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Is it frugal to get cheap treats?

A reader left this comment on last week’s Five Frugal Things post:

I purchased my 6th prescription from Vons and received a $50 grocery gift card. Although since we used the money to buy a special treat, maybe it is not frugal after all? (We bought an expensive bottle of wine for our anniversary instead of stocking the pantry.)

Five Guys takeout date night

I don’t have a picture of wine, so this will have to do.

Basically, I think this reader is wondering if things are only frugal when they add dollars to your bank account and make a difference in your bottom line. 

I thought this was worth addressing because to me, frugality is about living a beautiful, rich life while spending less. 

So, there are a lot of things I’ve done (and still do) that are less about reducing the actual bottom line of my budget and more about bringing some cheap joy into my life.

pink plant table.

And yes, I do consider those things to still be frugal and worthwhile.

That’s because while I am interested in saving money, I am not interested in living a miserable life just to save money.

The deprivation lifestyle is really not what I’m shooting for. 

I want to eat delicious, beautiful meals.

I want my home to be comfy and inviting.

I want to wear clothes that look good.

I want to do fun things.

I want to go visit the people I love. 

So sometimes, this means that I exercise my frugal skills to obtain nice-but-not-necessary things; things that make life richer and more enjoyable.

For instance, I might redeem my credit card rewards for airline miles instead of for grocery credits.

plane wing in a cloud.

I might fill out a survey to get a free milkshake for one of my kids. 


I sometimes take advantage of restaurant freebies/discounts to get a cheap meal out, even if that’s still a little more expensive than eating at home. 

I often redeem my Erie YourTurn rewards for Starbucks gift cards instead of something more practical, because then Zoe and I can stop and get a treat for free.

Also, lots of the work I’ve been doing to decorate my rental home could be put into the nice-but-not-necessary category.

View of Kristen's living room.

Cheap/free decorating doesn’t add dollars to my bank account, and if I wanted to go the deprivation route, I could just skip all the decorating and rehabbing and live with my rental as-is. 

But that does not fit with the way I want to live! I like to be surrounded by beauty. 

Round table with a vase of pink peonies on top.

So, that’s why I’m busy finding cheap and free ways to bring beauty into my rental home. 

How can this apply to you?

Basically, I’m always thinking, “How could I make my life more wonderful without spending a bunch of money?”

And that question should work fine for you too, because the particular things that make your life more wonderful will be as unique to you.

a large pink peony bloom.

Maybe you don’t value the same things in life that I do…like, maybe you don’t care that much about the aesthetics of your surroundings, but it IS very important for you to have lots of outdoor adventures in your life.

So you would not hunt for home decor freebies, but you would scope out discounts on zip-lining, or you’d find free places to hike.

Or maybe a life full of live entertainment is important to you, so you could spend time looking for free concerts, or volunteering to usher at events so you can watch for free. 

And if you are like the reader whose comment inspired this post, you might look for ways to score a great bottle of wine for free. 

Why does this matter? It helps your long game!

If you design a money-saving lifestyle that feels like deprivation to you, you might be able to stick with it for a short while.

But if you don’t incorporate some things that bring you joy, you are gonna have such a tough time hanging in there for the long haul. 

But if you figure out what it is that makes life feel rich to you and you make a point of finding frugal ways to make that stuff happen, you’ll find it’s way easier to stay on budget with a cheerful attitude. 🙂 

And now I’m curious about how this question plays out in your life.

So, tell us: what joys and treats do you prioritize?

Basically, what luxuries do you make happen in a frugal way, like this reader’s wine bottle? 

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Hawaii Planner

Sunday 7th of August 2022

We definitely prioritize certain nights, travel with the kids, treating my parents/sister to trips (we often pay for the lodging, and sometimes air travel as well), etc. Spending time together is our big priority, both in my immediate family, as well as extended.

Terri Cheney

Saturday 6th of August 2022

books, fresh flowers, real perfume. I work hard to save money. I've just put in 24 hours of sewing to make a slipcover for an older chair. But what's the point if I never get anything I love from the deal? I buy used books, I plant flower seeds and I purchase the perfume at a discount. Does that lessen their value to me? Not at all! Would I use a gift card for a really good bottle of wine? You betcha but it's not one of my personal priority items.


Sunday 7th of August 2022

Yes, exactly. You save on the things you can so that you have money to splurge on the things that matter more.


Friday 5th of August 2022

I used to work at a farmer's market to process people's SNAP/Food Stamp dollars into tokens they could use at the farmer's stands. In my state, we have a program where for the months of July, August and September, SNAP users can get double their tokens to buy extra produce. Because of the program, a woman was able to save enough to buy a nice steak to have for her son's 16th birthday party. Sure, she could have probably bought double the amount of ground beef and made hamburgers, but that steak dinner will stick with the kid as a special treat him mom was able to give him. I'll never forget how excited and proud she was to tell me about how she was able to give her family a nice steak dinner. It's really stuck with me how important a nice treat can be!


Thursday 4th of August 2022

Once, for our anniversary, I cashed in credit card points to get a gift card to Ruth's Chris. It was for $100 and I think our meal was about $20 over that. I may have had a beer and hubby maybe had a whiskey sour. Anyway, it was part of a cheap overnight getaway to Atlantic City. I was able to get a hotel room for something cheap like $40 and we were able to gamble a bit - I had a set budget for that. We walked on the boardwalk and did the freebies like looking at shops and they had a pier that was a shopping mall and at the end there was a fountain that did a performance to music. We walked to Bally's to see the robotic Wild West show and to the Atlantic City museum (free) where I could see Miss America's crown and cape as well as dated photos of Donald Trump opening up his casinos. Oh and the original Mr. Peanut costume! So all in all a fun time for cheap.

Vacations were important to me and I would plan a trip that was frugal. My father had a saying "If you can't go first class then why go at all?" Mine was "I just want to go". I think my hubby and son toured every major league baseball field on the east coast while my daughter and I did the historical tours on our own. I would find a good hotel rate, we would bring food to eat and I would find cheap admission if we had to pay to go anywhere. I did this instead of paying for good furniture that the kids would destroy or buying a bigger house. I scrimped and saved to send the kids to Presbyterian sleep away camp every summer. They loved it. My son was hoping he could send his kids to the same camp even though he currently lives in Singapore and has no kids, lol!


Thursday 4th of August 2022

Agreed! I spend mindfully on many things, so that I have the extra money to enjoy the best that life has to offer - trips, movies, eating out occasionally - or random treats! I get my books from the library (free), i use codes for free movie rentals at Redbox, I use coupons at the grocery, I buy my clothes (or random items needed at the house) at yard sales/thrift stores - or get them from freecycle. I still try to get discounted tickets / meals/treats when I go out - but its nice having the budget wiggle room to do these things because I am so careful on other spending.

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