Frugal? That’s Funny

When did being careful with money become the fodder for jokes? How did frugality become defined as cheap? Aren’t we doing ourselves a disservice?

Too many people view being frugal as being a cheapskate. Television programs that showcase people who take the idea to the extreme reinforce that notion. The difference between frugal and cheap couldn’t be more clear. To be cheap is to focus solely on the cost of something. To be frugal is to focus on the value of what is being purchased. Sometimes the least expensive option also provides value, but not always.

I was speaking to a friend about an event that was held in another state and why I decided not to attend. When I added up the costs-the fees, hotel, meals, and airfare-I didn’t see enough value to be derived from attendance. She listened to my reasoning and determined that the reason I didn’t attend was that I couldn’t afford it. That wasn’t true, but she didn’t understand the difference between not having the money and not seeing it as a valuable expenditure.

Determining value is at the heart of frugality. Of course, we do things that save money but that’s only on the surface. I save money by making my own laundry detergent. I’ve also eliminated lingering fragrance on my clothes and I’ve reduced the amount of trash I generate by reducing the packaging that I toss out. For anyone who has to pay by the number of bags of trash they put out each week (luckily, that’s not us), this is a double whammy of savings. There is more value to homemade laundry soap than just saving on the cost of washing and that’s at the heart of frugality.

Returning to my original premise, why is actively saving money not a revered practice?caution

“Economy is the art of making the most of life.”
–George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)–

You would think that those of us who are retired, or close to retirement, would heartily embrace frugality. Alas, it is not always the case.

Baby Boomers are ill-prepared for retirement. According to TD Ameritrade, in their 2012 study Boomers and Retirement, 74% of Boomers are $500k short in their retirement savings accounts. Those who think Social Security will make the difference may be surprised to learn that the average benefit check is slightly more than $1200 per month. No one is going to live large on that. Couple that lack of savings with consumer debt and the picture is even more grim.

Can we blame it all on poor planning? A study done by National Center for Policy Analysis found that 59% of Boomers are providing financial support to their adult children, including providing living expenses, covering medical bills and paying off loans. The stars that lined up to create an economy that made this so prevalent are still being debated, but it is certainly a drain on resources in a time when Boomers need all that they can get.offspring

Many Boomers had parents and grandparents who lived through the depression. There seems to be some idea that we don’t have to employ the lessons in economy that those folks learned. Maybe that explains some of the dismal economic circumstances surrounding our generation. Thrift is a way of life and shouldn’t be reserved only for hard times. It makes those hard times easier to live through and we’ll all be better off.

Perhaps we should be quietly thrifty. Use frugal ways to get out of debt, supplement savings, acquire the money for luxury purchases, become a stay-at-home parent, or retire well. When those who would ridicule frugality notice, let them laugh. Bet they won’t, though. They’ll be asking how you did it.

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