Jonni McCoy’s Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two Income Economy lists eleven miserly guidelines designed to help families reduce expenses. The first of these is: Don’t confuse frugality with depriving yourself.

This is the most important aspect of being successful at saving money. [...] If any money-saving activity makes you feel cheap or tight, you will eventually abandon your efforts. That is not the price we need to pay to reach our goals.

If you have adopted a lifestyle of thrift or frugality, you are not being cheap when you buy generic food at the grocery store. You are not being cheap when you don’t purchase Zizzer-Zoof Seeds or the latest Thneed. You are not being cheap — you are choosing a different set of values. You are working toward a greater goal. You are not depriving yourself — you have elected to live debt-free, or to follow a spiritual ideal, or to save for a trip around the world.

When you adopt a frugal lifestyle, you change your value system. You acquire less Stuff, but you gain more time, more freedom, more peace-of-mind. Making any lifestyle change — acquiring a frugal mentality, beginning an IRA, starting a diet — requires that you keep your goal in mind constantly. If you lose track of why you are making sacrifices, the sacrifices become a burden.

McCoy recommends that you track your success as you work toward your goal. Make a chart to graph your savings effort. Keep statistics on how much extra money you save by walking to the store instead of driving. Compete with yourself to see how small you can get your grocery bill. McCoy also advises that frugality does not mean deprivation:

When I first started my frugal lifestyle, I feared what it would involve. I believed that frugal people lived undesirable lives: wearing stained or torn clothing or reusing plastic wrap. I refused to participate in any of that. But such a definition of a frugal lifestyle does not have to be yours. There are many degrees of frugal lifestyles. I was determined to maintain a sense of class and still be frugal.

I’ve said this before: 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 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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