Frugality and self-sacrifice go hand-in-hand. Western culture places a premium on instant gratification, but if you can give up the habits and expenses that sabotage your ability to save for the future, you will achieve wealth.

Still, it’s important to choose the degree of frugality that is right for you and for your circumstances. Most of us are unwilling or unable to live ascetic lifestyles of total self-denial. We need some pleasures. We need to allow ourselves small indulgences. The key is to choose where to splurge — don’t spend uncontrollably or simply out of habit — and to exercise restraint. This same idea is used in dieting for weight loss: don’t deny yourself dessert, but choose a treat and eat a small portion.

Sara Goldstein, The Bargain Queen, has posted a guest-entry at Frugal for Life. Goldstein discusses the stereotype of the frugal person as a penny-pinching miser, and why she thinks this stereotype discourages others from choosing a frugal lifestyle.

She says that it’s also important to live well:

I regard myself as frugal even though:

  • I love nice clothing and buy full-price designer garments occasionally.
  • I have a generous ‘play money’ allowance so I can eat out, go to a concert or buy craft supplies each week.
  • My husband and I keep a well-stocked liquor cabinet and wine rack.

How can I spend money on these things and still call myself frugal? I spend less on other things so I can have the things I love. I make trade-offs many people find strange, that work for me because I don’t need some of the things others consider essential — like I don’t own a car.

At her own site, Goldstein talks more about sweating the big stuff. She explains that she can afford small indulgences because she:

  • Shares rent
  • Does not own a car
  • Actively seeks out used goods
  • Does not shop recreationally
  • Makes the most of what she has

Frugality isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. There are different degrees, and it’s important to find what works best for your budget and your situation. Keep your eye on the goal — financial independence — and make conscious choices that make you happy. Don’t bankrupt your future for gratification today, but don’t live so abstemiously that you cannot enjoy life now.

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