Everyone has a limited amount of resources available to themselves, and whenever one fails to live well within the scope of those resources then he or she lives a life that is filled with doubt and uncertainty. Even living within our own means by itself isn't enough; we need to live well-below our means so that we can reach other financial goals such as building up our savings account and being prepared for the ups and downs that life gives us from time to time. This is most of what frugality means: not trying to live opulently but instead live a simpler life that doesn't strain the limits of a budget.

According to the Roman Virtues, there is a sort of spiritual element of frugality as well. It's also about an economy and simplicity of life and style, which also focuses on the humility that can be experienced in frugality as well. According to these values, someone who dresses with a ton of accessories or otherwise too gaudily would be in conflict with this sense of simplicity; one who is frugal is not one that mimics the wealthier lifestyle or dresses just to get attention, even if they do work within their budget. Having economy and simplicity in your life will also reward you and others in a myriad of different ways. Turning off lights and appliances as a habit will help you protect the environment, for instance. Watching where you spend your money on food, along with preparing more of your own meals, will help prevent wasted food that goes bad and also perhaps help you eat more healthily. If you don't allow yourself to feel pressured to carry each latest gadget, then you might experience some of the peace people can have when they are not connected to their email accounts, messengers, or social networking sites 24 hours a day. Having a lifestyle of economy and simplicity can humble you and make you more open to the smaller, more spiritual experiences that can be found every day in the environment around you.

Before we talk about tactics to build our frugality, mention should be made of the final aspect of this Roman Virtue, to be frugal without being miserly. Miserly can be seen as another word for stingy. It's heartening to see this warning about miserliness included, because while it is important to be financially responsible it is also important to avoid being poisoned by selfishness over time. It's not fair to say that everyone will be equally capable of donating to good causes or being giving, but being concerned only for acquiring your own wealth and nourishing your own well-being will slowly turn you focus inward until you can hardly see outside of yourself. Look for small ways to be generous or helpful, even if you can't give or do much.

As far as improving upon your sense of frugality, there are many resources out there to help you. You can find books, record-keeping aids, and various computer programs that are aimed at helping you better manage your finances. The only problem is that you also need to be determined to do the work required for budgeting (usually planning and record-keeping) so you can steer your spending—then you will also have to be prepared to alter your behavior to meet the budget you have made. This isn't always easy, and you should be prepared for this work when you plan to take on this virtue.

Here are some activities to help you get started:


  • Create a Budget: This isn't a special exercise, but I need to remind you to do this. If you don't do this, and at least have an idea of what you can (should) spend, then the other exercises are not really effective. If you need help planning a budget, you may want to look at the books down below. After you create a budget you can make it a goal to stay on the budget, which you can mark off on a checklist as you successfully stay in budget every week; you can even make all the line items on your budget their own set of goals.
  • Write Everything Down in a Ledger or Other Method: If you can use a computer program, great, but it might even be better if you write down purchases the moment you make them (this helps you think about each purchase and you might forget to write it down later anyway). When you do this you'll understand how your daily behavior affects your bank account in ways you never fully grasped before, and you can also avoid last-minute surprises.
  • Prepare More Food, Calculate Costs: Homemade food can be cheaper than processed food—but not always (it usually tastes better though). Go through your favorite recipes and add some more, and then figure out how much it costs to make the meal and how many servings it provides. You might learn you can make burgers at home for $1.05 while the cheapest fast-food burger you purchase might be $2.50, to provide an example. It seems like small change, but making food regularly can save you money... it eventually adds up!
  • Pare Down Your Services: We hate to do this, but go through all your not-totally-necessary bills and see if you can pare them down or get rid of them all together. This could be getting a cheaper cable service, slower internet service, getting rid of one of you newspapers, changing your cell plan, etc. Individually this may seem like small change, but all together they can be significant—especially if you always seem to wind up just a hundred dollars over budget.
  • Create Investment or Debt Reduction Plans: It might help to create a budget first, but future planning is something you should really stop putting off.
  • Stop Shopping for Fun: Until you are better with your budget, then you should avoid recreational shopping altogether. If you must, then carefully budget these excursions.

Your Record

When you spend above your budget (or you run low on funds unexpectedly), then mark yourself at "fault"—try to arrange a way to know if you are at fault on a daily basis, or at least have an idea. If you are in debt, mark yourself at fault for every time you add more debt then you take away in a given span (might be more difficult to gauge on a daily basis). Whenever you make a knee-jerk purchase without thinking about the consequences, or if it is a bad idea and you do it anyway, then mark yourself at fault. Choose goals and activities from your research and ideas up above. If you fail to follow through or reach your goals, then mark yourself at fault.


Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich.

Benjamin Franklin

All things are cheap to the saving, dear to the wasteful.

Benjamin Franklin

The spendthrift robs his heirs the miser robs himself.

Jean de la Bruyere, French Satircal Moralist

Golden Mean


Recommended Reading

Personal Finance For Dummies — by Eric Tyson

This is a good, general book about learning how to better manage your finances from the popular "For Dummies" series, which generally does a good job creating guide books for beginners.

The Budget Kit: The Common Cents Money Management Workbook — by Judy Lawrence

The Common Cents Money Management Workbook: This book is a book with advice and tips for planning a budget, sticking to it, and meeting your goals, along with general advice on how to pay off your debts.

The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Living on a Budget, 2nd Edition — by Peter J. Sander, Jennifer Basye Sander

This small book from the "Idiot's Guide" series is focused specifically on living when you have little wiggle-room in your budget.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Wealth can only be accumulated by the earnings of industry and the savings of frugality. John Tyler