Frugality with Grace

The current economic crisis seems to have the media talking about how people can live more frugally. In the US, we are probably long overdue for a review of how we live and how we spend our money. There is a downside to all this focus on hard times, though. It can lead to a paucity mentality.

When we focus on what we do not have, we tend to forget what we do have. When we focus on keeping a close watch on our money, we also tend to focus on all the things we cannot buy instead of how gracefully we can live with what we already have.

Those of us with one-person businesses might have an edge over the rest of the population. In the process of keeping our businesses afloat, many of us develop a frugal lifestyle. I certainly have learned how to live frugally.  Whether it stems from my childhood and the circumstances of my life or, as I suspect, the life I have chosen as a shaman, I have developed a mindset about life and living simply that serves me well in both flush and flat economic times.

Living frugally and with grace is not particularly difficult, but to get there does require you to be comfortable in your own skin. If you are concerned about keeping up with every trend, having every convenience, and possessing every luxury, you will struggle with frugality. Grace? Life’s trappings might pass for grace . . . for a time . . . but if it is all about the trappings, your lack of comfort in your own skin will be obvious. Why? Because if you are comfortable in your own skin, the trappings will be secondary. Instead, meeting the world head-on, in the moment, will be at the forefront.

Frugality with grace is not comprised of the same things for everyone. Different things are important to different people. What is grace for one person is not for another. I can talk about some of the things that have helped me live frugally with grace, but I will not for a minute suggest those things are necessary, sufficient, or would take you to the same place. All I can do is reveal some things that have worked for me.

That said, here are a few of those things:

·        I tend to put my money towards what is meaningful to me and not on what matters less to me. That means I don’t have cable or satellite, I don’t have an expensive cell phone plan, I don’t have a new or near-new car, and I don’t spend much money on entertainment. (I’m very good at entertaining myself.)

·        Staying healthy is important to me, so I belong to a gym. I also run. The gym costs me some money. The run only costs me the occasional pair of shoes and running tights. I know myself well enough to know that I won’t accomplish the same thing at home that I will at the gym, so the gym membership works for me. I believe it has paid for itself. I don’t have the back problems I once had.

·        And because staying healthy is important to me, I take almost all my meals at home. I prepare them myself and they don’t come out of a box. Preparing my own meals at home from great ingredients is light years ahead of almost any other way to eat from both a health and a frugality standpoint. The act of cooking (for me) is also grounding and takes me out of my head (where my work as a writer and editor keeps me much of the time).

·        I love clothes. I love having lots of options with clothes. I love good fabric. I love expressing myself with clothes. And I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores. I get my share of designer labels and current styles (though I care about my own sense of style more than what someone else says is current). Many of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues are astounded by the fact that my clothes come from thrift stores because I usually look good and well put together. Not only is this a very frugal way to attire one’s self, it is also incredibly fun. Shopping at thrift stores is like going on a treasure hunt.

·        My shoes? The occasional pair of almost-not-worn boots also comes from thrift stores, but most of my shoes come from DSW and more than half of those come from the racks at the back of the store where the shoes are deeply discounted. I could do an ad for DSW. I think they’re great. That one can have beautiful, quality footwear (important for me as a Pisces) without spending a fortune is frugality with grace.

·        I clean my own house. There was a time when I hired others to do that, but for a number of years, I have taken back that activity. I save a great deal of money in the process (sacrificing a little time for it), the manual labor is good for the body and soul, and it is another activity that keeps me grounded.

·        My husband and I also look after our own yard, for the most part. I have gotten help with felling trees, but the maintenance work is done by us. I love my flowers and herbs and have a number of small beds. They have been developed over many years, so I am fortunate to have something other than a bare patch of ground that must be planted. I save additional money by over-wintering some plants indoors. That means I don’t have to replace them every spring. I get a bit of thrill from the sight of folks walking by my house who stop to gawk at my window full of geraniums, blooming all winter, and I have the grace of living among beautiful, living things. Doing so with frugality in mind is grace with frugality.

·        I admit that I do probably spend more money on plants than many people, but I consider cost and the life of the plant in when I make purchases. For instance, I often buy perennials to plant in pots to dress up my decks, then put them in the ground in the fall. Dual benefit.

·        Yes, I spend money on books, too. I’m a writer. That means books are important to me. But I often buy current fiction at the thrift store and get the rest as deeply discounted as I can. That is, except for those I buy full price in support of my fellow writers. I also pass books on to others when I am done with them and occasionally even get a few from others, too. Frugal, luxurious, and better for the environment.

·        I have good equipment for my work (which ends up saving money, I believe,) but I do not jump at every new thing out there and I do not have equipment I don’t really need. I’m not trying to prove how hip I am with technology (which is a good thing because I am definitely not hip). I would rather demonstrate that I am good at what I do by the results my clients see.

I could go on. This is just a taste of how I manage to live frugally with grace.

But I’d like to hear from you. If you’re good at this, share some hints. If you aren’t yet good at it and have questions, bring them on.

And for those of you who want to know what the “grace” in frugality with grace means, here’s my off-the-cuff definition: grace is a sense of peacefulness, of effortless ease, of harmony.

I’d like to hear your own definition of that, too!

Copyright 2008 by Melanie Mulhall.


6 Responses to “Frugality with Grace”

  1. Corinne McKay Says:

    What a great post, Melanie!! As a die-hard tightwad, I think you’re right on; it’s all about priorities and putting your resources where they really matter. We also cook all of our own food, drive a 10 year old car (which is an upgrade from our previous 17 year old car) and house 3 people and 2 freelance businesses in a 1,200 square foot house. I really couldn’t even tell you the last time I paid retail for a clothing item other than sports and outdoor clothes that are hard to find used. In addition our entertainment costs are almost nothing; we go to a lot of free concerts, but we don’t do Netflix or movies in the theater.

    On the other hand, we sink a fair bit of money into things that are really important to us; we buy almost all organic food, good chocolate, etc. because we really enjoy cooking and eating. We also spend a lot on outdoor gear like bikes, passes to the climbing gym, etc. because we enjoy both the experience and doing things together as a family. Same with traveling; we take a big international vacation about once a year (on the cheap, camping or staying in budget hotels of course!!) but I really believe that these experiences, rather than things, are moments that my daughter will remember forever. I always tell her (at age 6) that the most precious thing we have is time together, because that’s the great unknown quantity in life!


  2. alunatunes Says:

    Hi Melianie- I so enjoyed your posts! As a “one person” business, I too find it easy to be frugal. No one to impress with the ‘right clothes’ or purse, no fighting am traffic, no lunches out…
    I really love working at home (i’m a music publicist and fledging writer) but i do tend to be alone alot and sometimes worry about that. I get out a couple times a week to run errands but have more virtual friends than real ones!
    Thanks for the posts – i loved the one about your mom’s delicates….
    Come by and visit me – i’m at


  3. Rosemary Carstens Says:

    Another wonderful, thought-provoking post, Melanie. I always enjoy your thought process and your sharing. I have learned so much about how to live more simply and take my joys in whatever is around me. What I spend money on has definitely changed over the past 15 years. I love books, but only buy those I want for my work as a writer, with the rare exception. I read about 80 books a year, but mostly get those from the library or they are review copies sent to me, which I pass along to others when I am through. Although I’ve always loved beautiful clothes, since I work at home and don’t have the social life I once had, I spend very little on them any more. I spend money on movies, on going out for food or drinks with friends, and occasionally I take a little trip where I try to combine both work and pleasure. I drive an old car that has served me well, clean my own house and try to be in the moment as I do. I enjoy cooking and very, very seldom use any processed foods. On an almost daily basis, I am content.


  4. Melanie Mulhall Says:


    You and I could give a class on this! And we’re not alone, thank goodness. I love that you and your family are very clear about your priorities and I love that you are serving as a great model for your daughter. It is true that the time we have with our loved ones is of unknown quantity. All the more reason to make every moment with them special.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.



  5. Melanie Mulhall Says:


    When you are a one person business who can work mostly out of your home, it is easier to be frugal, I agree. We do run the risk of being alone a good deal and while virtual friends are great, I like the look, feel, and smell of the person in the flesh enough to make sure I’m around other members of my species with some regularity. I encourage finding a group or groups of like minded people to meet with. (I belong to Boulder Media Women and the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, for instance.)

    And rock on, Tammy!



  6. Melanie Mulhall Says:


    Contentment is a wonderful thing . . . and is absolutely a part of what I mean when I refer to frugality with grace. You have commented that what you spend money on has changed over the past fifteen years. It is interesting how what we value, prefer, long for, need, and demand for ourselves all change over time. And with those changes, we also change how we spend our money.

    Some of it is life stage. Corinne is younger and in a different life stage than me. Her spending reflects it (though her spending is curiously similiar to mine in some ways.) Tammy is also in a different place. Her work and where she is at in her life are reflected in her spending, I have no doubt.

    Some of it is connected to life experience and life lessons. As we make our way through life, our experiences inform us on what is important and what is not. With luck, we learn a thing or two and gain a bit of wisdom. That impacts everything, including how we spend money.

    There are other influences, too, and I would love to hear what you and others believe they are.

    Thank you for a comment that has me thinking!



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