I had an interesting conversation with a colleague of mine a few weeks ago. I overheard two of them talking about Skechers walking shoes and I couldn’t help but chime in as a brand advocate (they are, by the way, simply the best walking shoe I’ve ever owned).
Me: Skechers are the best! If you go to the Skechers store, they’ll charge you about $100 for a pair. I usually go to Skechers to scout what shoes I like and then go online at the Bay since they have sales. I got my pair for about half price.
Colleague: How smart!
Me: I consider myself a pretty frugal guy.
Colleague: Excuse me?
Colleague: I’m not comfortable with that word. It infers cheap, are you saying you’re cheap? Maybe in the future, you could use a word that people may not find as offensive, like you enjoy getting value for money.
Me: *blank stare.
My conversation with my colleague proved to me that we have a ways to go in how we treat the concept of frugality. So let’s break down the etymology of the word “Frugal”:
“economical in use,” 1590s, from Middle French frugal,
from Latin frugalis,
from undeclined adjective frugi “useful, proper, worthy, honest; temperate, economical,” originally dative of frux (plural fruges) “fruit, produce,” figuratively “value, result, success,”
from PIE root *bhrug- “to enjoy,” with derivatives referring to agricultural products. Sense evolved in Latin from “useful” to “profitable” to “economical.” Source
Notice anything? If anything, being frugal isn’t a negative trait, it’s a positive attribute. It means exactly what my colleague was telling me in simply more words: getting value for money.
So why do some of us confuse frugality with cheapness? Cheap is doing something at minimal expense at all costs, even if it means paying more for it later down the road. Frugal is doing something while attempting to minimize the expense without sacrificing long-term value. That’s a big difference.
When it comes to the common belief that you can’t be frugal without being cheap, I point the finger squarely at aspirational marketing. They’re the ones that have those campaigns that tell you that in order to be successful you must display success by spending your hard earned dollars. They instill fear in us by telling us not spending the big money means you’re not “one of us”. To become us, you must spend like us.
I would greatly prefer a car commercial showing an independently wealthy person in 2002 buying a Toyota Corolla from a middle-aged salesperson. This wealthy individual experiences all of life’s joys in the car while running it into in the ground for 15 years. Upon the car’s death, the wealthy person heads back to a now elderly Toyota salesperson and cheerfully gets handed a pair of keys for another Corolla. The salesperson calmly asks: “So… see you again in 15?” And insert some slogan about longevity. In my opinion, that would help distinguish frugality from cheapness.
But that commercial will never come.
I think the only way we can help others overcome the fear of the “F” word is to simply use the word more often until it becomes just another word. Think Harry Potter and his no-fear approach to saying the name Voldemort instead of “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” or “You Know Who”.
So if you’re like me and are a proud, frugal individual, screw what other people think. Just use the “F” word until they stop flinching.