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What does it mean to be frugal?

Frugality doesn't mean that you don't spend money on things that are important to you. It means that you don't spend money on things that are not important to you. (Getty Images)

Frugality sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s often seen as self-sacrifice. Frugal behavior is often viewed as giving up things you really care about in order to save a trivial amount of money. It’s often seen as being the opposite of fun.

Those characteristics might be accurate if frugal behavior is taken to an extreme. But those extremes undermine what frugality is all about.

Frugality is actually about aiming to get maximum value out of your money. It doesn’t mean that you don’t spend money on things that are important to you. It means that you don’t spend money on things that are not important to you.

[Read: How to Achieve Financial Independence Without Retiring Early]

Frugal people cut back on most things, so they can feel good spending on a few things that are important to them while also saving for their big goals in the future.

Because of that, a big part of frugality is really understanding which things are important to you and which aren’t.

For example, you might come to the realization that buying brand-name toilet paper isn’t important to you, especially if you try a store-brand product and it does a perfectly good job. Thus, you buy store-brand toilet paper, and the money you save stays in your pocket.

You might realize that replacing your phone as soon as your cell phone contract is up isn’t important to you when your phone does everything you already need. So you decide to hold off a while on that phone replacement and save some money in the process.

[See: 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2019.]

The important thing to remember is that those realizations are different for everyone. Something that’s important to you might not be important to someone else, and vice versa. You might care about having a really good cup of coffee in the morning. At the same time, someone else might not see much value in the difference between “great” coffee and whatever coffee’s available at the office. Someone else might prefer to drink tea or water. What’s important is that everyone understands their own priorities.

At the same time, not everything is important in life. You need to consider what’s important to you and what’s not that big of a deal. A person might like a great cup of coffee each morning, but it’s not a big deal if he or she has office coffee each morning and maybe one amazing cup each Sunday morning. Or maybe a person realizes that great coffee isn’t all that important, especially compared to the constant expense it involves and what that is costing that person each month.

[Read: Can Practicing ‘Minimalism’ Improve Your Financial Health?]

Because the choices of frugality are often individual to the person, a frugal person can sometimes appear to be cheap to others. Someone who loves coffee might find that another person who drinks inexpensive coffee is a cheapskate when that inexpensive coffee drinker has merely realized that great coffee isn’t a big deal and would rather spend money elsewhere.

Thus, a key part of frugality is not worrying about what other people think. That doesn’t mean that you should treat other people poorly. What it means is that you should make spending decisions based on how you feel, not on what others might think.

Frugality means that you’re considering all your expenses through these lenses. Is this expense important to me? Is there a way to get what I value out of this purchase without spending so much money?

Often, frugality means that you’re taking that money you’re saving and applying it to some larger goal in life, and that goal is often not evident to others. This is another reason why an important part of frugality is not worrying about what others might think.

In the end, frugality really becomes a life philosophy. You can apply the same principles to your time use, your energy use or your social circle. Which use of your time gives the most value per hour? Which use of your energy gives you the most value before you’re worn out? Which relationships provide you with the most joy and personal satisfaction? Frugality is about getting the most out of your life.

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What Does It Mean to Be Frugal? originally appeared on usnews.com