Sunday, November 13, 2005

Frugality "Myths"

This has been kicking around my Drafts folder long enough:

I've been officially "frugal" for 15 years. I started to be snarky and say, "Before that I was 'broke'", but that's not really true. Frugality is an attitude and a lifestyle. It has nothing to do with how much money you have or don't have. Frugality is all about solving problems by throwing brainpower, willpower and creativity at them instead of throwing money at them.

I've been living this way for so long that I was surprised the other day when someone told me that frugality means, "peanut butter and jelly for every lunch, beans and rice for every supper, and spending all your time driving all over town to shop at thrift stores." Where in the world did THAT come from? Okay, I'll admit to doing the beans-and-rice number while we were paying off our house note, but we were so psyched up over getting out of debt we didn't even notice what we were eating. It's been over 15 years since we had to eat off a stash of food that was that slim, certainly not since we got the deep freeze. And we've never spent all our time or money at thrift stores. Frugality includes prudent management of one's time as well as prudent management of one's money; and constant shopping, even at thrift shops, is just not a frugal way to spend your time.

People have a lot of strange ideas about frugality. There's as many "myths" about frugality as there are about homeschooling. Which ones have you heard? Here's a few of my favorites:

"Frugality = deprivation" False. Frugality is not about deprivation, it's about planning ahead. Jeff Smith bills himself as "The Frugal Gourmet", but would you feel deprived eating at his table?

"Frugality = budgeting" False. Some of the biggest frugality gurus are completely against the idea of budgeting. Our family has been frugal since we got married, and we've never once sat down and worked out a budget.

"Frugality means following a die-hard formula." My husband's co-worker is one of three sisters who lived together. This sister did all the driving, another sister did all the cooking, while the third sister did all the maintenance. The first sister went to see a financial planner and was told she needed to spend less money on her car and more money on food. Duh people, you have to look at the big picture!

"Frugality means never dressing your kids like their favorite TV characters." False. It means you kids can be dressed more like their favorite TV characters if that is what you and they want, because you're buying or making the parts yourself and not just whatever happens to have a logo slapped on it. The girls just came in from playing "Land of the Lost" in the backyard in their orange "Will and Holly" vests I made them from a yard of fleece, no sewing required.

"Frugality means never being a conspicuous consumer." True at first, False over the long term. Once you start buying for value, other people will wonder how on earth you can possibly afford all the "nice" things. Simple, you're not buying all the junk.

"Frugality means never eating out." False, but you do get very picky over where you eat out. If you can cook for yourself at home, a restaurant better have something really special to get your return business.

"Two working spouses will always bring home more money than one." Not always true. You have to watch the net profit very carefully with this one. I once worked a job that was so far from home the cost of car repairs ate up all the income I made -- Not a Good Idea.

"Frugality means never shopping at the mall/the boutique/the fancy story." Not necessarily. Frugality means getting the best value for your money. It may be that the really fancy store has clothes that wear so much longer than any other store the prorated cost of them is much lower than the dollar store, especially if you can buy them at a discount. Of course it may not, but it's worth doing the math to find out.

1 comment:

Mother Crone's Homeschool said...

Cheers to all fellow "frugal" folks. I chose to return to frugal about 12 years ago, after a divorce from a man who lead the opposite lifestyle. It just didn't fit with me. The excess meant constant work, which meant less time for things I enjoyed- the cycle was exhausting and there was no real pleasure in any purchase, because it was constant consumerism.

I was raised by the New England philosophy "Use it up; Wear it Out: Make it Do, or Do Without."
I agree so much with many of the points you made, and have lived them as proof. I often look at the state of the US today and wonder how the $ has become so much more important than happiness to so many. Glad we chose the road less traveled!