Frugality: Are You Still in the Closet?
There’s an odd contradiction about money in the U.S. While we love a great deal, we don’t want to cross the invisible line that suggests we need a great deal or can’t afford to pay full price. And, while it’s totally acceptable to show off what we buy, few of us share the tenacity and dedication it can take to live within our means and be value conscious. That’s why sites like Wise Bread are so popular; they give folks a chance to meet other like-minded people and talk openly about what can often seem like a subversive topic — frugality. (See also: A Beginner's Guide to Frugal Living)
So, when it comes to frugality, are you in the closet or out? Was coming out a gradual process, or did you kick the proverbial door wide open on day one?
My own journey made it fairly easily to live an openly frugal life. First, my parents instilled in me the value of simplicity and debt-free living early on. Living with a certain level of financial mindfulness and modesty was a fact of life, and I took the lesson and the benefits to heart.
Once I landed my first real job after college, I worked closely with a group of underpaid social workers (is there any other kind?). Our tight-knit office made it easy to talk about the challenges and strategies of living in Chicago on a wage that, at that time, was barely $19,000 a year. We were all relatively young, and it seemed like everyone brought sack lunches, shopped for bargains, drove modest cars, and decorated their apartments through dumpster diving and thrift shopping.
Later, I said goodbye to social work, transitioned into the corporate world, and began work with a benefits consulting firm. Part of our intensive training involved learning about retirement plans and understanding how the power of compounding interest combined with benefits of saving early could redefine our golden years. Everyone took the message to heart — not only for our clients, but for our personal security too. It gave my frugal ideas a clearer focus and a more urgent cause. Though the atmosphere was bit buttoned-up and certainly more affluent, we all talked openly about saving, retirement planning, setting financial goals, and sticking to budgets.
Now, being open — even enthusiastic — about frugal living is second nature to me. I love to share my own successes and pitfalls and think it helps make the journey real for other people who are at different points along their own roads. Still, I can’t help but feel bad for all the closeted frugalistas out there. I see (and eavesdrop on) them everywhere. They’re the young corporate guys, tucking away old flip-phones so their co-workers won’t see their telephonic shame. They’re the office workers who feel compelled to overspend on a wedding or baby shower gift to keep up with the absurd standards someone else has set. They’re the ones who fall silent while everyone else talks about how little room they have left on their credit cards.
So, for all you closeted guys and gals out there — come on out. Talk about how and why you save. Lend some sanity to the conversation and give your peers a chance to agree, emulate, and come out too. The power of ridiculous levels of spending and consumption lies in everyone’s silent agreement and acceptance. Maybe it’s time to be proud of that 12-year-old car and that trusty old flip-phone. Maybe it’s time to stop apologizing for the home-brewed coffee and the TV that’s decidedly not flat. All these things help make you wonderfully frugal — and isn’t that worth celebrating?