Does Success in Frugality Depend on Geography?

by Kelly · 18 comments

in Thoughts On Frugality

I often say that I’m the only American blogging about frugality in my corner of France (I used to include the whole of France, but blogs like The Simple Life in France have made me be more specific!).While cornering the niche can have its advantages (notably being able to say that I’m the only American blogging about frugality in my corner of France), it can also get a little lonely alone in my corner of the frugal world.

For one thing, most of the specific money saving tips around the personal finance blogosphere don’t apply to me. I don’t have a Ralphs, Safeway, Albertsons or Krogers near me. When I talk about my grocery shopping strategies I do it as generically as possible- except when I’m addressing an expatriate audience, rather than specifically budget conscious one. I can’t use a lot of the coupons talked about. In fact, coupons are very rare in France to begin with! And the infamous latte factor- where people are advised that cutting out their daily latte can save them hundreds of dollars every year- doesn’t apply to me; alas there are no Starbucks in Grenoble!

Much of my situation applies to many others around the world of course, it’s not just because I live in France. People living in a small town will have fewer thrift stores or free public amenities (like museums) than those living in large towns. Certain areas of the country might have more of a frugal community mindset than others, whether because of long standing cultural influences or more recent economic upheaval.

I certainly think it’s easier being frugal in France in some ways, notably that the consumer pressure to spend, spend, spend is much less noticeable here than in the US. It is also harder due to the dearth of good quality second-hand shops. I often use our trips back to the US to stock up on children’s clothes at the thrift-store.

What do you think: Does success in frugality depend on geography?


1 Eleanor February 5, 2010

Hi Kelly,
I could relate to this post, being an expat and all. I’m not sure if it’s the same in France, but there are basically 2 classes of markets here – the regular supermarkets and discount markets like Aldi, Plus, Lidl, etc. These offer cheaper alternatives to grocery shopping, which – to my mind makes up for the non-existence of coupons here. I don’t think frugality is dependent on geography, although I agree it somehow feels easier here – I think because people live within their means, so there is less ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ that needs to be done. It’s not more or less, just different maybe (I haven’t lived in the states for so long, I can’t make a definitive statement!)

2 A.B. February 5, 2010

I do know that the definition of frugality is affected by geography, so I would think that how frugal success is defined (possibly by external individuals) would be affected by geography as well. For example, we live in a 480 sf studio in an urban area, and I work in a downtown office. We think we are frugal because we didn’t spend money on a larger place with space we didn’t need. Some people might argue that the cost of living in the city negates any frugality. When we lived in the suburbs growing up, we grew a lot of our own food (apples, oranges, grapefruits, peppers, plums, pomegranates, herbs, and more). My 42 sf balcony has enough room for my husband’s bike, two chairs, and a few pots of the herbs we use most. I could be MORE frugal if I lived elsewhere, but I feel that I am a successful frugalist because of how frugal I am with the circumstances I have now.
.-= A.B.´s last blog ..365 Days of Saving Money: Doing My Own Taxes (Heaven Help Me!) =-.

3 MotherOfPearl February 5, 2010

I definitely think it is easier to be frugal in some areas than others. We live in an area where nearly everyone has always shopped thrift stores, gardened, canned, sewn, etc. Frugality is part and parcel of the culture here. There has always been an ethic of hard work and conservative financial values that may make us behind the curve sometimes but keeps us stable in uneasy times. By contrast, if you live in a very “keeping up with the jones'” area, then you will have a lot more social norms to fight against than we do in this area.

4 Alison@This Wasn&#03 February 5, 2010

It's a small thing, and a bit trivial, but none of the grocery stores in my area double coupons. It seems that nearly every great "deal" I come across depends on the store doubling a coupon. Without that, it's not so fabulous. Again, it's just a small thing, but as a result I don't think I could ever be one of those 'look at everything I bought for just sixty-five cents' people because of it.
.-= Alison@This Wasn't In The Plan´s last blog ..Faith and Spending =-.

5 Rachelle February 6, 2010

Yes! I live in an extremely remote location, an aboriginal reserve in northern Canada. There are literally only two stores, and everything is at least 50-100% more than “down south” (e.g., Montreal). This means that our housing costs are extraordinarily cheap ($300/month) but our food costs are much more. Of course, we stock up like crazy whenever we head south, but the savings on groceries are reduced because it costs us $300 in gas plus a hotel. Little mistakes cost a lot, like when we bought a crappy brand of dishwasher detergent and had to get stuff at the local store that was $18 a bottle (ouch).

We do manage to be very frugal and save lots, but the geography we’re dealing with means that budgeting is more long-range and has to be tailored to our circumstances.

A final issue is that most frugal blogs are US-based, so free offers, coupons, sales, banking/finance information is not applicable.

6 Berliner February 6, 2010

I grew up pretty frugal, so it’s kind of a way of life now. But moving to Germany has made frugal and simple living so much easier. I agree that people don’t have so much stuff, so you’re not constantly comparing yourself to others. There is less pressure to go shopping and have the latest gadgets, etc. It helps also that I live in Berlin — with something like 15% unemployment, living around here has to be cheap. Apartments are smaller (but still well-built), washing machines are smaller and more energy-efficient, dryers are uncommon, costs for heating and water are really high so people are forced to use less, public transport is good (while cars are everywhere in Berlin, I have yet to meet someone who actually owns one), etc. It suits me quite nicely!

7 Aspiring Millionaire @ February 6, 2010

Hi Kelly,

In my opinion, frugality is a way of living and has nothing to do with one’s location. Certain locations tend to be more expensive than others, but frugality is about “how” you are living.

That being said, I live in the United States. To be even more specific, I live in New York City. I find your blog to be one of the most helpful blogs that I follow. The topics you write about have really helped me get my financial house in better order.

Keep up the good work.

Aspiring Millionaire
.-= Aspiring Millionaire @´s last blog ..What’s Your Relationship Like With Your Accountant? =-.

8 Michael February 6, 2010

When we were getting our MBA’s, my wife to be and I, as poor students, were all about frugality – no choice when you put yourself through school. (Back in the 70’s that was a real option in Canada.) After that we volunteered overseas for 2 years in West Africa. Again when we were making a combined income of $7,000 a year, frugality was our only option. My splurge one Christmas for my wife was a $4 package of her favourite cheese – which we still talk about. Back in Canada we were unemployed and under-employed for a few years before getting on our financial feet. We have moved around a lot building our careers and now finally live in a large metropolitan area. So how has geography affected our ability to be frugal? It is much easier to comparison shop when there are lots of stores, but the downside is I work 100 km away from where I live – frugal car or not, the gas companies love me. We see our friends and co-workers in their new leased cars, buying their lunch every day at work; wondering why I have my house paid for and they live pay cheque to pay cheque. Frugality is not about geography, it is about a mind set and a desire to use your resources wisely, whatever they may be.

9 Sharon H. in IL February 6, 2010

So what do people in France do with outgrown, but still very good baby clothes? Surely not everyone has a niece or nephew of the right size waiting for hand me downs?

Sharon H. in IL

10 Kelly February 8, 2010

There are a few consignment shops and lots of people sell stuff on eBay. I think that generally, too, people tend to buy fewer clothes, but better quality ones. And France is going through a real baby boom at the moment (highest or second highest birthrate in Europe, I believe) so most people do know somebody to whom they can pass stuff down!

11 Abigail February 8, 2010

I think certainly it is easier to be frugal in some areas than others. There's only so much you can do to cut costs in NYC, for example.

But I think most areas simply have trade-offs. Here in Arizona, rent is cheaper and stores tend to double coupons. On the other hand, a car is necessary — a lot more necessary than it was in Seattle. And everything is stretched out.

I wonder if the smaller number of thrift stores is, in fact, tied to the lower pressure of consumerism. If you're not constantly buying things you don't necessarily need, you'll probably get rid of less. Just a thought…
.-= Abigail´s last blog ..What's your 500-word story? =-.

12 Kayla K at Kayla K's Thrifty Ways February 8, 2010

There are certainly frugal advantages depending on location. Living in a college town gives me access to a great public library, public transportation, and a variety of grocery stores to compare prices. However, I live in a small apartment with no room to hang laundry or garden. My parents, who live on a farm, can do more gardening and such, but they have more expenses in fuel and food costs.
I think it all evens out. There are pros and cons to all locations so in the end you spend the same. The important thing is to choose the lifestyle you most enjoy, and keep frugal goals in mind.
.-= Kayla K at Kayla K’s Thrifty Ways´s last blog ..The No-Impact Man: A Film Review =-.

13 Betsy Talbot February 8, 2010

I live in Seattle, and I agree that it is easier to be frugal here. Yes, I pay more for my townhouse than I did for my big suburban house in Massachusetts. But I don't have lawn care costs, commuting costs, a second car, or having to leave my town to entertain myself (which always adds up).

By walking almost everywhere or taking public transportation, having my grocery store, movie rentals, restaurants, hair salon, dentist, farmer's market, post office, etc., within walking distance of my door, it is a much more frugal lifestyle. Not to mention the bike/walking trails, mountains for hiking and nearby lakes and ocean for free healthy outdoor entertainment. The bonus of living near so many other people means the things you need are at your fingertips and the competition from other stores means prices are reasonable.

The mindset here is also a very environmentally conscious one, and I find that goes hand in hand with a frugal lifestyle. We save over half our income living here. Plus it is gorgeous!
.-= Betsy Talbot´s last blog ..Reverse kleptomania =-.

14 Monroe on a Budget February 8, 2010

Geography absolutely plays a role in what frugal options are practical or even possible for a family! There are lots of examples in the comment section already; but here's something else to consider … when you decide what neighborhood or community to live in, are you looking for atmosphere? Or are you considering what money-saving tricks that will work out for you?

My husband and I deliberately bought a home that had a small yard so it didn't require a lot of time to upkeep. We also looked for location that was as convenient as possible to things we really wanted such as quick access to the freeway, five or ten minutes drive time away from the stores we shopped at, and within the city bus district.
.-= Monroe on a Budget´s last blog ..Lent food on a budget for 2010 =-.

15 simple in france February 10, 2010

Hah! I didn't realize you were in Grenoble. I'm in Gap now–not so far away.

I think that being in France does help be frugal in some ways–as you state, the norm seems to be to have less stuff, smaller cars etc. Then again, the fact that people don't just get rid of brand new stuff every couple of years means that finding used items say on Craigslist is a bit harder!

At any rate, when you decide to go beyond the cultural 'norm' for frugality, whether it is in the US or in France, you will face a little cultural pressure. As we become increasingly frugal and careful, DH and I find we are perhaps even becoming frugal for French tastes . . .people mostly get it as they link it to being kind to the environment, but we still get a little pressure at times, like when we tried not to use our heater earlier this year.
.-= simple in france´s last blog ..Six months, no job. =-.

16 Kelly February 13, 2010

Uh oh. Now I can't even say that I'm the only American blogging about frugality from the French Alps! You're intruding upon my niche!

17 oilandgarlic February 11, 2010

I think geography certainly helps. I live in a high cost of living area and sometimes it's hard to be frugal when you see others acquiring nice homes, designer clothes and luxury cars. Having said that, I never really craved those things and my friends accept me as I am! Even in Los Angeles, you can find like-minded down-to-earth people.
.-= oilandgarlic´s last blog ..The High-Low Cost Of Travel =-.

18 JNUrbanski February 21, 2010

I don't think geography factors into frugality at all. I'm a British ex-pat living in New York and I bought my frugal ways with me. I wouldn't have survived in NY without them. The pressure to spend in America is unbelievable; it's really a consumer culture. People get credit cards forced on them in college and then it's all downhill from age 18 onwards. In England, you have to really qualify for a credit card before you get one. I didn't get a credit card until I was 30 years old and spending only the cash I had in the bank until age 30 taught me lessons about money that I will never forget.

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