Lessons from living on the cheap

What's it like for a family to live on $100 a month? Silicon Valley blogger takes some lessons from David Hochman and his family.

Here's the rule of the experiment:

Other than the bare essentials, like fresh milk and fruit, the Hochman family would do its best not to buy anything.

Well, they stuck to the experiment and managed to make it through the month.

For instance, they found out that there was pllenty of food in the cupboard (supplemented with free food samples at Costco.) They also got stuff for free from "generous people out there who are willing to give useful things away."

Problem is, the experiment also led to tension in the family, especially toward the end of the month. Nevertheless, there were some pleasant surprises.

Things turned out differently for David once the experiment was over. He had expected his family to return to its previous spending habits, but they didn't. Instead, David's family members stayed close to home and learned how to keep their frugal habits in place. Their experience with extreme frugal living allowed David and his family to realize that they could live on much less and to appreciate the things that they already have. By these measures, this experiment was a success.

Experiments like this are useful. It's similar to an exercise in careful budgeting for a couple of months to see where your money is going. Still, the biggest lesson to take away from any exploration of living frugally is that it isn't about living cheap--financially or emotionally. Frugality isn't about denial and renunciation--quite the opposite.

No, frugality is about spending your time and your money on the things you really value and enjoy. That's why frugality is sustainable. Cheapness isn't.

The Latin derivation of the word frugal is frugalis, which means virtuous, thrifty, according to the American Heritage Dictionary. The Latin base for frugalis is frux and frug, words for fruit and virtue. I like the idea that frugality signals virtue bearing fruit through our savings, spending and giving decisions. I like the idea that new frugality signals virtue bearing fruit through our savings, spending and giving decisions. It's a pursuit of quality and meaning, no quantity and cheapness.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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