I think I created a post a couple of years back about frugality but it bears repeating. We live in a culture where everything bigger, or more of something, is better. It is natural to want more in life. But when so many people are in debt up to their ears because they have far too many credit cards; they allowed that real estate agent to up-sale them into a house they couldn’t afford or, I cringe as I type this as I work for a car dealership, but up-sales are a part of that world, too. As their photographer, I spend a good part of the afternoon driving around the parking lot in brand new cars–I don’t even own a car right now! So put me in the seat of that Silverado High Country–and, believe me, “my” dealership has some sweet trucks in their lot right now–and I’m practically salivating…and this summer’s 90+ temperatures have nothing to do with it. However, I’m already eating a lot of pasta and beans, and PB&J for lunch; I refuse to take the Crazy Cat Lady a step further and start dining with the felines as, sadly, many do. And no, that real estate agent or salesperson isn’t inherently evil in trying to up-sale you a higher-priced item. A bigger sale means a bigger commission and they have to eat, too. Without those commissions, they’re barely scraping minimum wage. But keeping your head instead of letting emotion drive your decisions is a discipline worth learning. The salesperson will still earn a commission on the item you can afford but you won’t be re-mortgaging or filing bankruptcy later on. Take it from one who knows: debt hurts.
Years ago, a gentleman that I was dating made a good point about something. He was incredibly frugal about his necessary living expenses: housing, food, utilities and yet he indulged in extravagances. But, as he pointed out, because he conserved so well on the essentials–and he didn’t starve or freeze during the winter months; quite the contrary, he had updated his home to be super energy efficient and so it stayed toasty warm all season–he could afford a few luxuries. He could indulge in many of his interests. And so, he actually lived a bit better than most because he was careful with his expenses and, when he made an investment, he did so with the future in mind. He also tithed regularly, had a healthy retirement fund and a savings. These last three are key. Without some sort of savings, you automatically have to go into debt when something breaks or needs replacing. Without a retirement or 401K, what will you do when you grow too old and infirm to work 40+ hours a week? And He only asks for a tithe = 10%; you get to keep 90%.
Of course, Super Tightwad here–and, no, that doesn’t equal “cheap”; your birthday gift may have been purchased on sale but it didn’t come out of the gumball machine–weighs everything. Whether it is a necessity or an indulgence, I carefully weigh it. I’ve been known to take field trips to the supermarket to price all of the fixings for a veggie burger at Burger King (i.e. condiments, lettuce, tomato, etc) vs. one made at home with all of the trim; the cost was nearly doubled. When you realize what you’re really spending, how convenient is it? I know I’ve posted before that Amy Dacyczyn’s “Tightwad Gazette” is one of my secular bibles. When I first started reading it, the first thing that happened was she changed my mind about how I viewed frugality. I grew up in a home with a very modest income. Of course, my stepfather’s penchant for the bottle had a lot to do with our financial status and there was as much shame attached to his behavior as there was to the hand-me-downs and goodwill visits. In the “Tightwad Gazette”, however, Ms. Dacyczyn points out how, for example, we buy brand new clothes and, within a few months to a year, we either relegate them to the back of the closet where they never see the light of day again or we discard them. In fact, discarded clothing makes up a large bulk of our landfills so overcoming even this one fetish for the latest fashions would solve another problem in our society. She relates a story about buying a pair of boots second-hand for her daughter. They were the right brand but the color was “wrong”. Well, her daughter wore them to school, despite the “wrong” color, and came home raving about how everyone loved the boots in this unique color. I am not at all ashamed to admit that when I decide I “need” a new skirt or blouse, I shop at the thrift store FIRST (intimate apparel and shoes are the exceptions). It’s all about perception. If you can look at frugality as a skill, an art, maybe even as something fun–a game to be played in the marketplace, it takes away the stigma our society has attached to thrift. And who doesn’t love a few extra dollars in their pocket?
Maybe it is natural to want more. I’m thinking that’s just another myth we’ve been brainwashed by our media to believe. I know I quote HGTV a lot but they are a good example of the societal mindset. In my not-so-humble opinion, nobody needs 5000 square feet of living space unless your last name is Duggar and you’ve got 19+ kids in tow. Even then, I would question it. You see a lot of waste on HGTV, a lot of spoiled, superficial people (or seemingly so) who have to rip out the “dated” kitchen and replace everything. Okay. Maybe the refrigerator is old and inefficient. That would make sense. But a coat of paint on the cabinets would give the room a fresh, new look without sending a lot of composites and laminates to the landfills…or without emptying your wallet. I also quote tiny houses a lot. No, not everyone could live in a space 400 square feet or less, but they do provide some great examples of how to maximize living space so that maybe 1000 square feet instead of the 3000 square-foot McMansion will suffice–without one feeling deprived. The tiny house movement forces us to look at life from the perspective of “what do we need” vs. “how fast can I keep up with the jones'”? And, as they quote a few tiny house builders and/or buyers in their advertisements, the mindset is to save more on the cost of living so you can afford to live life–to spend more quality time with family and friends rather than in the office working overtime to pay for the 3000 square feet; to get outdoors and spend more time in nature; to spend more time playing sports, attending concerts or going to the theatre–whatever your passion. When you look at how much you sacrifice in memories, in good health and happy, relaxing experiences, the cost goes even higher.
May God bless you & keep you!
Dacyczyn, A. The Tightwad Gazette. Villard Books, New York: 1993.