Three Things to Fight Frugality Fatigue

frugal-fatigueMy wife came home on Friday and started weeping.  Ashamed, she fell before me and admitted she has been having unfrugal thoughts.  I stroked my mustache and sat up in my high-backed chair.  I clenched my jaw and squeezed my scepter of extreme saving and financial truth more tightly.  I gathered myself, took a deep breath and let her finish.

It’s just, people at work are rolling in with these beautiful brand new SUVs.  Our cars are old and ugly, she sobbed.  Best friends and family are upgrading to nicer homes with luxurious yards, while we still huddle in our humble “starter” home.

The siren call of the “normal” American life with the stepped up lifestyle beckons.  No mere mortal mind can endure! she cried.  She went on to say she has even been ordering out for food lately at work instead of packing a sack lunch… 0nce, even sometimes two times a week!

A slap in the face!  I stood up and slammed the point of my scepter down on the floor.  Enough!  Away from me, woman!  Go out and change the oil on the Honda!  Sell five things on Craigslist!  Then off to the couponing room.  I’ll need a thousand coupons clipped by the end of the night!

I’m joking, of course.  It didn’t happen like that.  My wife clips coupons for fun.  I don’t need to force her.  And she didn’t come to me complaining that we don’t have nice cars and a fancy house.  She just mentioned in passing it’s hard sometimes not to be just a little bit jealous of people with nicer things.  That’s just our consumer driven culture.

I feel the same way.  Of course my wife is not the only one with unfrugal thoughts.  I’m tempted to buy unnecessary things probably much more than her.  I can easily see myself being the weak link here.

That led to a really good conversation about frugality fatigue, the idea that you can only hold your spending down at minimums for so long before it starts to come out your ears.  So, how do we keep from getting frugality fatigue?  Here are three things:

We need to install relief valves

My wife and I are trying to be as frugal as possible now to reach our financial goals that much faster.  But we have to recognize that we’re probably not built for the most extreme frugality.  It’s a ideal to strive towards, but we don’t want to make ourselves miserable in the process.  The pressure can build up.  Spending could explode.

Before we know it, we’ve lost all willpower.  After a particularly bad week at work, we could find ourselves in a candle-lit booth slamming the menu shut.  F- it!  we’ll take the lobster… and a 5 bed 4 bath house on a hill in Carver on the side… Does the Tahoe come with 22s?  Completely out of whack with what we really want.

We need to be better about building relief valves into our budget.  Plan on the fancy dinner out once a month.  Happy hours with friends.  Extra home improvement.  New nice clothes every once in a while that make us look and feel good.  Fun family entertainment.

It’s clear we should pad those budget line items just a little bit more so we don’t feel guilty when we do spend the money on something that could seem frivolous.  And we’ll have an extra sense of accomplishment those months we do save more than planned.

We need to regularly review and clarify goals 

My wife and I have a plan in place for the next five years.  It amounts to to paying off the rest of our debt (besides the mortgage), then saving up 2-3 years of current spending.  This plan is driving our frugality.

I talked about it a little bit in my article Why I may not be able to keep my grubby little hands off my 401k.  The plan is to build up a long runway of savings so either or both of us can step out of the workforce for any reason and try something new.  Or not.

The or not part is the problem.  The plan is kind of wishy-washy.  It doesn’t get too specific beyond the numbers.  We’re missing some important details:

What does our ideal day look like?  What exactly would we do with a 3-year runway?  If we don’t have a particular project or passion to pursue in mind, what’s the point?  We both have great jobs.  Why not upgrade our lifestyle now and focus on happiness in the present?  

Or… Enough with these half-measures!  Let’s sacrifice more now for a little bit longer and go all the way to complete financial independence and early retirement.  

This plan assumes we live in our same house?  Do we want to upgrade to something a little fancier?  This one feels okay for now.  But is it our so-called “forever” house?  Maybe we actually do want that house on a hill in Carver (an outer suburb southwest of Minneapolis that everyone seems to be moving to nowadays).  Do we want a “forever” house at all?  Maybe that’s just an anchor and we want more flexibility to travel and experience stuff.  

This plan doesn’t take into account our growth as people, as a family, the growth of our marriage.  What about giving?  Volunteering time and offering money.  How does charity fit in to all of this?

My wife and I have sat down exactly once and hammered out some specific goals for our family.  But we haven’t gone back and revisited them since.  It’s time to do that.  It’s time to do that on a regular basis.  It’s time to get crystal clear on what we want out of life so our spending can start to match up.  It’s time to go way beyond some numbers on a spreadsheet.

Finally, we just need to get out and meet our frugal neighbors

Our friends are great, but we don’t really have any friends in the area that we hang out with who have similar financial goals.  Most are on the more traditional path.  Financial independence just isn’t on their radar and that’s fine.  We talk about other stuff.

But, we’ve come to realize it’s important to have more friends in our circle who are on the same financial wavelength.  That’s where you come in.

I’ve read at least a half-dozen like-minded bloggers out there who happen to be located in Minnesota.  My wife and I need to start meeting you people.  Don’t be surprised if you get the following message in the mail:


That way we can ask in person, How do you fight frugality fatigue?  And have fantastic frugality discussions over a few Summits and Surlys.  In the meantime, feel free to comment below 🙂

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  1. Thanks for sharing your tips! I particularly liked the first one. In my experience it’s best to give yourself something to look forward to. A little wiggle-room in the short-term can make staying the course long-term much more manageable. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Jay! Yep. This is something my wife and I haven’t been really good about. Manageable is the key. Maybe short bursts here and there of extreme frugality are okay for us as a kind of game, but we’re definitely a couple that needs spending relief valves put it so our plan is sustainable for the long-term.


  2. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. My wife and I have been feeling some of the same things as our friends have bought shiny new homes with contemporary indoor / outdoor seamlessly integrated space, outdoor firepits, pools and grills overlooking beautiful canyons (there I go again.) It’s so easy to get caught up in it and your “center” changes. Your idea of the built-in relief valves is genius. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha, ha. I seem to be on the right wavelength with you recently.

    Man, you live in California though, right? The epicenter of materialism. Those houses sound beautiful, by the way. It’s got to be that much more tough to be frugal in the midst of all that!

    On the other hand, the thing people who live on the coasts have that I envy, is the ocean. There’s no better free experience than a day out on the beach. That’s gotta balance it out a little bit right?

    Thanks for reading, Doc!


  4. Love this post, Crispy! It’s something I’ve been giving lots of thought too as well, lately. In the previous comment, I like how you mentioned the ocean. It’s true, that the relief valve can be free, doesn’t have to be a purchase. For myself, as I’ve become more frugal, things that used to be staples for me, like daily Starbucks latte’s, have actually become the relief valve. Now that Starbucks is a treat that I might only partake of once a month (at the most), I tend to savor it a lot more, and it’s become more of a luxury.
    Previously, when I was far more indulgent, the relief valves seemed to be bigger. Sometimes it was $200-$300 of relief, rather than $4.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh man I have definitely been there. I think the best thing for me to fight the fatigue is hiking nearby. It reminds me of what I truly enjoy which is what God created and not the material things that take up space in my house. Thanks for sharing you list!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Love this – finding others that share your views is do important. If you’re ever out in the Madison, WI area let me know.

    I’ve found a Mr. Money Mustache meetup group in the area and it’s been really reenergizing to meet with other people looking to break fr the mainstream mold 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • My wife was just in Madison (Sun Prairie) visiting a friend. I didn’t tag along this time. We probably head that way about once a year. We’ve got friends there and in the Milwaukee area. I’ll let you know the next time we head that way. Maybe we can grab some coffee or a beer.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve definitely experienced financial fatigue. I’ve had conversations about it with one of my frugal friends before too. It’s definitely a thing. There needs to be some kind of balance with spending or else the frugality collapses.

    What I found works for me is to consistently save an amount I’m comfortable with, pay the bills, and then have fun with the rest. I’ve stopped trying to over extend myself.

    That said, love your tips. Having like-minded friends is a big one! Regular goal setting and having that awareness helps too. Thanks for the read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Graham! You’re absolutely right. Overextension is the problem. Small bursts of extra frugality seem to work for me. And I treat it almost like a little game. The funny thing is, I’m usually able to to more of these bursts after financial windfalls like work bonuses. I’m weird like that, I guess.


  8. Mrs. Grumby has a high level of resistance to frugality fatigue, smiling happily with every dollar saved. It’s a little more difficult for me, and I think finding like minded people locally has helped.
    Thanks for the great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Mr. Grumby! It’s awesome to have a partner that is as frugal or more frugal than you. Fortunately, I have a great partner who’s just about the same as me. I don’t think I’d be able to fend off frugality fatigue with someone who was a spendaholic.


  9. Frugal fatigue seems to be an epidemic taking over! Judging by some of the other comments it seems we are all in good company. I’m glad you mentioned branching out and meeting more like minded people. I think that is the best thing to do when life gets stale. It’s great that you and your wife are on the same page…and you’re right, you need your goal to be crystal clear so you have laser focus going forward. But even with all that in place we all still have those moments of envy when looking at other spendy people. Why can’t I just order the lobster and get on with my life?! I suppose it goes back to the easiest rational – when we know better, we do better. I know saving will get me out of work sooner. Sounds better to me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, Miss Mazuma. You’re right, reminding myself of the end goal is extremely helpful. The “game” I mentioned in one of the comments works well for me. I created a simple spreadsheet that calculates the amount of “time” I’m buying back for every dollar I save. Like I said, that seems to work for small bursts (anything beyond that starts to get a little obsessive). It may be time to fire that thing up again for a short while. I may have to write an article on that too. Thanks again!


  10. Hah ! ‘Unfrugal thoughts’ . Very funny. I am a new reader to your blog but I really enjoy it. The topics are exactly the kinds of things I think about on a daily basis. This is a very good post on something that happens to everyone fairly frequently. It is hard when you are surrounded by ‘Americans’ and their stuff. I don’t begrudge them but I try to think about getting to the finish line and realizing you can’t get there without sacrifice. Doesn’t make it easy but at least I have a method and a rationale for making the hard choices. That being said, I slip up occasionally and always regret it. Nice post, thanks for sharing.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Brian. I enjoy reading your blog too! We definitely share the same interests (I’m terrible at golf though). I’m still interesting in dividend growth investing, but I’ve gone away from it a little bit in favor of the more passive VTI approach with some “shooting the moon” fun mixed in. I’ve got a lot of work to do on my blog, but comments like these give me energy to keep contributing to the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That would be really cool, Ms Montana. I’d love to do that. To be honest, I haven’t done a great job reaching out to people here in MN yet. I’m blaming it on the holidays 😉 Let’s set something up after the New Year. Thanks for reading!


  11. Hey, Crispy Cabbage! I am brand new to your blog but I am an avid PF reader and live in Minneapolis…so, anytime you’re looking for some backyard MN brews, let’s connect! My husband and I are more Summit over Surly fans, but we can compromise 🙂 Another local favorite is Bauhaus.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh man! Where’d you get the idea I was a Surly guy. Surly’s okay, but Summit EPA is my go to. And I can’t really do canned beer. It would be fun to get together over beers sometime! Thanks for reading


  12. Thanks for the laughs as well as the excellent points.
    Every now and then, I hit up eBay for a nice piece of hiking clothing (jacket, raincoat, base layer) that I’ve researched and have been waiting for. I love the hunt for a great deal, and it keeps me out of the store. I’ll set an email alert to get updated auctions until I find what I need, then I unsubscribe until I need something specific again.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Unfrugal thoughts, we all have them. But I honestly think that you need to live a little on your path to FI to have a sense of normalcy, otherwise you’ll get a severe case of unfrugal fever, which is never good. Also, having people around you that share the same views is extremely important. I agree with Ms. Montana and would love to hangout via the Skype (I live in CA). We can make our own little FIRE meet up!

    Liked by 1 person

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