Some non-frugal people have a perception that all frugal people are stupid, dumb, backwards, hillbilly housewives, and generally uneducated. I think this stereotype must come from the feeling that the really “smart” people are also very successful and thus don’t need to be frugal. It’s only the uneducated people who aren’t “smart enough” to get high paying jobs that need to be frugal. There’s also the equation of the word “frugal” with the word “poverty” which carries its own (erroneous) stereotypes about education levels. While sometimes I try to laugh this off if someone (who thinks themselves to be so intelligent) starts talking down to me when they learn of my frugal habits, most of the time it grates on my last nerve.
There are many frugal people, myself included, who would argue the opposite. They would argue that it’s stupid to waste money or resources, to live so far above your means that you can never cover all of your expenses, and to not save money when and where you can. To them, no matter your level of education or wealth, you are an idiot if you don’t take good care of your finances. They would quote Forrest Gump and tell you that, “Stupid is as stupid does, sir.”
I get frustrated because every frugal person that I know is incredibly intelligent. (I also know some big spenders who are incredibly stupid.) They may not be able to work out some complicated calculus problem in their head, name the leader of every country in the world, or speak fluent Mandarin Chinese, but they have an incredible set of skills and talents that “stupid” people just don’t have. Being frugal requires the following:
Being good at basic math: You don’t have to know advanced math, but if you’re going to be frugal you’d better be able to figure the sale price of an item after a twenty-percent markdown and your $5 off coupon is applied. You’d better be able to figure out the price of a dinged up washer on the fly when the manager says he’ll take thirty percent off the price. You’d better be able to figure out which brand of ketchup is cheaper based on the price per ounce and the deduction of any coupons. You need to be able to calculate the area of a room so you can order enough carpet for the DIY installation you have planned. Being able to do basic math in your head (or at least knowing what to enter into a calculator) is essential to the frugal life.
Planning and organizational skills: Most frugal people are very good planners and highly organized. They can plan their day so that they take the shortest routes for their errands and don’t waste gas. They have elaborate filing systems for coupons, receipts, warranty paperwork, and bank account information. They keep track of when bills are due and pay them promptly. They balance their books frequently. They plan ahead for emergencies, Christmas, big-ticket item replacements, and retirement so that very little catches them unprepared. Very few frugal people ever blow money because they forget to do something.
Research skills: Frugal people are very good at research. Before they buy a product (particularly big ticket items) most of them carefully research their options, read reviews and expert reports, thoroughly understand what the product will and will not do, and know exactly which features they need and which they can do without. And that’s all before they start researching prices. Frugal people know how to get their research done thoroughly and in the least amount of time.
Highly specific skills: Many frugal people have at least one, and often more than one, specific skill. It may be that your frugal neighbor knows all about gardening, organic pest control, soil types, and how well different breeds of seeds will do in your area. The guy next door may be very skilled in small engine repair. Your co-worker may have culinary skills that rival those of the best chefs. Many are master negotiators that would put business tycoons and lawyers to shame. And frugal people are always adding to their skill list. When they need to complete a task that they don’t yet know how to do, they learn how to do it rather than paying someone else to do the task for them. They may not have a degree in these skills, but their abilities rival and often surpass those of people who went to school to learn the same things.
Creativity and ingenuity: You can’t be frugal without being creative and able to think outside the box. Tasks like finding ways to reuse and repurpose products, coming up with new meals using ingredients already on hand, and finding new ways to reduce expenses all require creativity. It takes ingenuity to come up with a solution to a problem when all conventional ideas fail you. Frugal people are always thinking, coming up with ideas and solutions, and then implementing those ideas. They are also masters of trial and error, constantly perfecting their idea until it fully meets their needs.
An ability to understand value and long-term payoffs: This is a more intangible skill, but many frugal people are masters at seeing value where others see none. A frugal person can comb a trash pile and see that just a few repairs can bring most of the discarded items up to salable or usable condition. They can see the value in things that others view as disposable. They can look at the long-term picture and see that, while that $1.00 they saved by using a coupon doesn’t seem like much, a lifetime of dollars saved will add up to big gains. They understand basic saving principles like compound interest and they know that the more they save and the younger they begin, the better off they will be. It takes a special kind of person to be able to project themselves into the future and see the payoffs of their actions.
I would argue that these skills are all found in very intelligent people. True, they may not add up to a Ph.D., but some people with degrees aren’t even capable of these skills. So the next time you think to yourself, “That guy must be stupid to clip all those coupons. He’ll never save anything,” or, “That lady spending all summer in her garden must be too stupid to get a good job,” think about the brainpower that is required to know what needs to be done, to do it, and to do it well.