Being part of a thrifty counter-culture can sometimes lead to self-doubt. Why am I being frugal, when everybody else are spendthrift? Adopting frugal habits can often be alienating to people who have adopted a consumerist lifestyle. Some of the comments on this article on Staying Frugal in the Age of the iPhone by Anya Kamenetz shows a clear chasm between those who “get it” and those who don’t. Consumerists predominately seem to think that people are frugal because they have to, not because they want to.
I follow and/or have followed many ideas described in that article – some even to a greater degree. I have bought second hand clothes, I gave up TV (I even leased my old one to a colleague – beat that one!), I have walked literally everywhere within a 5 mile radius (I later splurged on a good racing bike), I can cook my own ultra inexpensive food, and I always buy books used.
I often get well intended advice on how to “spend a little more and have some fun”. Well, I certainly am having fun and I don’t need to spend money to do it.
One of the things I have done for free was to work on websites and volunteer as a news summarizer. Today I can look back and see how I was part of the first or second wave of a new paradigm (now in its third wave). Maybe I’ll talk more about this later. Now I’m doing this blog as well as studying for a financial degree in the evenings.
Conversely, I wonder what those who had their fun shopping or going out to eat have to show for it. Are their memories as good as mine. I posit that they are maybe equally good but different. I have no regrets. The only difference is, that I now also have a lot of money sitting in the bank of money that I did not spend to “have fun”.
I can think of another example. I commute to work riding my bicycle. What do I have to show for it? A higher level of fitness, stronger legs, less wear on the family car, and less pain at the pump.
What do consumers have to show for it? Fancy cars that emanate a fun and successful lifestyle!?
Looking down the street where we live, I see many $20-40k cars, 50″ TVs, fashionable clothes, iPhones, people who don’t cook their food (the lack of the smell of cooking around 6-7 pm outside) … and I wonder: How come everybody around me earn much more than I do? Conversely, they must be thinking: He drives his bike to work, wears second hand clothes and old shoes, and they have a cheap compact car and an old TV. They are probably thinking that they earn more than we do.
The more likely scenario is probably that we earn approximately the same! We have just made different financial choices. They are leveraged to the hilt for their mortgage (two foreclosures and one other sale sign on this street this year), have substantial credit card debt, etc. The Texans have a proverb for this: “All hat, no cattle”. Frugal people never have to worry about losing their job, not being able to pay the bills, etc. We own “all cattle” which apparently is “no fun” to the consumerists.
Can this chasm of understanding be voluntarily breached? I’m not sure.