Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What Kicked You Into Frugal High Gear?

I meet all kinds of people while sitting on the bleachers at your sons' swim team practice. No joke, some have trouble paying their bills and others are wearing sunglasses indoors while recovering from having the skin around their eyes lifted. You never know where the conversations may lead. One woman stands out in my mind.

She's a single mom with three kids. She's having trouble meeting her bills. She's even got pretty severe medical/emotional issues with her preschooler. She's got issues with medical coverage too. Her plate is clearly full, overflowing in fact.

In talking to her I discovered that her kids are a bit on the finicky side. They only eat the "expensive macaroni and cheese" and a particular kind of chicken nugget, as well as a laundry list of other things. Then there are the non-food things. She feels trapped. She doesn't want to deprive her kids but she can't afford to go on this way. On and on it goes.

The details are unimportant but the overall tone is. Why have we become so obsessed with keeping up appearances that we sabotage ourselves? Why are we unable to be honest with our kids when we can't afford something? Why do we give in to our kids demands? Why is it shameful to live within our means? Perhaps the biggest question, how do you effectively let people know there are other options when they aren't ready to hear about them? How do you bridge the gap between frugal and spendthrift?

What prompted you to become more frugal? Share your story so we can all learn and maybe help more effectively the next time we encounter a situation like the one I described.


Anonymous said...

Having folks like you to read helps a lot to confirm the value of frugal living. It's related to your frugal-eco-wierdness post from a few days ago I think--that people need support on affirmation of what's possible. Next time in the bleachers you might say that you like to read bogs from folks who are working toward solving some of these problems to just openthe door to folks like the woman you talked with. Thanks for all your posts!

Chile said...

I grew up in a somewhat frugal home. My mom coupon-clipped and shopped on double-coupon days. No brand loyalty in our house! She kept a sharp eye on our finances so she could catch when an annual bill was coming due one month earlier each year or when the rental car place overcharged us on vacation.

But, what I didn't learn from her was changing the thinking and desiring. When a friend loaned me The Tightwad Gazette, it opened up a whole new world. I devoured the book, and took notes, in two days. Over the next few years, I read every single book on the subject from the library and Inter-Library Loan.

The next major "Aha!" moment was reading Dr. McDougall's book and realizing that lifestyle and diet choices could also save money on health costs over my lifetime. That was a huge change, helpful in cutting costs now and later.

And, the final piece to the puzzle has come in the last year. The only sane response, in my humble opinion, to the current global crises of runaway greenhouse gases and peak oil, is to cut back on consumption. Consumption of everything: products, energy, water, money...

Being open to options and new ways of living is crucial to making these kinds of changes. Many people are not willing to give up their comfortable and familiar life. I don't know what to suggest for those folks.

Ruthie said...

I was raised in a rather "tight" household -- we didn't get brand name clothes but we bought quite a bit from Walmart/Target. I wouldn't consider us "Frugal" per say, and I doubt it affected me much because my sister ended up a complete shop-till-you-dropper!

I have always really enjoyed being independent from my folks. I hated asking for money. I started working and saving money in high school even though I didn't have to. I still went out with friends but bought the least expensive thing on the menu and shopped at thrift stores and went to the library for fun.

When I met Russell, who comes from a frugal background, and we decided to get married, I found the Tightwad Gazette at the library and found her life a great example to follow, especially since we were just starting out.

We didn't have any money when we got married, and sometimes I think we were better off then, 'cause we didn't have the option of going out, etc, since there was no money. But there was lots of love and frugal cooking and movies from the library! :-)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your posts and just had to comment on this one. I grew up on a farm and there was just no money. None. I picked peas all summer in grade six so I could pay for two pairs of pants and two shirts to wear for the next school year. The rest of the money went in the bank. I have always been careful with money, and it came in very helpful putting my husband through five years of university with babies. Even after university, his student loans were equal to our mortgage payment for nine and a half years. (Don't ever doubt it was the best thing we ever did...) I am starting to relax about how people perceive my frugality. I am seeing far too many signs that people are really struggling, and I would like them to know that there is a better way to live than buying formula and disposable diapers with a Mastercard because there is no cash and then driving away in the leased Cadillac SUV. I see the agony in peoples eyes as they push the grocery cart around. People at my husband's work have told him that he lies about the amount of money spent in our household. They just don't believe it. I have started putting more things up on my blog about how I save money and just generally being more open about how we deal with money. I even carry my Tightwad Gazette with me to read at swimming and hockey. I never used to be brave enough to do that. I see all the looks that I get, and eventually someone will get up the nerve to ask me about it. If they are really having a hard time, I will hand the book over to them. Everytime I find a copy at the thrift store I pick it up for just that occasion.

wingraclaire said...

I was raised by a set of parents who had been unbelievably poor as children - one had grown up in an orphanage in New York during the Depression, and the other was a Holocaust survivor. Although we were a "middle class" family, the money-consciousness was always there. As an adult, I was lucky to find a spouse like myself, who preferred to buy used clothing, food in bulk, etc. When my children were quite small, I happened onto the first issues of the Tightwad Gazette, which provided an instant support group. Imagine if she were starting now, and had a blog! Anyway, even though I now earn more (and spend more), we still shop used, bulk, etc. and still like the virtual support from people like you!

Krista said...

I grew up in a home with five siblings and my dad out of work for 4 years when I was in middle school. Money was tight and we learned from the beginning to accept less-than-name-brand. It also helped that my mom had the first Tightwad Gazette, I read it several times as I grew up.

When I got married I had to convert my husband, which wasn't a huge task because he decided he liked having money. The biggest thing for us in the beginning was food, my hubby grew up not eating a LOT of things, like beans. Now he'll eat anything! We also went vegetarian, first for financial reasons and now for ethical reasons.

Now we have our son, four months old in two days. I cloth diaper, breastfeed, and use clothes that were given to me. I hang our laundry up. We eat humble meals. Because I do these things I can stay home with Afton and live on my husband's income of $25,000/year. My hubby also is going to school full-time.

We don't feel deprived because we have the things that matter most to us: family, a place to live, and financial peace. We're saving for a home and hope to have 20% down in 3-5 years.

Anonymous said...

I think the basic thing one has to get is that "things" don't make anyone truly happy - kids or adults. And you can't substitute giving your time or love with giving someone "things". If someone doesn't get that, then there's no way that you'll ever get them to understand the concept of living within your means and living frugally.
I am the daughter of immigrants from SE asia. Both my parents grew up in very poor homes and they raised us (3 of us) in a very simple and frugal way. Yet, I felt I had the happiest childhood. My father worked and my mother stayed home full time. She cooked every single day very simple, healthy food - we probably ate out twice in the first 17 yrs of my life. Never went to the movies except once to watch E.T. Got one pair of basic new clothes a year - at most. I do remember looking longingly at richer kids who maybe got nicer clothes or candy when they asked for it. But I remember them as very transient feelings. Overall, I always remember feeling very content and grateful for my family coz I knew I was loved no matter what.
The other thing that always put things in perspective for me even when I was much younger, was going back to visit my grandparents in my parents' home country. The poverty that most people lived in, always hit me and made me ever grateful for my blessings.