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It's easy for wealthy people to be conspicuous and envied for their wealth. Do you think there are ways for thrifty people to be conspicuous, envied for their thrift, and encourage our USA society from its spendthrift ways?
We can be a model to others when we have the time to spend with our families, time for volunteer work, and money for charitable giving. I have a neighbor, about a mile and a half down the road (we're in rural Oklahoma), who lives very nicely on a job making less than $9 per hour. His wife does not work, but she shops wisely at the grocery store and yard sales. They own their nice three-bedroom home free and clear. He built it himself. Because of this smart move, he is able to work a local job he enjoys but pays less.
Because my family lives well below our means, I was able to quit a job that I was commuting two hours a day. Now I work out of my home on a commission basis. I am able to set my own hours. If we were maxed to the hilt in debt, I couldn't have taken the chance. I recently bought a two-year-old Chevrolet Malibu. It's economical on gas and frugally priced. I bought this while I was still commuting.
Many people that I worked with in Tulsa did not understand my lifestyle. But everyone in the country does. Frugality still is practiced here. Having a nice savings account and a "life" is really all I need to be recognized for. Plus, my son who is now on his own is benefiting from his thrifty raising.
This society places so much importance on material things that it's very difficult to convince them otherwise. Unfortunately, being thrifty and saving money are not considered popular and stating your success stories through thriftiness makes it appear that you're bragging so people aren't interested. Our successes are more under the surface and not quite so obvious. However, I've found that financial institutions I've done business with and need to know my history are quite impressed by my accomplishments so my way of life can shine in that way. It's probably best that the whole world doesn't know how successful we are with thriftiness anyway; after all, I don't want the world to know how much money I have! Do you? (The rich are often the most thrifty. People just don't know it.)
Tracy in Watauga, TX
What a good question! I had a friend who had to be thrifty because she was a single mom of two young kids. My mother thought that she dressed really well. She always looked very nice, was happy, enjoyed life (despite her very difficult circumstances), and was transparent to those around her. When asked where she purchased her clothes, she said that she always bought them at thrift stores. She went often because the "inventory" changes often and quickly. She did not flaunt her thriftiness, but lived simply. For me, this was something about which to ponder.
So, perhaps instead of being conspicuous about thriftiness, we should be thrifty. Keep our clothes, bodies, homes, linens, etc. in good repair and enjoy life. If along the way, someone asks about life or the things owned perhaps sitting down over a cup of coffee or tea and being transparent is the best encouragement for this world.
For years, I was made fun of for cutting corners, shopping at generic warehouses, and buying clothes in thrift stores. (And these folks were making fun in a "nice" way, so there was no malicious intent). We constantly heard that with our combined household income, we could buy a much larger home, take more vacations, and buy name brands from the top of the line stores. This might well have been true, but we stuck to our guns.
Well, here it is a few years later. At ages 36 (me) and 32 (my husband), we have paid off our mortgage. Neither of us have ever had a car payment, and we have no other debt. We have significant cash savings as well as appropriate investments for retirements. We are able to save almost two-thirds of our take-home pay every month. We should well be able to retire very early, if we even choose to do that.
But in these same few years, our friends who advised us to live it up are living paycheck to paycheck, have insurmountable credit card debt, and find themselves panicking at the thought of one breakdown of a car. There is simply no price you can place on being able to sleep at night. So, the bottom line is that you might not create instant envy and admiration among your friends for living a thrifty lifestyle, but he who laughs last, laughs best.
Why isn't frugality more conspicuous? Thrift seems to go hand in hand with other virtues, such as modesty.
In some instances, when a frugal lifestyle is forced on someone due to financial crisis, there is some embarrassment about the thrifty measures required to make ends meet. We even call these situations "financial embarrassment."
Why do those who conspicuously consume make their consumption so visible? Presumably, they know that others want what they have. If you want to give frugality a positive spin, focus on the good that others want in their lives. Mention frugality and people don't immediately think of the good that results. They picture a frugal or "tight" person with tight, pursed lips, squinty eyes, wearing poor-fitting clothes.
The way to make frugality conspicuous is to make it attractive. Consider the positive aspects of frugal choices:
Living and accentuating the positive outcomes of frugal living is the best advertisement for thrifty choices.
The best way to be thrifty and envied for it is to learn how to be "self sufficient." My father was a Dentist and a hobby rancher. His goal was always to do, fix, build, grow, maintain, and preserve everything about the family's life. By doing this, he was able to amass a considerable estate before he died. I think many of our seniors learned this from the depression and the uncertainty of the future. In today's world, it seems everyone wants to be rich but has little interest in putting forth the effort and time to learn it and earn it. Most people do envy the person who is a "can do" individual.
Use the same technique that people used to get others to admire jogging, cohabitation, investing in a 401k, and other formerly odd ball notions. Brag about it! When you excitedly tell people how frugal you are and how much money you've saved on this or that, they begin to wonder if there might be something to it.
Conspicuous thrift is more of a long-term perspective. Over time, people will notice your lifestyle and wonder how you do it. During ten years of graduate school, I paid for a car, had my own apartment, wore nice clothes, and didn't pay for it with loans (I used those only for tuition). I willingly explained to classmates how I did it, while telling them I couldn't go out to the bars with them.
Recently, I took a former classmate shopping for baby gear. She was shocked when I started out with a garage sale and ended with an extensive lecture on diaper coupons. I was surprised and asked her why she was so shocked. She said that they had always wondered how I could afford nice things (my clothes were a lot nicer than the average graduate student) and they had never believed me! We hope they can see from our daily lives that we are practical, but they don't always.
I do believe that our USA society recognizes and respects thrift, but it is more subtle. Rather, we notice when people are wasteful and tend not to respect them as much. We respect and admire hardworking Americans who have a nice house (not necessarily a mansion), raise good kids, and continue to be productive. I think our responsibility is maintaining that American tradition of practical living. These extravagant-living people are a flash in the pan, but we are here to stay!
Please read The Millionaire Next Door
by Thomas Stanley. You will be surprised to know that most millionaires aren't the ones who drive by in the fastest, most expensive cars, but they are thrifty people like us who live below our means and own our old 10-year-old cars.
I have found that I can be envied for being conspicuously thrifty when people find out that my husband and I own our house outright. (We are 37 and 39.) I don't brag about it, but if the subject of mortgages, house payments, or refinancing comes up in conversation, I will be honest about our situation. And if asked how we were able to do it, I will tell about our philosophy of living debt-free and not keeping up with the Joneses.
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