Lessons in Frugality From Other Cultures

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The following is a guest post by Staz Johnson. Staz passionately blogs about personal finance, frugality, investing tips, and more at Essential Finances. Enjoy! 

Lessons in Frugality from Other Cultures

As a newlywed going away on my honeymoon, I never thought that finances would be on my mind. I had just had a very small wedding ceremony and reception with less than 15 people attending. Since the wedding was so small, we didn’t end up spending too much on it; we had planned to blow more money in Europe, but instead, we learned the extent of frugality in a different country.

Frugality as a Way of Life

We took the train through England and Germany until we reached a small town in Poland. As far as towns go, this one is not at all rich, and the individuals residing here implemented more tips for frugality than I had ever thought possible. As we visited friends and family, we noticed that saving money was very common ground; an unspoken language of frugality existed ranging from a lack of impulse buying (or large and unnecessary purchases in general) to where most tea was made from herbs grown on the balcony, and if packaged tea was used, then the tea bag was reused to make at least two cups.

Frugality in the Home

When we spoke with my relatives, we found out that many of them made their own hand creams and conditioners out of a blend of coconut oil, olive oil, herbs, and spices. Hot water was also to be used sparingly. For example, when doing the dishes in the morning, cold water was used. My aunt told me that they only used hot water to clean the dishes after dinner because the foods eaten at that time are generally greasy, but in the morning, cold water works just fine. As we can see, saving money doesn’t have to be overly complicated, it just takes some consistency. By using hot water only to shower and clean up after dinner, you could save hundreds of dollars a year or more.


As we went outside for a walk around the town, we noticed that there were many more bikes being ridden than we are used to seeing and that when cars do go by, they are usually very small. You could easily find whole families bike riding together as easily as individuals or couples. Not only are they saving money on gas and insurance, but the active lifestyle they live can lead to decreased health bills down the road. When we arrived at the park, we noticed people crouching down under the trees; I later found out that they were picking up nuts to for the winter underneath acorn and walnut trees. I personally haven’t tried this, but every summer I do pick mushrooms and strawberries for free from the forest and from our garden to save money going to the market.

If you don’t get a chance to eat everything right away, remember that there are many ways to preserve foods so that they last in the future; mushrooms can be dried and then used for soup later, cucumbers can be pickled (as well as many other vegetables), berries and rhubarb can be used to make juices for now and jams for the future.

Frugal Shopping

We went to the market every day and my aunt bought only that which she will eat in the next day or two in order to make sure that nothing goes to waste. And when meat was purchased, every part of it was used; chicken bones that most people throw away were used the following day to make chicken broth and even the water in which the sausages were boiled was then used to start a new soup later on. My aunt had a little garden that she grew on the balcony and inside by the windows (you don’t always need a yard to grow a garden and save money on food) and she frequently traded her garden grown fruits and vegetables for other types of food with her neighbours such as trading tomatoes for apples or herbs for peas.  Many neighbours also baked their own breads and pastries.

The cost of food is not the only expense individuals try to cut costs on; making your own clothing is also very common. Fabrics and yarn were bought very cheap and can be made into elaborate sweaters and shirts and skirts which can also be given out as gifts, saving money for birthdays as well as during the holiday season. Teddy bears and stuffed animals are also frequently made to save money for toys for the children. Another aspect of their life that I wanted to mention was that even though many people did not have much, they took very good care of what they did have and kept everything very clean and well maintained.


I have always tried to be frugal and spend less than I make, even attempting to sew my own clothes once, but my eyes were truly opened as to how frugal you can really be. I’m not sharing this to be judgemental; I wanted to share this to show that frugality can be more than simply a 30 day challenge. Most of us have the choice whether to be frugal or not, but in many countries, frugality is a way of life. Those who implement this into their daily routine end up spending much less, wasting very little (if any) and give their creativity a constant workout to come up with new ideas.

How about you all? When you have traveled to other countries, have you noticed any effective frugal living strategies that are ingrained in to the culture?

What ways do you think would be effective to instill more of a sense of frugality in to US culture?

Share your experiences by commenting below!


  1. One thing that struck me in my semester abroad was the portion sizes at restaurants. I was amazed my first few days in London that I was able to eat every last bite of my entree–was it because I was walking so much during the day doing sightseeing? No, it was because the restaurants serve about what an average adult can (and should) consume in a meal–imagine that!

    I was positively disgusted when I returned to the US after 4 months to remember how much American restaurants serve. I regularly take home enough leftovers from an entree to give myself 2-3 more meals later on in the week. It's “good” in terms of money spent because one entree gives me several means, but what a waste! Only in America would you see a plate of pasta that could feed a family of 4 set down before one person. 😛
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  2. There are a lot of differences between America and Europe, in Poland the meal sizes were smaller as well but it was nice to eat a normal amount. I don't travel to America very often (I'm from Canada) and the meal sizes are slightly larger than in Europe but definitely not big enough for multiple meals of leftovers afterwards (about a meal and a half per entree).

    Thanks for commenting!
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