The operative word is practical, which is defined as a practice that is realistically likely to succeed in real world circumstances. I therefore consider the phrase practical frugal living to mean an approach to economy that the average person can follow without disproportionate negative consequences. I realize that the phrase “disproportionate negative consequences” is itself a bit gray, and there’s room for subjective interpretation.
I believe, however, that most people would agree with several basic principles that I follow. To me, practical frugal living involves lifestyle choices that conserve resources without risking serious bodily injury or death to oneself or others in the process. It is the use of costs-saving methods that do not themselves necessitate an amount of alternative resources or effort that are grossly disproportionate to the savings achieved. Practical frugal living also, in my opinion, refers to economical lifestyle choices that do not place undue burden on our neighbors. The goal, after all, is not just to save money and resources on a personal level, but on a broader, societal level as well.
With these guidelines in mind, we can see that freezing milk to preserve for future weeks, as opposed to pouring half a spoiled gallon down the drain each week, passes the test. This is a great means of conserving money and a valuable commodity that neither burdens nor bothers anyone. Likewise, preparing nutritious meals at home instead of traveling to a restaurant to pay a much higher price for what is many times less healthy food constitutes a lifestyle choice that is both frugal and practical.
But with the same guidelines we can rule out some practices that others follow in the name of frugality. For example, many of the driving techniques promoted by “hypermilers” fail my test of practical frugal living. Don’t get me wrong, I hate high gas prices as much as anyone – more on that subject later – and I want to save gas wherever reasonably possible. But tailgating a tractor-trailer at highway speeds in order to “catch a draft,” is not a practical tool of frugality. Why? Because (a) it does not achieve substantial amounts of gasoline (unless you follow that truck for hours on end), (b) it annoys the truck driver, and (c) if you crash into the rear of that truck, you will be beheaded. Similarly, I don’t agree with cutting a car’s engine off while traveling downhill at the risk of losing power steering and power brakes. And I certainly don’t agree with sparking road rage by avoiding use of the gas pedal while crawling across parkways and highways at constantly diminishing speeds.
A practical frugal lifestyle is one that does more than save pennies here and there without regard to the larger picture. Practical frugality is instead a methodology that conserves resources, including financial resources, in a way that avoids a larger hardship or unreasonable risks. As one who truly believes in the importance of frugality, I admittedly sometimes cross the line. At the same time, however, my lifetime experiences offer some useful guidance on this important distinction. I welcome yours as well as I discuss specific topics in the posts to come.