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Survival of the Frugal

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Survival of the Frugal

By Linda Dobson

“We are such spendthrifts with our lives. The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” – Paul Newman

CanningFruit frugalMom was dying of cancer.

Always a practical sort, she penned a simple note – in her picture-perfect penmanship – divvying up her favorite worldly possessions. The gifts my sisters and I had bestowed upon her over the years would soon come back to each of us.

The exception to our own gifts was the collection of what you might call “costume jewelry,” some of which was hers; some of which belonged to her mother.

“Hang on to it,” Mom wrote. “One day it will come back into fashion.”

One might say somewhere down in the depths of DNA, frugal is in my nature, inherited from dear old Mom, but being frugal was also nurtured through life events.

I got real life experience in frugal living on the sustenance income of a husband whose unspoken mantra was “I’m too good to work” while I homeschooled three kids over two decades ago. Then a funny thing happened.

Survival of the Frugal

I got divorced, purchased a home, and after more than a decade of self-employment, I took a 50-hour-a-week job. Much in my life changed, except for two things. First, I never lost the knowledge, whether implanted by nature or nurture, that there’s a major difference between what I might want, and what I need. Second, I never lost my aversion to needlessly spending money.

I’ve scoured newspaper, magazine and Internet articles titled, “The 10 Top Ways to Save on (fill in the blank), and at this point am almost always disappointed that they don’t offer anything that I’m not already doing.

Now, it seems that events have conspired to prove Mom right. Even at the same time women are wearing the same “chunky” jewelry she warned my sisters and me to hang on to, people around the world are being forced into frugal living. Nature and nurture have converged.

Like everyone else, I read the horrific news about how greed, run rampant at the highest levels of American power, reached such a height that, inevitably, the sand foundation upon which it was built crumbled. The American – and international – economy as we knew it, no longer exists. Life, as many knew it, has changed in an instant. Survival of the frugal.

I know I’ll be fine. I’ve never expected anyone else to take care of me, and have lived accordingly. Whether coupon-clipping, never paying for anything with a credit card that I didn’t know I could pay for at the end of the month, making do with an “enough” home to live in and car capable of getting me where I need to go, or learning how to run the water heater one time and make it last all day, I managed to create a lifestyle that belies my income.

I Worry about the Non-Frugal

It is, however, my nature to worry about others. And given the existing situation, I worry about those who have become accustomed to picking up a $5.00 cup of coffee on their way to work. I worry about those who have frequented restaurants for so long they don’t know how to cook. I worry about those who have been programmed by their education and culture to think their worth is measured by the square footage of their houses, the value of the clothing they don in the morning, or the cost of the car they drive. I worry about them because when you’ve never lived a different way, you don’t know how to live a different way.

Too many people on American soil today have had a whole lot of things, by virtue of parental wealth, proper education, and/or great timing in inhabiting a body during an economic heyday. Unlike Paul Newman, they don’t know that it’s good to put back more than you take. They don’t know that the less you take, the easier it is to put back.

See also “DIY Platform Enables Fractional Ownership of Rarely Used Items

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been embarrassed in the land o’ plenty to admit how little I get by on, how my lifestyle is the antithesis of those by whom I was daily surrounded. But due to circumstances beyond the control of ordinary American human beings, just like Mom’s jewelry, my way of life has come back into style. I can rise above my embarrassment, and want to share what I know.

Thanks, Mom. I hope you’re looking down, smiling, and approve the following frugal message.

9 Ways You Can Be a Frugal Survivor, Too!

CABLE: Kind of you to pay for the privilege of watching umpteen commercials so large corporations can pull the necessary strings to convince you to buy something you probably don’t need.

CELL PHONE: How long did mankind live without being able to talk on the phone while grocery shopping?

FOOD: If chicken is on sale, and you eat it 5 days in a row, you don’t die.

ENTERTAINMENT: Your city has a library; find it.

HEALTH: An ounce of prevention is worth 2000 pounds of Big Pharma cure.

ENERGY:  When you’re done with it, turn it off! Blankets when it’s cold, naked when it’s hot. Wood warms you up three times.

HOUSING: Your family gets to know each other better when you’re forced to spend time together in the same room.

TRANSPORTATION: I’ll bet that car looked really cool before you hit the deer. The next buyer might thank you for eating the depreciation, too.

CLOTHING: Why be a billboard if you’re not getting paid for it?


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4 Responses to “Survival of the Frugal”

  1. I really enjoyed this post!

    We too have lived on so much less and gotten so much farther than others have today.

    I was frugal before frugal was cool 🙂

    • Me, too, Amanda. Amazing that it’s coming into vogue now, for all the wrong reasons (the economy). Wish it was more because of a change in priorities but perhaps that will follow! Thanks for reading!

  2. cat says:

    “Your family gets to know each other better when you’re forced to spend time together in the same room.”

    Going from solidly middle class to below poverty level and moving 3 people into a 1-bedroom “cabin” (actually not fit for humans…I think goats or some chickens lived there before) should have been a much bigger burden for us than it was. Hmmmm….seems that my family really do LIKE each other. (And beans. lol)

    I remember buying second hand clothes years ago when we had money but I wasn’t willing to spend it on clothes. I’d find “designer” label clothes for my little boy. I’d always take out the seam ripper and relieve those clothes of their showy labels prior to his wearing them. Darn right we are not billboards.

    This was an uplifting article, Linda. Thanks!

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