Challenges to Frugal Living and How to Overcome Them

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Here are some of the main challenges to frugal living that we’ve faced, as well as some tips on how we’ve overcome them.

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In the big picture, frugal living is usually the easy option.

It can paint a future of freedom, contentment and stress-free finances.

But day to day, it can feel that no matter how hard you rub those pennies together, you just can’t ignite that frugal spark.

Challenges to living frugally come from many directions. These challenges make it hard to stick to a budget and stay in financial control. Here are some of the main challenges to living frugally and how to overcome them.

Disclaimer: This is general information only. In this blog, I share my savings and budget planning and what works for us. You should always consult a qualified financial expert when making money decisions to tailor plans to suit your circumstances.

The Rising Cost of Living

The original version of this post was published in 2013, and I didn’t talk about cost of living, despite it being just post-GFC.

But with recent inflation, the rising cost of living has definitely made things hard, especially when it comes to the cost of housing. Whether you rent or are looking to buy, the ridiculous house prices make it difficult.

And it’s a hard challenge to overcome, one that really needs better government policy, more housing, and a whole bunch of other solutions beyond the control of a single individual (there is some help for first buyers, though).

But on an individual level, what can we do?

All the old frugal tips still work, but they are less effective. Savings don’t stretch as far.

One option for the individual is a side hustle or second job, which sucks, but may help.

When we were saving for a deposit, I took in ironing as well as working full time.

More recently, a cousin of ours and his wife just quit a side hustle that involved getting up at 2 am every Sunday for three years to sell food at our local farmer’s markets. That was on top of their full-time job. But he said it was worth it because it paid for their house deposit, and now they’re on the other side. Without that side hustle, he told me, they couldn’t have managed it.

The Temptation to Spend

“Consumerism: Spending money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.” Richard Deniss, Curing Affluenza

It can be hard to resist the temptation to impulse-buy when we live in a world saturated with marketing messages exhorting us to buy and Instagram images that make us feel our throw pillows aren’t on trend.

Because, you know, nobody wants to be judged by their throw pillows.

(Also, yes, I once bought new throw pillows because of Instagram. They’re usually on the floor.)

There are, however, many tactics that we can use to resist that temptation: reducing media consumption is a big one.

Being here in the present and avoiding constant marketing messages will significantly reduce the temptation to buy.

Avoiding the shops, especially shopping as a hobby, is another powerful tactic. When you need to go shopping, it helps to go with a list and cash and leave the credit card at home. That way, if you do feel the temptation to buy, you can’t.

My favourite tactic is to practice gratitude for the things I have and to appreciate imperfection, like the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi – searching for beauty in imperfection. It sounds hokey, but it works for me.

Marketing is about making us feel bad, so we’ll spend money to fill that emotional hole.

Gratitude and practising Wabi-Sabi can help fill that hole without having to part with money. When we feel good about ourselves and live a life of purpose, we don’t need to buy stuff to make ourselves feel better.

Keeping up with the Jones’

Even when there are no immediate opportunities to buy, we can be tempted by what other people have or, more correctly, the lifestyle other people have.

What’s worse is when we look at ourselves through (what we think are) other people’s eyes. We perceive judgment, even when it isn’t there, and we spend money in order to make a certain impression on people.

Here’s a surprising fact: it’s normal and healthy to want to “keep up with the Jones” – to want to fit in with the crowd.

Humans are herd animals, and fitting in is a primal protective instinct. Those who don’t fit in with the herd are more vulnerable to attack from predators, so to speak. If you’re part of the group, then you have the support and protective power of the group.

So how does this affect our budget?

The key is to pick your group.

Choose people who align best with your values and income level. Keep up and fit in with people who are worth keeping up with because you admire them for their integrity or kindness instead of their stuff.

Be part of the group that likes to volunteer, garden, recycle or have movie nights rather than the group that aspires to the latest smartphones and the most on-trend kitchen tiles. Aspire to be like people who inspire you to be the best person you can be.


If you aren’t tempted to keep up, you may be spending money catching up. Coffee out. Drinks. Something special to wear while we’re out having drinks. Movies. Dinner…

Socialising is essential for good health! Research is showing that loneliness is fast becoming our most deadly condition. So I’m not suggesting you should ditch your friends!

Instead, here are some tips for socialising on a budget as well as some frugal ways to have fun.

Family Expenses

Kids aren’t expensive. You don’t need a lot of money to raise kids.

However, modern life IS expensive, and raising kids in the modern world, with all the necessary mod-cons (like compulsory laptops for school), is also expensive!

We started saving early for high school (luckily for us, our primary school supplied all tech).

As far as frugal parenting goes, we’ve been guided by the book Simplicity Parenting.  This book argues that kids thrive when they have less stuff, fewer activities, less media and technology while having more free time, more outdoor play, and more time with parents.

(Although let’s be honest, as my kids became teenagers, this became a lot less true in our household. Stuff accumulates, and they spend more time on tech than they did when they were younger.)

Hand-me-downs and second-hand stuff also keep costs low. Kids grow sooo quickly. Several families benefiting from goods and clothing is a great way to make the most of resources.

Education is super important to us, but we can’t afford expensive schooling. So we get books from the library, watch documentaries as a family, do science experiments in the holidays, and do art projects on the weekend.

And read together. We invest time in our kids rather than money. And we invest time in our school by volunteering.

Spending time with kids is not always easy, especially if you’re working two jobs to save a home deposit! We all do what we can when we can and focus on focused, guilt-free quality rather than quantity.


Fatigue is my number one challenge to frugal living, particularly when it comes to cooking dinner at the end of a long day. We live three doors up from Domino’s Pizza. We can have a pizza on the table in under 10 minutes. No driving. No washing dishes.

But convenience costs money. So how do you live frugally when you’re dead tired and would rather crawl into bed with pizza and Netflix?

One solution is to forget about living frugally for a while and focus on foundational healthy habits first.

Am I getting enough sleep? Have I been to your doctor for a check-up recently? Am I eating well and drinking enough water? Am I getting enough exercise?

It’s easier to get these right and then focus on developing frugal habits.

Health Issues

Chronic health problems can be expensive.

Medication and treatment can be costly, and health problems can sap energy to do other things. And on top of that, it can be a cause of worry, sometimes even all-consuming.

On top of that, as we age, we have aging parents and their health issues to help with.

This is a challenge that needs navigating more than solving. Sometimes it means making cuts in other areas to focus on health issues.

It also means I prioritise different expenses that I did when I was younger, like going to the gym to help stave off aging-related muscle atrophy. The gym isn’t very frugal in the short term, but I’m hoping it will pay off in the long term with better health as I age.

Lack of Organisation

Organisation is another panacea to spending money on conveniences.

When I am organised, when I’m being productive and efficient, a whole lot more gets done than when I’m not organised.

Systems help save time and sanity (when I stick to them).

They help you plan and prepare ahead of time so that you are organised when you don’t have time. Productivity hacks also help you get through the work that needs doing.

But the most powerful organisational habit is to simplify. To let go of the many things that don’t really need to be done so that you can focus on the most important things.

These are the main challenges to living frugally that I’ve faced and some of the solutions that have helped us overcome those challenges.

I would like to note, that frugal challenges are different from “not having enough money” challenges. They are a whole separate issue. What frugal living challenges have you faced?

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  1. For me, and it sounds like you are the same, it’s the organisation that is the big one. When I have a menu plan and a grocery list, I spend far less on food. Just knowing where everything is means not buying double ups. Kids’ clothes – if I shop with a plan for coordinating outfits they need lots less clothes. It’s hard work though…

    1. Yep, my organisation has gone out the window! It IS hard work! It’s kind of a catch 22 – hard work up front to be organised or hard work later (and money) for not being organised :).

  2. Great post Melissa. Looking forward to the follow ups.
    Yes you have to be organised and yes it can feel like an uphill battle if a spouse is kinda the opposite.
    Luckily for me l no longer have the spouse who didn’t get the frugal or organised thing.
    Plus the keeping up with the Jones’s, l’ve never come across it but maybe out there it does happen. There are many many materalistic things l don’t have that others seem to think is normal, l’m no worse off for not having them, well l don’t believe l am anyway.
    Biggest frugal challenge for me is meals, might sound easy when l’m cooking for one, but when you don’t have a set roof over your head and are looking for a place, food on the go means spending more dollars for convenience (frozen meals, packaged meals).

  3. Socialising is DEFINATELY undermining my frugality. I can’t imagine what I would achieve if eating out was radically less often! Easily 3-4 meals a week are ‘out’. Thankfully my bf is on board with cooking at home (more than before), and realises there’s time and cost savings. I’ve even been as bold as to set a goal on the number of homecooked meals I make, so I can limit lunches and some dinners out.