Frugal living tip #38. September 25, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: frugal living, frugal living tips, frugality
Silence Dogood here. If you’ve been following our weekly Frugal Living Tips in 2009, you probably thought we were about to miss a week. Whew! This week has really gotten away from us, but here we are with this week’s tip, which I’d be tempted to call “when enough is enough.”
I’d been reading an article about America’s ongoing financial difficulties that basically said that people had become more cautious about spending, and that frugality might be good for a family’s budget but it was bad for the economy. I don’t know about you, but when I read a comment like that, and then think about the massive debt load many Americans are carrying and the enormous number of families whose stuff has literally overflowed their houses, forcing them to rent storage space, it strikes me that it’s the system itself that’s broken, not the people who are trying to break away from it. There must be a way for our country to become financially healthy that’s not dependent on conspicuous consumption.
I’m using that word “conspicuous” because of what the article said next. It inserted a comment by a legal secretary to show how people were still watching their pennies. She said that yes, she and her spouse were still employed, but that they’d begun rethinking their spending habits. For example, they’d opted to forgo a new flat-screen TV. “We already have six televisions,” she said. “Why do we need a flat-screen TV?”
The more relevant question, at least in my mind, is “Why do you need six televisions?!!” I love that they chose this woman to use as an example of frugal living. But I also find it distressing. Have we really come so far from a sense of scale that giving up a seventh television is considered a frugal sacrifice, a lessening of our standard of living?
It reminds me of how the press is constantly lamenting the decline of haute couture, now that many wealthy women simply aren’t spending $25,000-$100,000 on a dress they’re likely to wear once. Gee, whatever happened to the good old days?
It also brings to mind America’s obsession with how people in other countries manage to remain thin. Well, how’s this for a theory: They don’t each get in their huge gas-guzzling SUV all by themselves and drive it up to a fast-food place (drive-through, of course, God forbid that someone should actually park the car and walk in) to load up on so-called food that’s deep-fat-fried and laden with high-fructose corn syrup, then drive back home, collapse in front of the TV, and use an army of remotes because it’s too much effort to walk over to the TV to change a channel. In most countries—shock surprise!—people walk or bike everywhere. They eat real food. They don’t have six TVs, or often, even one TV, and if they do, they don’t spend their lives parked in front of it. Could this possibly be the secret of their comparative thinness?!!
Mercy. Please, can’t we ever say “enough is enough.” Could we think of walking away from that seventh television not as a sacrifice but as a disgraceful instance of overconsumption? Could we, perhaps, think of better ways to spend our evenings than watching television from the time we get home from work until we fall asleep?
We may be Luddites here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, but we’re not Puritans. We love watching a good movie or eating a hot pizza as much as anyone. If we got cable, we’d set time aside to watch history and archaeology and science and nature shows. I would love it if now and then I could catch a ballet or a cooking program, and our friend Ben would relish the chance to watch live sports. We’re definitely not telling you to throw out your TV, or even a second TV for the kids.
But we would choose what we watched with care, as we do our movies, and we would limit the time spent watching. We could use that time for reading, writing, thinking, knitting, beading, gardening, birdwatching, walking, playing with our puppy Shiloh, singing, listening to music, cooking, talking, sharing. Experiencing, learning, growing, interacting. So many, many other things than being force-fed an unending stream of violence and frivolity interspersed with screaming messages to buy, buy, buy.
So ultimately, today’s Frugal Living Tip is about improving your quality of life by thinking not about what you don’t have, but what you already have that you could give away to benefit the less fortunate. Think of the space that this could open in your home and mind and heart. Think of the joy, the sense of purpose and accomplishment and connection and relaxation, that could flow in to fill the space where all that stuff had been. Then look around you and get started. There’s not a moment to lose, and everything to gain.
‘Til next time,