Extreme Frugality & Freeganism

by Dual Income No Kids on August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

At the risk of sounding trite, the only way we can increase our net worth is to either make more money or spend less money. I know, obvious, right? And it’s a lot easier, and much less time consuming, to focus on the “spending less money” part than the “making more money” part. So most people will look through their monthly statements and cut out the things they don’t need in order to make ends meet. The monthly gym membership which is sadly neglected; the shopping spree that unfortunately looks like it got out of control quickly; the take-out meals that could easily be replaced by cooking at home. Sometimes tightening the belt can go a bit further and we can talk about downgrading or eliminating cable tv or internet services, or perhaps attempting to get by with just one car and using public transportation to get around.

Increasing the Sacrifice

As we move down the list of budget items to eliminate, most people start to get a little nervous. Understandably so; it’s easy to eliminate things that we don’t use (e.g. gym memberships), but much harder to get rid of things that we use so frequently that we consider them a significant or even integral part of our daily lives. For instance, I’m on the internet all the time. I do my banking online, I keep up with friends online, most of my daily reading is online…it would be quite a shock to no longer be able to do those things. But I suppose if money became really tight and I felt like I had no other option, I could do so and the sun would still come up the next day. Point being, there exists a relationship between the current state of our finances and the sacrifices we’re willing to make to maintain or improve that state. That relationship dictates how frugal we’re willing to be. And some people are willing to be extremely frugal.

Crossing the Line

There are many fascinating, and often terrifying, things that people are willing to do in order to save some money, from re-using dryer sheets to re-using hygienic products. I’m absolutely enthralled by those people. Any time I see an article about someone who pours water in their empty Tide bottle in order to delay purchasing a new one or folks who have a coupon system so complicated it can only be fully understood by its creator, I get a little excited and read it enthusiastically. Some ideas championed by this elite group of frugals (frugalists?) may cross over the line, but nonetheless it’s extremely interesting to read about. And it’s not like I haven’t learned some neat tricks from them. I now reuse my Ziploc freezer bags because those things are surprisingly expensive, yet durable enough for reuse (but I don’t reuse sandwich bags; too much of a hassle, not enough benefit). And I’ve learned some awesome negotiating techniques. But by far, the most interesting subset of frugal livers are the freegans.


Freegans are as much about making a political statement as they are about saving money. In fact, the freegan philosophy subverts capitalism in such a way that money is almost useless. Freegans advocate an existence outside of what they call the “conventional economy” as much as possible, with special emphasis placed on developing a community. This idea of existing outside of the typical economy starts at scavenging for food and extends towards every aspect of living, from transportation to living quarters to even health care. As I mentioned, their lifestyle is seemingly more about making a statement than it is about living frugally (in the sense that living frugally is usually done to achieve a financial goal i.e. saving up for something or another, whereas freeganism is more about the elimination of the pursuit of money as a goal), so some of their platitudes are hard to stomach at times, but you have to admire their resourcefulness. Their way of life is certainly open to both criticism (they’re choosing to do something they don’t have to – scavenge – when there are countless individuals who don’t have the luxury of that choice; by scavenging the waste of those who do participate in the conventional economy, they are, whether they like it or not, acting as a participant in the same system they decry) and praise (they are resourceful; using discarded resources is ultimately a good thing) I think the most interesting thing about people who live that lifestyle, or lifestyles similar to theirs, is the level of sacrifice involved. Everyone has a tolerance level for what they are willing to go without, and the limitations that those on the extreme side of frugality are willing to impose on themselves speaks loudly to how far some people are willing to go. Being frugal is something all can participate in, albeit in varying degrees. I can’t condone or condemn that lifestyle, but regardless, I’m fascinated by the people willing to make those sacrifices.

If you’re not willing to sell everything you have, turn your back on modern society and dumpster dive for this evening’s food, there are still plenty of things you can do to save money. A simple google search for frugal living tips will yield hundreds of thousands of results. Probably one of the most extensive, all in one place, resources is on U.S. News and World Reports’ website. They have all sorts of information on how to save money on a variety of products. Some of it’s good advice, some of it is almost useless, but like with everything financial, common sense is the most important resource of them all.


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