For some, washing and reusing plastic freezer bags is a good way to save money, but others consider it an extreme measure. Ditto making your own cleaning products or drying clothes on a line. Personal finance weblog Mr Money Moustache maintains that the line between wholesome frugality and extreme deprivation depends on our personal values and how much stock we take in societal norms.
Photo by tanakawho
Those norms can vary from co-workers encouraging you to go out to lunch every day, the belief that only poor people dry clothes on a line, or that everyone needs a top of the line computer/TV/etc.
In some cases, imposed frugality can change your values.
An extreme example of this is the Great Depression. In the 1920s much of society was living very materialistic, even luxurious lives. In the 1930s many suddenly found themselves struggling to find enough food and stay warm, let alone have a job or even luxuries. They didn't volunteer for deprivation but they quickly became extraordinarily frugal and managed to cope with the trauma.
Those people saw their values changed virtually overnight. Even after WWII when prosperous times returned many who lived through that age refused to let go of their extreme frugality and use their savings to improve their lives after retirement.
The important take-away is that the difference between an action being merely frugal or desperately cheap depends on your values. Perhaps you're saving every nickle and dime to retire early and travel by RV; it that case every luxury postponed now gets you closer to your departure date.
Frugality can be empowering as it allows us a way to exit the rat race without hitting the lottery or waiting for your well-to-do elder relatives to kick the bucket. It's only deprivation if your frugality has no long-term goal.
Frugality is Not Deprivation [Mr Money Moustache]