Is there a point at which frugal becomes TOO frugal?

Recently I read something– beats me where– suggesting that when a girl is visiting a young man’s apartment, she ought to scope out the type of toilet paper he buys. If the paper is the cheapo scratchy kind, she ought to run, the article suggested, because no guy worth having would stoop to buy cheap TP.

My mouth hung open at the idea of dismissing a potential mate on such a flimsy basis. Granted, I don’t happen to be picky about toilet paper. I know some people care a lot about TP, but I don’t. I’ve bought the most affordable brands for most of my adult life.

But to dismiss a person on the basis of his frugality? To my way of thinking, these gals should take the cheap toilet paper as a good sign…. here (possibly) is a guy who doesn’t overspend. Maybe he even has a savings account.

OK, I know. That is a lot to assume from a roll of toilet paper. But careful spending in the small things is just as important to careful money management as getting the best deal on a car. Maybe even more so. ‘Small’ spending happens nearly every day, and sometimes people forget how it can break them. They just wonder why they’re out of money all the time.

The story got me wondering, though. Is there a point at which frugal becomes TOO frugal? Obviously I don’t think cheap toilet paper is that point. But is there a line? Is it dependent on your circumstances?

For example, would it be okay for a family who is unemployed to turn the thermostat down to 55 and bundle up in the house to avoid a big power bill? What about if that same family is making $80,000 a year and simply trying to pay off the house quicker? Would it be okay for a single guy to set the thermostat at 55, but not okay for him to set the thermostat at that level if he was married with 3 kids?

Other possible examples of frugality:
–living with one vehicle (or none!)
–buying only used clothing
–eating beans 5 meals a week
–living in a small house, and having 3 or more children to share one bedroom.

Obviously the ‘line’ is going to be different for different people. Some of the things that we might think of as too frugal are probably just normal living for people in 3rd world countries. For example, many people all over the world eat rice and beans most of the time. Millions of people cram a large family into a single room home. Millions more go a lifetime without ever owning one car, let alone two or three.

I personally would have to live a very different life before I’d consider getting by on one vehicle. We live about 8 miles away from the nearest grocery store, and I’m not that into bike riding. However, we COULD probably get by with less than the (yikes) 3 vehicles we currently own. And that’s not even counting Eldest’s car that currently resides at our house along with her.

But other frugal choices are pretty natural to me. We keep our thermostat low and heat our house mainly with wood. The bedrooms furthest from the wood stove get a little chilly, but that’s what quilts are for. We’ve done cloth diapers and cloth napkins and we yard sale and thrift-shop for most of our clothes. (Incidentally, this winter Eldest is wearing a lovely full length black wool coat that she bought at a yard sale for $2 — you do NOT have to look frumpy to be a careful clothing shopper).

I’ve rambled long enough. Now I want to hear from you. Are you contemplating new ways to save money these days? Have you made a frugal choice that would seem crazy to some? Are there frugal choices out there they you wouldn’t consider in a million years? How frugal is too you?


  1. Very interesting discussion. Yes, I think there is such a thing as too frugal, but I’m not absolutely sure what that is for everyone. My mom and I have talked about this very thing. She thinks I’m splurging to pick up a brand-new magazine; however, she chooses to frequent local high school sports events (each one equivalent to one magazine). Mostly, it’s what an individual or family chooses is more important to them. We won’t always agree with what someone else deems a frugal decision, because that might not be what we would do, but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a wise decision for them.

    Certainly, “too frugal” should include making a guest uncomfortable, either by a home that’s too hot or cold or by censoring toilet paper.

    Back to the TP – my mom is a proponent of buying the cheapest there is BUT she tends to use more at a time (when she visits, my toilet roll disappears at least twice as fast as usual); I buy the next cheapest, but use less at a time. Sometimes, the different choices balance out in weird ways.

  2. I agree that the line varies from household to household, although it is important that both husband and wife agree on what is appropriate and what is over the line.

    My husband has always been very frugal, a fact that I appreciate and have been trying to learn from, but a few months after we got married he commented on how I always buy “harsh” toilet paper and why was I being so cheap about it. I had to laugh. I think I just bought that brand because it was what my mom bought, and when I asked her she said it was because with the quantities little ones used, you have to use cheap stuff (both for frugality and plumbings sake). So now toilet paper is one of our few name brand splurges and it is a choice we can both live with.

  3. To me, it’s when you’re making yourself miserable. I’m sure that many (most, even, especially my Dad) wouldn’t consider me frugal but I consider it to mean using money wisely and not doing things just because they are what your peers do. I can’t imagine keeping my heat below 68 when I’m home and awake because I start to go numb in my hands and feet (yes, I’m 25 with the body of an old lady apparently) but I try to save money other ways, like cooking instead of eating out, and having cheap(er) hobbies like knitting. I may spend a little more on supplies than some, but it’s still a lot cheaper than hitting the bars three or four nights a week!

    So, to me, too frugal is when you’re following advice that doesn’t work for you or makes you miserable just because it saves money. (Oh, and I’m totally in the nice TP is a must category…but I also shop sales and use coupons to get it!)

  4. Thanks so much for the topic of this post. Our family is going through some tough financial trials right now and the suggestions of frugality from some of your viewers are right what I need to be reading right now.

    Thank you.

  5. I agree that “too frugal” is when you become mean and stingy. If you will not reach out to those less fortunate, even though you are able to, you are “too frugal.” If you become so concerned about saving money that it consumes you and becomes almost an addiction, you are “too frugal.” Also, if it becomes an unneccesary embarassment to your children (i.e. you make them wear ugly, homemade clothing when you really could affort otherwise and they are mercilessly teased for it), you are “too frugal.”

  6. I think some of my coworkers are too frugal. One of them refused to consider replacing his worn shoes even though they made his feet hurt. He brought a half gallon of milk to a potluck Christmas lunch. He wrapped his sandwiches in recycled meat wrappers, with the sticker still attached. Eww.

    I had another coworker who sewed her own underwear from mill remnants. Maybe that’s not too frugal, but it’s definitely borderline.

  7. I am very frugal and try to craft most things that i use . I also make jewelry so I barter alot of it for items that I need in my daily life. Alot of people find that “weird ” and then ..get this ..which i find amusing…they say I am ‘poor” . Well–yes I am actually –poor in money ..but rich in love of my friends and I love being surrounded by all my handcrafted items . I grow a huge garden every year and eat off it all year long. My neighbors think me having a garden in my backyard is “weird” and WHY dont I just go to the grocery. Some people just get it.

  8. opps! forgot to mention that as a byproduct of my being frugal and crafting 99% my stuff–i have tiny scaraps of fabrics and yarns that i turn into doll clothes and furnishings that I send to charites at Pine ridge reservation over the years .

  9. I just found you through Meredith and have just read this post. I thought it was odd that I actually fitted into some of the things you described. We own only one small car. We (a family of five – was six but one is married) live in an 800 sq.ft. condo with a tiny side yard even though our dream is to move to the country some day. I signed up in a Local Organic Food Share program to save on grocery money (it was a very hard thing for me to do – I had to overcome the pride issue). We are a single income homeschooling family. I came from where someone might consider a third world country, 30 years ago. BUT – we eat healthily (no sugar treat until weekend) and we live contently. We save whenever we could and we spend whenever we could. I don’t believe in doing things to the extreme – save it all or spend it all. I can’t wait to check out your book in the library if they have it, otherwise I might borrow one from friends. If all else failed, there’s always 🙂

  10. I was thinking there is no such thing as being to frugal UNTIL, I was looking for a pattern to make your own cloth diapers somehow after link and link and link, I came across a WASHABLE cloth tampon and that I think is TOO frugal. Maybe some people actually use them, maybe they have to in other countries, but that is one thing, I would run in the other direction, FAST!