because my keyboard lights up. I don’t have money for cleaning supplies because of made choices, so I picked up white vinegar to clean with because I can get it with EBT. I didn’t need to have cash to obtain it.

    • I’ve been there! Dollar store peroxide, lemon juice and baking soda in a gallon of water cleaned everything. Now, I don’t have to be quite so frugal, but I am still cautious.

  5. I appreciate you making this distinction. It’s important to recognize that some financial bloggers can give off a really out of touch air if they don’t remember the wide range of folks reading their blogs. Thanks for bringing attention to this!


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