Skip to Content

Earn more or save more…do we have to choose?

One of the criticisms often leveled at frugality is that it’s better to spend time earning money instead of saving it….that it makes more sense to work another hour than to spend an hour saving money on the grocery bill.

And the frugal community is usually pretty indignant about this…we don’t like the idea that working is a wiser choice than hanging laundry out or making detergent.

I’ve been pondering all of this lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a false dichotomy, and that choosing one over the other isn’t particularly wise.

I think that both are important.

Cutting expenses can only get you so far when you’re living on a meager income…you can cut back on a lot of things, but the fact of the matter is that you do have to eat and wear clothes and have some sort of dwelling place.

If you’ve been living a lavish lifestyle and then switch to a frugal lifestyle, you’ll have all sorts of expenses to trim. But at some point, even the most frugal among us start to run out of things to cut.

Frugality is great, but it’s got limits.

On the other hand, earning more money and more money and more money won’t get you ahead if you haven’t got any idea how to hang on to what you’re earning. There are a lot of people whose salaries are far bigger than Mr. FG’s and mine but who aren’t at all in a better financial place.

If you can’t manage to live on less than you earn when you’ve got a medium-sized salary, odds are very good than you won’t be living on less than you earn no matter how large your paycheck.

So, my thought is that a marriage of these two strategies is really where it’s at.

If you can increase your income while still maintaining at somewhat frugal lifestyle, you’ll be in much better shape than someone who relies on frugality alone or someone who relies on income increases alone.

For a lot of our married years (up until Zoe was born, actually), Mr. FG worked a manual labor kind of job, so his pay wasn’t particularly high. Living within our means required some pretty serious dedication to frugal, simple living, but we did manage to live debt-free, put some money in savings, and we even squeezed in annual trips to the beach.

Mr. FG hated the type of work he was doing, though, so he took some classes, got some certifications, and made the switch to an IT job. That’s a better-paying field, so our income has gone up even though he’s working the same number of hours.

For the most part, though, we’ve kept our standard of living fairly close to what it was before. We do spend a little more on some things now, like our takeout date night and local food, and we’re able to give more generously to other people and organizations, but our expenses haven’t increased at the same rate as our income.

This means that we’re in a place where we can do a much better job of saving money for future expenses like medical bills, car repair bills, car replacement (We use ING for these targeted savings accounts.) If we weren’t still embracing a lot of our frugal habits, though, I think we could easily spend all of our income, and we’d be no better off than we were before.

All that said, I do think that it’s important to be wise about the frugal activities we invest our time into, and I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.

Now, I’m really curious to hear what you all think about the topic of today’s post, so please do share your thoughts about the earn more/save more dilemma.


Today’s 365 post: Handing off the reins

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Jen G

Saturday 29th of April 2017

I love your posts they are so peaceful and comforting in this crazy busy world that we live in. I have sought to have a balanced lifestyle over the years. Haven't quite got the budget thing nailed down. Did Financial Peace, read your blog, read lots of frugal blogs and books over almost 3 decades of marriage. However, my husband has always made enough to be comfortable and homeschooling 5 kids and countless projects kept me from really becoming responsible in this area. Looking back, we would be in ALOT better financial position than we are now if we'd had been more organized.. I do have many frugal habits, though thanks to you and others!! One side comment: I tried a homemade laundry detergent and it didn't clean our clothes or make them smell good.


Wednesday 9th of April 2014

I like to do both- I mean there's not much point working harder just to waste the extra. My goal is debt-free by the end of this year. The high cost of Obamacare threw me a curve-ball with that, so it might be next year now, but hopefully not too long.

I go over my finances regularly and see where I can save $5 here or there...last night I called my electricity company to drop a $5 charge which has gone up to $10 now, and the lady helpfully told me I could reduce my bill by 5 cents/kw hour by signing up for a year again. It took nearly an hour on the telephone ( free call ) but will hopefully save me $40 next month, and even more over the summer when we need a/c. I had already reduced the bill about 30% by switching off lights eg whilst watching tv. or using the computer.

My next-door library has free Wi-Fi now, so I think I can drop my internet service, which is $60 a month almost, at the same time I plan to drop cable as I get free basic cable as part of our HOA package.

And this week I am using up much of the groceries in my pantry. I find now I am living alone most of the time stockpiling leads to waste- keep the food too long and it gets freezer-burn, or I just don't 'fancy' it any more.

I have a coupon for a free soup and another for a free cake for signing up to La Madeleine e-club; their soup is very good and comes with unlimited bread and butter! Pei Wei restaurant sent me cards for 2 meals in the mail, very much enjoyed them so I signed up for their e-club and got a coupon for $10 off $20, so my friend and I ate very well for $5 each that day.

To me it's fun to do all this, but not so much to make 20 jars of jam I know I can't eat- so I buy good jam when it's reduced or BOGO...that's the key, what works best for yourself.

Spending just $20 a day extra as a dollar here or there is $600 a month or $7200 a year- it all adds up!


Tuesday 29th of April 2014

I love your blog. I want to be able to do this too someday. I love being frugal for many reasons. It has worked. I buy things on sale with coupons, cook my own meals, pack lunches, use groupon, sell on ebay, use prepaid phones, use Netflix instead of cable and do my own pedicures and manicures. I also love selling on Ebay. The results of being frugal? My husband and I have no car payments, great savings and a nice house. Paying off mortgage from 30 years to 15 years reduced to 10 years. Frugality pays.


Friday 21st of March 2014

I don't even need to try to save anymore because a year ago I just decided to earn more.

Laura Vanderkam

Thursday 21st of June 2012

No, we don't have to choose. We can do both. I just worry about the gender dimensions of this, that often we picture "a woman who is good with her money" as someone who's cutting coupons, not necessarily someone who's negotiating for a higher salary. They can both help, but the latter can yield you a lot in a little time. I'm prone to under-ask, and at prior times in my life, I've had to train myself to take whatever number is in my head, and add a significant percentage to it. Training myself to ask for that higher number, calmly, has turned into more dollars than I think I could ever save at the grocery store. Also, when it comes to frugality, I think we don't put enough emphasis on sweating the big stuff. Spending less than you can on housing (if it's remotely possible in one's area to still get something safe) can produce huge flexibility in one's budget. People may not be negotiating hard on that last $50 in monthly mortgage payment, because it's $10,000 in the context of a $300,000 house. But as you point out, $50 a month can do a lot!


Monday 23rd of April 2012

You hit it exactly, there is definitely a balance. Also, there is something to say for honest work outside the home. Some people, beleive it or not, do love their careers, my husband and i are those people. But by living frugally and efficiently we are able to work when and how we want to, not because we have to. This allows us the ability to have an amazing home life as well.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.