Where The Big Savers Live: Top 20 Most Frugal American Cities

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2011-05-1810

With high unemployment and big debt numbers at play, more people are realizing the truth about the saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Now that frugal is IN, it seems that those who are living in the most frugal cities in America are setting the trend for the rest of us. Now that everyone is talking about frugality, what does it mean? It means “characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources”, as per Merriam-Webster.

Frugality and green living seem to go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. If we use our resources wisely, we are not being wasteful. Less garbage means a cleaner planet. Saving money on a small scale saves our households and on a larger scale, it can even help save the world. All in all, it’s great to have this mindset, and it would even be better if more people embraced these ideas. So how popular is this mentality?

Is Frugality Genetic or Cultural?

I delved into the psychology of frugality some time ago, and it was an interesting trip. There’s actually some proof that frugality is hard-wired in our brains — so how about a few head-scratchers: do you wonder whether being frugal is genetic? Is it cultural? Or maybe it’s both. Is this the reason why you’d find the cheapskate behavior more prevalent in certain regions of the world vs others? More accurately though, there are studies that point to genetics being a factor in our miserly vs spendthrift behaviors, which by the way, determine the level of happiness we get out of spending or saving. While there is no hardcore scientific evidence that helps us isolate a “frugality gene”, these studies in the field of behavioral science are a step towards pointing out the reason for our squirrel-like behaviors.

If you’re interested in some of the philosophizing that I do on the subject of frugality, then check out these articles!

Where Are The Big Savers? The Most Frugal American Cities

Now let’s look at the other half of the equation and explore the idea that frugality is cultural or is influenced by our environment. It makes sense that being around budget-conscious people can rub off on a person. It also makes sense that financial behaviors are different once you cross state or town lines. In the same way that religious or political views can be vastly different when you find yourself in a different place, the same thing can probably be said about financial perspectives. Now is this because the environment influences you or because your views create the environment? I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of these questions.

So are you in a city with other frugal people? Coupons.com is a pretty popular site that is frequented by frugal folks everywhere, and they’ve collected user data to come up with the top 20 frugal cities in the U.S. And sure enough, I was not in the least bit surprised that the U.S. coasts such as California and New York are not represented. It also follows that the cost of living in these areas seem to be in line with the frugal tendencies of the local population. The environment can do a lot to develop the general attitude of a community — imagine living in a town hard-hit by unemployment. Or what if you live in a very prosperous area where money, wealth, investments and opportunities are abundant. Money saving activities are shaped quite a bit by our surroundings too. So what does this say about the top 20 list?

Atlanta Tampa Cincinnati
St. Louis Minneapolis Charlotte
Raleigh Kansas City Washington, D.C.
Miami Dallas Oklahoma City
Boston Denver Seattle
Nashville Cleveland Pittsburgh
Columbus, Ohio Wichita, Kansas  

If your city isn’t in this list and you’re the frugal type, then you may just be a little bit disappointed. But you can always try to get your neighbors motivated. You can start a coupon exchange at your local library or community center. Try sharing coupons with friends for items you know they purchase. Send email links to coupon websites. Before you know it, friends will return the favor and you’ll cash in on even more coupon savings.

Being Frugal Is “In”

Decadence and excess defined an era but those days are gone now. Today, being savvy about your spending is cool. Nobody is celebrating wasteful behavior in the face of unemployment and foreclosure.

If you are embarrassed about using coupons, get over it. Before our financial crisis, my husband used to cringe when I pulled out my folder of coupons. Now he asks if I have any to use before he goes shopping. He even clips his own coupons to save money on everything from auto repairs to light bulbs. Recently, he bragged about a $20 savings thanks to having a coupon. As this example shows, anyone can be converted!

I often advocate that when you save, you should be thinking about saving on the big stuff. Your time is much better spent by evaluating your spending patterns and focusing on ways to save on large, fixed expenditures. But once you’ve done all you can to trim the fat in those areas, you’ll find that smaller items can use some of your attention too. Collecting and using coupons is an effective way to save, although I must say that unless you enjoy doing this, it’s an acquired taste. :)

Coupon collecting is one frugal habit that’s catching on and may also be indicative of the new economy. People are realizing that coupons are as good as cash and now we’re seeing more consumers opening their minds to this activity. College graduates and professionals are using coupons as often as those who are on a tight budget or are unemployed. What’s more interesting is that with technology advancing the way it is, we are now seeing iPad, iPhone and other mobile applications that support coupon use and that reward loyal shoppers.

Given that technology is quickly capitalizing on financial trends and behaviors, I expect to see the frugal movement become more widespread, especially in cities that aren’t known for being financially conservative. If technology makes it easier to save money, will people actually bother to save more? I certainly would!

Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents May 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Savings may or may not be genetic, but it is deeply rooted. I started early and my children did too. Savings is probably the single most influential reason for my financial success. It also provide financial freedom!

Dianne @ Northumberland Realtor May 19, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Coupons are the best thing that we can have to survive this crazy economy even without sacrificing quality. I like your tip regarding sharing. I tried it once and you are right, the favor was returned by my neighbor. :)

No Debt MBA May 23, 2011 at 10:53 am

I’m sure sure if coupon usage is the best measurement of a city’s frugality. Hypothetically, not buying something at all is more frugal than buying it with a coupon. I’d like to learn more about how they put the list together. Interesting data though!

Silicon Valley Blogger May 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Like personality, behavior (in the general sense) is both influenced by genetics and the environment. At least, that’s what I think. :) This goes for any type of behavior. Some behavioral patterns are more strongly linked to genes than others. In the case of frugality, risk-related activities, money compulsions and such, I would attribute both genes and the influence of one’s upbringing as factors that shape your financial psyche. Specific events can affect your financial attitude and beliefs — just ask those folks who grew up during the Depression Era, or what about those of us who were traumatized by the financial crisis in 2008 (or the prolonged unemployment that followed)? How you bounce back or how you decide to run your finances during and after these events may reveal a lot more about your relationship with money than you think.

Regarding how they put this list together: the study was performed by Coupons.com. It seems simple enough to me: they gather data from their users and find out where most of their users are from and tally those numbers. I don’t think the study was that sophisticated at all.

Doable Finance May 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I come from a poor country. Frugality is in our genes. We have no choice but to be frugal.

keev July 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I don’t buy Boston being on the list, I grew up there and my family was considered “poor” because we used coupons and lived frugally. My sister and I were constantly made fun of because my family shopped at Walmart and everyone “felt bad for us”. It kind of pinches a nerve to hear that it is “hip” to be frugal now since I was socially tortured living in Boston.

Silicon Valley Blogger July 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm

@Keev,
Sorry to hear about your experience. I think the point is that being frugal is something that a lot of people are embracing and trying to feel good about. It’s not something to be ashamed of. I’m actually pretty proud about being frugal, but at the same time, I am not hurting financially either. But I totally see what you mean — maybe there is a change in the way people are thinking about their finances.

There’s clearly been a huge change in the financial climate over the last couple of decades. I remember how conspicuous consumption (remember the movie Wall Street and the “Greed is Good” mentality) was part of the American culture. Spending on credit grew significantly over the last few decades but now, consumers are finding that they have to pay the piper. That is why frugal is now hip!

People’s feelings about frugality are pretty colored. For some people, frugal equates to being poor, which is a negative thing. But for others (including myself), frugal means being smart and savvy about our finances, and being economical. That happens to be a positive trait. So it really is in the way you interpret the word “frugal”. I totally see how your personal experiences can influence how you feel about this label (particularly how it pertains to the city you grew up in).

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