Are People Born Frugal?

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Catherine Alford. Cat is a freelance personal finance writer who blogs at

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been very aware of money.

I had my own little safe, and I kept a running total of the amount of money I had in it. My parents paid me $0.01 per page of every book that I read, so I spent my summers absorbing Nancy Drew, collecting the amazing fee of $1.00 per 100 pages, and putting it safely in my box. I never wanted to waste my money, and I liked counting it. I guess you could say that even as a young child in grammar school, I was pretty frugal. I just didn’t know to call myself that yet!

Interestingly enough, my parents raised all three of their children the same way, with monetary incentives for good grades and the ability to make choices about the money we received for our birthdays and other holidays. Yet, while my siblings are both extremely intelligent professionals today, I am the only one who borders on obsessive when it comes to frugality as an adult. My two siblings both work hard, but they allow themselves rewards for their hard work. That’s a concept I’m still working on.
So, this leads me to the question posed in the title of this post: Are people born frugal?

Argument #1: Yes, People Are Born Frugal

It seems that in my case, I have always been this way.

When my parents gave me $200.00 a month “allowance” during my college years, I never asked for more. I carefully planned how I was going to use it, and if I wanted to go on spring break, I used money that I earned from my own job to do so. This is not something they specifically taught me or expected of me. It’s just how I am. I never wanted to ask them for more than they gave me. Even today, I find it very difficult to accept help, even when I need it.

Now, before you think I’m patting myself on the back here and singing my own frugal praises, I definitely want to acknowledge that I’ve made my own fair share of money mistakes. I’ve gotten into thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt and then gotten out of it. I even took out more student loans than I should have, and I cringe every month when I send in the payments.
Yet, even when I was in credit card debt, it wasn’t because I was snatching up Louis Vuitton bags and buying my friends rounds of drinks. The debt came as a result of stretching myself too thin, not having a savings, and my husband quitting his job to go to school. Still, knowing what I know now, I could have easily avoided it.
Even on my darkest debt days, I was still hunting down coupons and deals. I was still a frugal person at heart. I just didn’t have a good handle of budgeting and saving (yet!)

Argument #2: No, People Are Not Born Frugal 

The other side of the argument is maybe people aren’t born frugal. Maybe people have to learn this trait from their parents or from experience.
For example, there are a lot of people who write about the habits of their parents and grandparents and the ways in which they are frugal, like canning vegetables and hanging clothes on the line. Those are things we can actively learn by watching.
As for experience being a teacher, there are tons of personal finance bloggers who I admire who had a history of reckless spending and turned it all around to become some of the most money savvy people I know. In their cases, they learned frugality from getting in over their heads and actively seeking a way out.
Experience is a great teacher, and perhaps it can show people that being frugal doesn’t necessarily mean you are poor or someone to be pitied. It actually means that you are pretty smart with your finances.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that people are born frugal? To take it a step further, do you think frugality is a skill that can be learned or an inherent trait that we are born with?
What is your own personal experience with frugality? Did you have frugal parents who showed you the way or did you learn about money management from your spouse or a friend?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. As for me, I think I’ll always be a frugal person at heart regardless of how much money I might make in the future. It’s just who I am. However, I do plan on getting much better at rewarding myself for my hard work and not feeling guilty when I do spend my hard earned money on something I want! That will take time, but it’s something I’m actively working on. Now, let’s hear from you.

Share your experiences by commenting below!

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  1. M. Shad says:

    I think it is both. I am a born spendthrift and can be very (too?) frugal. Always have been. I save for what I want, I use coupons, shop around, save a certain amount monthly (retirement + savings), and don't make impulsive purchases. My sister makes impulsive purchases even when she doesn't have the money, cannot save, and in general does not manage her limited finances well. I wish I could be more impulsive and she could be more thoughtful and we could have a happy medium.

    We are close in age and were brought up the same way by the same parents who maintained the same habits through our childhoods. So, I think there is a hardwired component to frugality and money management.

    On the other hand, my sister has been forced to improve her methods with budgeting, saving money, and trying to get a little ahead. It has required a lot of brute force and she understands the concepts. She is learning and improving so it is also possible to learn, usually through necessity.

  2. moneybeagle says:

    I think there's a lot that is picked up during formative years, so it's very important for parents, grandparents, and others to set a good example. It's also important to note that kids will learn more from watching and observing than just from talking, so while you can tell your kids the importance of good money habits, actually practicing what you preach is the most important thing
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  3. Some people are born frugal, but others had to learn the skill, probably from the example given by other people or from the experience that they go through in life. Either way, the most important thing is to learn to value what you worked hard for and not to spend all that you earned which almost all people can do, if given the right motivation.
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  4. I think a lot depends on the particular item you are buying/spending money on. When it comes to clothing, I am very frugal and value minded. However, when it comes to my childs education, I want her to have the best experiences and schools I can afford. So really depends on what you value and what you can afford.
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    • I think that's a really good point. Although I'm frugal, I will probably be much more willing to spend on my children!
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  5. daisyprairieecothrifter says:

    Interesting thought, but I don't think people are born frugal. I think it depends on the experiences of the individual, the mindset, and their upbringing. I've met people who have frugal parents who aren't frugal, and the opposite.
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  6. I would say I was not born frugal… it is something I'm still trying to learn.
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