Frugality versus miserliness

In the very first essay of our very first edition, we printed a tabular manifesto of things an Escapologist might want to ‘escape from’ and ‘escape to’.

As a point of interest, this was adapted from an exercise practiced by the English poet, Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard, who originally drew up lists under the headings J’adore and J’accuse. He was in favour of love, food, freedom and art. He was against missionaries and bureaucrats.

One of the things we sought ‘escape from’ was miserliness. Escapologists should not be fiscally mean. Rejoice and be merry. Don’t abstain from pleasure. With time, company, action and thought, be generous to others.

Paradoxically, a key to maintaining a life free from debt and excessive labour is frugality. So how does one resolve frugality with the pledge against miserliness?

1. Frugality doesn’t exactly equate to miserliness. Learning to make your own burger patties or to stoke your own woodfire are frugal activities. It would be incorrect to describe them as miserly. Apollonian, perhaps, but not miserly.

2. Frugality need not exclude expensive purchases. You can afford the finest essentials if you stop buying poor quality things that need to be replaced all the time (highstreet clothes and sweatshop shoes) and things that serve only to distract and rot the mind (computer games, convenience food). The purpose of spending more money on a bespoke suit or the finest beers known to science is that the quality is better and you’ll get more out of them. Remember your quality budget.

3. If money is scarce, there are other things with which you can be generous: time, action, company and thought. Time is abundant when you don’t work, so it’s easier to be generous with it as a successful escapee. Action can be given to assist friends on their projects now that your actions aren’t owned by an employer. Company in the pub should be as inclusive as possible: you might learn something from people from other circles. Thoughts can be shared freely when you don’t need to compete with colleagues for managerial affection: commit your unconventional Escapologist’s mind to mulling over other people’s problems, offering your Jeeves-like miracle solution. Cultivate a generosity of mind: give people the benefit of the doubt.

4. Look for economies of scale to increase the potential for generosity. When a round of drinks in the pub exceeds a day’s income, it is reflexive to balk at such an expense and hard not to feel like a miser for worrying in this way. If, however, you brew five vats of beer in your cellar, you’re unlikely to feel the same pinch when it comes to giving it away. Become a good host. Be the person who welcomes everyone for a home-brewed beer. When the Idler‘s Tom Hodgkinson moved into a big old house in North Devonshire, he converted the scullery into an in-house pub where he shares beer and plays darts with his family and friends.

Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard may have been in favour of love, food, freedom and art but—by necessity, as a lover of freedom—also practiced frugality. He was a Bohemian: one of the truest breeds of Escapologist.

How does one resolve frugal behaviour with a pledge against miserliness? Recognise the difference between the two, look for opportunities to be generous and become a Bohemian.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

2 Responses to “Frugality versus miserliness”

  1. […] about frugality (opposed to miserliness), check out what Robert Wringham has to say about the topic. Robert will also be my next interview partner here on […]

  2. […] (1) You don’t need as much money as you think you do. If you can embrace minimalism and frugality, you’ll be able to live on far less than you think and not have to work so many hours; (2) […]

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