The Frugals vs. the Spendthrifts

An odd but perfectly understandable thing happens when it comes to how we choose to handle our money: we begin to self-identify as being a certain kind of “money person”.

The two most extreme ways to self-identify when it comes to money are as a spendthrift or as a frugal.

A spendthrift is someone who spends money carelessly and often extravagantly, and a frugal is someone who carefully and strategically tries to spend as little money as possible. Polar opposites, in other words.

The Frugals

Frugals take pains to explain that they’re not cheap: instead they are good stewards of their resources. They know that every cent counts. They take pride in finding great deals and sharing them, and in building up a tidy sum in savings and solid investments.

The Spendthrifts

Spendthrifts believe that there’s more to life than counting pennies. Life is too short, they say, so live a little. (Or a lot.) They have the latest gadgets and the most stylish cars and clothes, and wouldn’t be caught dead looking at a price tag.

But when you see things strictly from an extreme perspective, it forces you into a corner.

If you do something that’s outside the way you normally see yourself, you feel uncomfortable. You may feel badly if someone else sees you as either a spendthrift or frugal when you identify as the opposite. No one likes to be viewed as something they are not.

But it doesn’t have to be a battle between the frugals and the spendthrifts — not even an internal one.

Give yourself a break

If you see yourself as a frugal person but splurge now and then, you don’t have to berate yourself or turn in your frugal living card. And if you wind up with frugal fatigue, you can feel fine about taking a break. If you see yourself as a spendthrift but want to, gasp, put away 15% of your salary for retirement each year, your sensible plans for the future don’t have to be a deep dark secret.

And if you happen share both extremes internally like I do, that’s fine too.

It’s not necessarily an incongruity to use a 10% off coupon on a great-looking $15 knee-length wool coat from a thrift store (while rejoicing in the great deal) — and to then go spend a hundred bucks at Nordstrom’s on a perfectly ordinary (but cute) t-shirt.

It’s a balance, or a matter of priorities. And it’s all about whatever works for you.


  • I think I’m sort of like you. I squirrel away my money, and I don’t typically want to spend my cash on anything I don’t deem ‘worthwhile’. But every so often, I splurge bigtime on some item that I think is important to me.

    Like you said, its all about priorities and what works for the individual. I don’t want to end up on my death bed with millions of dollars, having never experienced any pleasure from the fruits of my labor.

  • I’m a combo of the two…I’ll cring at paying more than $20 for a nice pair of shoes, but I’ll gladly spend a ton on vacations and travelling…like you said, it’s all about priorities. :-)

    • Hm, after reading your comment and Learn Save Invest’s, I’m beginning to think I lean more toward the spendthrift side than I thought. Because I’ll spend a ton on shoes *and* traveling.

      (Although maybe it’s not so bad since although my last shoe purchase was $240 for 2 pairs, that was 3 years ago, and I’m still wearing them regularly…)

  • Great point about the difference between these two financial personalities. We save money using coupons on just about everything but don’t think it’s outrageous to spend what some would consider a lot of money on vacation.

    Life should be lived well. Pinching pennies just to have a big pile of them is not my goal.

  • I consider my self 70% Frugal 30% spendthrift. Like you, I am both internally. I will be frugal most of the time, but then occasionally I will buy a new 24″ monitor, or something else that is a little over the top. However, I hardly ever buy “stuff”, so I really don’t feel to bad about it. I spend MOST of my money on F O O D! Man do I eat a lot:)

    I think a good balance is perfectly acceptable – IF you can still meet your financial objectives :)

    • Oh boy, food is my downfall too. At least I’ve been eating mostly non-processed stuff. (Except for pop-tarts; I still need to cut those out!)