What a difference a few decades makes! In the 1980’s capitalism was on the march as many technological advances were made. An entrepreneurial spirit spread across the country. That carried over into the 1990’s, and went into overdrive in the mid-to-late 90’s, where there were plenty of examples of on-paper employee millionaires thanks to hot IPOs, and “irrational exuberance” in the technology sector, particularly biotech companies.
Throughout this period the idea of frugal living was but an after thought, and those who practiced it were made fun of mercilessly. We were labeled tightwads, cheapskates, and other not-so-polite terms of fiscal endearment. After all, people were too busy comparing their net worth to try to save a buck.
Enter the recession of 2008. Suddenly, frugal living made a comeback. It seemed the cover story of every major media publication featured some variation of “ways to save money” or “ways to survive the recession,” or proclaimed the reemergence of frugality. Now (some of) those same people scrambling for bigger houses, fancier cars and higher capital gains are trying to out-do one another again by scrimping, sacrificing, and poking fun at people’s purchases. Nothing is ever frugal enough.
Sometimes the act of scaling back is traumatic enough to a family’s finances–cutting things altogether would send them over the edge. Take my family for instance. Last year we decided to go one year without expanded cable television service. I wanted to cancel completely. My wife and kids pointed out the number of educational shows we could watch on PBS, and the poor signal reception we would get from an antennae. We compromised, and decided to drop back to basic cable, reducing our cable bill from $46 a month to $12 a month. We made similar compromises in other areas of our budget. At the end of the year, we decided to resume expanded cable and cut other subscriptions and forms of entertainment.
Here lately, I’ve noticed a shift in public sentiment towards frugality, and I suspect it may be a form of frugal burnout. When people get burned out with a trend in their own lives, they tend to resent others who they perceive to be sacrificing less than them. Many people are made to feel guilty if they are not practicing a frugal lifestyle. Others are so condemned for spending money that they are literally ashamed to be seen with bags from high-end stores. Give me a break. Have we really come to that?
First of all, frugality is not a competition. People have different levels of tolerance for all things frugal. Some people like air conditioning, others enjoy working on classic cars. They choose to spend their money on things that others perceive to be frivolous. But that is simply a personal opinion, and how you choose to spend your money says more about your personal values than your level of commitment to the frugal living movement.
Of course, many of us practice frugality for reasons besides monetary gain. We enjoy simple living, and believe in being wise stewards of resources (natural, economic, etc.). But what you choose to do with your money is up to you. Bottom line: Please don’t become a self-righteous frugalist!