Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recession Ponderings: Rethinking frugal myths

I was brought up in a culture where if one practiced frugality they were thought odd or miserly. Especially if they had a good income. There were a few exceptions as we know from books like The Millionaire Next Door (where some people became wealthy due to frugal living instead of spending everything they made)...frugal without becoming miserly.

Last week I used a Panera gift card to pay part of the cost of a coffee and bagel (one of those days I was waiting for my son). I gave the manager at the cash register my gift card to use first and then paid the balance... knowing there was just under $1.00 left on the card.

It sparked a conversation about the use of gift cards. She said stores love to sell them because many people don't see them as real money and often lose them or forget about them. Most people don't use all the credit available (which is why my use of the last dollar was unusual).

I remembered at Christmas time, reading that gift cards were not welcome by many teenagers (those we know enjoy them, though). I love, love, love gift cards so it was hard to understand why someone wouldn't.

After reading a little more, I realized many of these young people had never "wanted" for anything in their life. They could not comprehend what a gift card meant to one who had little to spend on luxuries (or stocking up). It would be no different than handing the teenager $10.00 when they already had $500 in their billfold.

It has me thinking... perhaps a recession isn't a bad thing for all of us (as one who has been living in a Recession for a long time now). It helps us rethink the making, spending, and saving of money. So, being a pondering type of person... I thought of a few statements about frugal living which I've been told and found to be myths.

Some of them are...

Small expenditures don't count... On the contrary, I think most people tend to be careful about big purchases (cars, furniture, etc.) and get in trouble with the small purchases adding up. I've been (trying) to teach this to Christopher, telling him to think about how much he is spending on each small item multiplied by say... 52 weeks. Once I started doing that, I realized being frugal meant being honest with myself about the dollars spent "here and there".

Money can't buy happiness... Well, that is quite true. What money can buy is convenience. The myth is that... doing that which is convenient and easy automatically brings more happiness than that which was brought about by hard work. A simple and frugal lifestyle is not always easy or convenient, it is full of hard work... but it can bring about happiness from a job well done... not to mention peace of mind when we don't have to finance a convenient lifestyle.

Frugal people don't shop... I've found that not to be true at all. Just the opposite, frugal people are good shoppers. They find enjoyment in searching out the best places to shop at the right times, knowing where to get the best deals, when to shop (for instance, the end of season sales), etc. They are masters at living "off the financial grid".

Frugal people never spend money... No, frugal people know how and when to spend money. Misers don't spend money at all if they can help it. Not spending money can get you into as much trouble as spending too much (more about that in tomorrow's ponderings).

Frugal people are hoarders... There is a huge difference between hoarding and stocking up. Frugal people save money by stocking up when items are at their cheapest prices, especially items they know they will be using like food and household goods for the pantry, craft items, clothing they will need, household and automobile maintenance products, school supplies, etc. Misers hoard, frugal people let their money work for them in a timely fashion.

Frugal people are stingy... Once again, misers are those who hold everything tight to their person. The people I've known who are the greatest givers are those who have known what it is like to be in need. Frugality gives those with little the option to be able to give and those with "more than enough" the freedom to share.

Frugal people never have any fun... On the contrary, some of the most creative and fun filled people I've met are also frugal with their expenditures. Some are forced to be creative by lack of money and end up growing in their creativity (and fun). Others have money because they are very careful with their spending and they know when to spend for pleasure (without putting their family into debt).

Children of frugal people have often learned from one or both parents how to have fun with little or no money to spend. They are often quite creative and resourceful. Children of misers grow up needy and often with hostility toward the miser.

You can't be frugal and have beautiful things... Well, anyone who has read this blog and those by many of my blog friends know that is not true. Quite the contrary, frugality in general (and forced frugality by circumstances in particular) causes one to think through their purchases in such a way that their homes tend to have more beauty and less things... more simplicity and less clutter.

I'll write a little more about these ponderings tomorrow.


Tracy said...

An excellent post, Brenda! :)

Packrat said...

So true, so true. Thanks for your insights (and reminders).

scrappy quilter said...

AMEN and AMEN and AMEN!! I agree with every word you've said. One of the best books I read that taught me I could be frugal and yet live in luxury (frugal luxury) is Tracey McBride's book Frugal Luxuries. Just because we are frugal doesn't mean we don't have nice things. We've learnt to be frugal in many areas so we can have a few of those things.

Frugalality helped us pay cash for our home, not have any debt and have the hobbies and enjoyments we want.

Wonderful words of wisdom Brenda!!

Sharon said...

I just love you and your blog Brenda!Excellent post!Since we had to go on my husband's disability checks a few years back it's been a struggle.Especially here in Oregon.But we make it by doing many of the things you talk about.Being dwellers in a super tiny apartment we cannot stock up much or have much in the way of a lovely patio but we do have what we need.:-)~Sharon

Larissa Q said...

That was wonderful and encouraging. Thank you.

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

True and wise words, Brenda. I think being a little older and raised by people who were already young adults during the depression gave me a different view of this. I always thought being frugal was the wise thing to do, and always knew it was not the same as being stingy or miserly.

Martha said...

An excellent post and yes, I think you're right -- perhaps the recession is a good thing because so many kids have grown up with "life is good and money flows like water" -- it is good to want -- we made our daughter want but she is a better person for it. And there is a difference between being frugal and being a miser. I think frugal is smart -- you spend your money the best way you can-- being miserly means you don't spend it at all! Being frugal is not bad.

Senkyoshi said...

Your blog is so inspiring and such an encouragement to me. Thank you for all you post...

Your info about gift cards caused me to remember about rebates. Sometime in the past 2 years, we bought a new laptop with a rebate for 1/2 of the selling price. We were thrilled. While my hubby was checking out, he asked how they could do that with the rebates and still make any money. The clerk said that most people forget to send them in! I was shocked! We always send ours in, no matter how small the amount!

Cheryl (Copper's Wife) said...

Very good points, my friend. I know your point about frugal folks being generous in their giving to be so very, very true. Great post!