July 14, 2017

Frugal Living vs Extreme Frugal Living

Frugal living - making beans on the stove top. Extreme frugal living - making beans in a heatless cooker.

One search phrase that leads many readers to this blog is "extreme frugal living". I am not sure that is what I am doing here, but it is alright with me to be associated with such a concept. I am happy to have visitors that are looking to become more efficient in their use of Earth's gifts.

It is not surprising to me - everything has to be "extreme" these days in order to capture people's attention. The unwritten motto is, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the extreme". So you get extreme pretty much anything.

I am not sure what the exact difference is between frugal living and extreme frugal living, except the later must somehow be more frugal than the former. Maybe it is an ego/competition thing.

"I am frugaler than you are."

"No way, dude. I am the frugalist."

Frugality kind of seems like being pregnant. Either you are, or you aren't. However, it is hard to fault someone for wanting to continually improve their practice of living more lightly on this planet.

In trying to understand what separates the merely frugal from the more extreme variety, I share a few ideas that came to mind.

Frugal living is cutting your own hair.

Extreme frugal living is cutting your wife's hair.

Frugal living is buying discounted food.

Extreme frugal living is dumpster diving.

Frugal living is biking everywhere.

Extreme frugal living is walking everywhere (or deciding that there is nowhere to go because you are already where you need to be).

Frugal living is sleeping in a van.

Extreme frugal living is sleeping in a box car.

Frugal living is wearing the same clothes for a year.

Extreme frugal living is wearing the same cloths till they are threadbare, then making paper out of them.

Is it frugal living, or extreme frugal living? Or just being sensible? It depends on who you ask. Plus, what used to be the way we did things has become the new frugal as we adopt increasingly luxurious ways of living.

Darning socks? Once common, now frugal. Or even extremely frugal.

Either way, the more careful we are about spending money or using resources when not needed, the better it is for everyone.


  1. Anonymous7/15/2017

    I think I'm pretty frugal, but most people in the developing world are frugal. Maslow's actualisation is a useful concept. I think you can befrugal and also pursue a interest if you are an artist purchase and keep the items you need and if you have a passion for open source software development purchase refurbished computers. I think of living life as a practice and for not spending or consuming is a practice as it helps to orientate my life away from consumption. You try different things and see if they work out. The problem with not being frugal is the damage it causes environmentally, plastic fills the oceans and nature is damaged. This is the main reason for my practice. There are many practices that increase conscious living and the wonderful James Aspey who undertook a year of silence to highlight the plight of animals: https://youtu.be/zgR_zz8Kmbs
    Walking and wandering are also practices and can be grounding, while riding a bike shows the way that we will all need to get around, both are wonderful.
    In daoism they speak of a mysterious entrance to finding the dao. I think the dao is everywhere, but we need to slow things down through our practices to find it.

    1. Alex,

      It seems to me that no one is more frugal than those living on a dollar a day. The poor are frugal by necessity. It is hard for wealthier individuals to think about being frugal because having money means "you don't have to be" frugal. But we do. Nature demands it.

      Living slowly and purposely leads to all kinds of amazing discoveries. A jet is way too fast. A car is too fast. Sometimes, even riding a bike feels too fast for me. Walking is a pace that can take in more of our surroundings, and then you can see what life is all about.

      Of course, sitting in silence reveals even more. Modern life is too fast, with everything screaming by, allowing us only superficial and brief interactions with reality. Only by going slowly does Nature reveal itself. And when it does, it is beautiful. Is that the entrance to the dao?

      Going to look up James Aspey now. Thank you for the link (in your comment - not everyone can do that).

  2. Anonymous7/16/2017

    You always make me laugh!! Yes even being frugal is now a competition! I'm not 'extreme' frugal I don't think, but I am a mean sock darner...
    Maybe extreme frugal is knitting your own socks in the first place? Actually now I think about it I did knit a pair of socks once so maybe I am extreme frugal!
    Clara, Australia

    1. Clara,

      One thing Linda and I do most consistently together is laugh. We are happy to share that around as often as possible. One does not want to take things too seriously. Life is funny, and getting funnier all the time.

      I do think that making your own clothes is extreme frugality, socks or otherwise. My sister-in-law makes beautiful clothing out of hemp fabric. Much of my wardrobe, and certainly all of my favourite clothes, were made by her creative and crafty hands.

      Or, as Marla points out, that could be "radical simplicity". How many people these days can make their own clothes? Even socks? Or repair clothes? Can anyone sew on a button, or fix a rip, or alter their own clothes? So cheap to just buy new replacements, which is not very frugal.

      I haven't bought new clothes for many years. That makes me laugh all the way to the credit union.

  3. Perhaps the search for "extreme frugality" comes about because so much "advice" out there truly isn't frugal. When doing a search on Pinterest a while ago, I found frugal advice for getting the lowest credit card rate, switching to basic cable, and using the right bank for your investment. None of that seems particularly frugal to most of the world, including me. I found if I searched for "Radical Simplicity" or "Extreme Frugality" the results were closer to what I was looking for. Maybe that's how they find NBA. I know I did a search for "Not buying anything" and found this wonderful blog (a long time ago it seems).

    I watched some videos on people who were supposedly "extremely frugal" and they did crazy things like rip a paper plate in half for a sandwich. How about not buying paper plates at all? It's a mindset that seems to be lost on much of the western world. But it's changing, I just know it.

  4. Anonymous7/18/2017

    I have had a lot of fun thinking about this post. To me frugal means not being wasteful, making the best use of the materials and resources we have, really eking out every bit of use from something. When I repair socks or find another use for something that's worn out I just call it common sense! Once upon a time more of us had it!

    My parents were incredibly frugal, and I find this interesting because we were reasonably well off. And it occurs to me now that perhaps we were reasonably well off because they were so frugal! We were certainly not allowed to waste food - like many I remember cutting a bit of mould from bread and eating it, sticking the soap fragment to the next block, and using every last bit of toothpaste. There was always some knitting and mending going on, even though my mother worked very hard as a nurse. The bonus of those years was that things were better made and everything from your shoes to your toaster could be repaired, often multiple times.

    I think of the way I live now as frugal, but not extreme. I have been a bit extreme in the past, for example showering in sub zero temperatures! But, things like having car-free days and electricity-free days, I would not consider extreme, I would say they are frugal and fun too :-)


  5. Anonymous7/18/2017

    Frugal living is cutting your own hair, extreme frugal living is cutting your own hair whilst climbing Everest. But in all seriousness the labels don't matter so much as people trying to respect the earth.

  6. I re purpose wool sweaters when completely un-darnable and then knit socks. I really enjoy the process. Thanks for having this amazing blog I enjoy every post.


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