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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Too Frugal?: A Journey to the Dark Side

Is it possible to be too frugal? I recently quoted Amy D, or rather paraphrased her, since her books do not have the best indexing system. She opined that asking if one can be too frugal is like asking if one can be too happy.

But a comment from sallymandy, proprietress of one of the most thoughtful and beautifully written blogs out there, presented a somewhat different view:

But I do think one can be "too frugal."

Amy D used to be the heroine of my life, but eventually I felt I was living and looking like a bag lady because everything came from a yard sale.

I think it's all about balancing values. While I certainly value frugality, I also value aesthetics, and some things that money CAN buy.

Because of my personality, "frugality" can easily become a way to beat myself over the head with an attitude of "you don't deserve anything good in your life." I can become a harsh taskmaster.

Lately it's been helpful to "invest" small amounts on beauty to counteract the effect of the recession on our family (my husband's job was dependent on the stock market and is now gone completely). Three dollars on some flowers make me way happier doing the work I have to do for money. Things like that.

So, a journey to the dark side. Indeed, I agree that Amy may have been too frugal, her pathological tendencies exceeding even mine. I once read an article where she explained that $0.25 was her top price for a yard sale shirt. I imagined various scenarios in which Amy encountered a Chanel shirt at a yard sale marked $0.35. NO. Ditto for a beautiful embroidered masterpiece. NO. Amy was a boundary setter and, unlike me, she stayed within her self-prescribed territory. I think that, in addition to being a parent to 6 kids, Amy's mission was to show that extreme frugality was possible: in a sense, she sacrificed herself for the greater good. She was her own artwork. And I am sure she was happy.

But there is a potential for anorexia in this self-denial. I bought the book How to Get Out of Debt, Stay out of Debt, and Live Prosperously at (surprise!) a thrift shop because I thought it would enable me to give even better advice to my many un-frugal friends. Well! Much to my surprise, Miss Know-It-All (me) found herself in the book.

At thirty-five, Peggy wasn't carrying a large debt . . .But she'd been in debt most of her adult life. she was living in a tidy studio apartment. Her possessions were shabby. She bought most of her clothes second-hand. Yet she had a master's degree in English and had taught at a university in her early twenties while she studied for a doctorate. She was an intelligent woman, but she had little belief in herself and no sense of self-worth. She left the university and drifted from job to job in a downward spiral . .

This is what I would have become if I hadn't finished my dissertation, gotten a job, and met and married Mr. FS. Note that only the first one was entirely within my control. So my horror at this picture of my "double" is very like the sentiments voiced above by sallymandy. Check out the blue kimono blog on my list to the right for more of sallymandy's fabulous writing (not all dark!).

OK, time to leave the dark side and return to a cheery, can-do attitude. Dear Readers, how do you keep yourself from succumbing to too-frugal tendencies?


The Fabric Bolt said...

I can't resist expensive purses. My clothes don't look like much, but I always have a great if I buy good quality I can sell it when I get tired of it and spend that money on a new one!

I am more frugal now than ever, but my goal is to pay off the house early. Also, it might have to do with age. Maybe there comes a time when you are in your forties when you feel like "enough." You don't go out shopping as much, you get a thrill out of a high balance in your bank account, etc.

Anonymous said...

Recently, my husband and I were sampling a new liquidation store we had heard about. Working from my internal price list, I realized that most of the prices weren't truly bargains--but people who have never heard of Tightwad Amy would never know that. We did find a few things (3# of slivered almonds for $1!)--but we did find ourselves joking about being too frugal. Here's the ultimate: a couple who buys two ply toilet paper and then for "fun" separates and re-rolls it into single-ply at home.

Also, thanks for the intro to Funny About Money.

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Well, Frugal one loves a good buy like I do. I see some of those great purchases you have made in your posts and think "Okay, I'm a little jealous of that find (Ray-Bans??)".
But I suppose that we can all become too obscessed with anything you know?
I'm a pretty thrifty gal over here in Georgia, but I won't NOT buy somthing that I truly want sometimes. Every one deserves a to treat themselves now and again and have something special.
Did that make sense?

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Duchesse said...

It's entirely possible to be too frugal. If being responsible, managing resources carefully or enjoyment of a bargain are overdone, the result is meanness and anhedonia, the inability to partake of the pleasures in life.

It's one thing if you're living simply to achieve a goal. It's another if you don't believe you deserve anything new or fine, that people are trying to take advantage of you, or that "only idiots pay retail."

Living with cheap goods, in a grim, crabbed existence, when one does not have to, is dying before your time.

Fabulously Broke said...

Simple, FS. I have this image of a bag lady in my head eating cat food, sitting on good money (like millions), wrapped in newspaper, rocking back and forth cackling wildly to herself.

I do not want to be that woman. :)

With that being said, I'd rather pay even $200 for a shirt (..umm not likely but let's play along..) and keep that shirt forever than to buy many $0.25 shirts.

If they were for kids, why not? They grow quick and it's a shame to waste so much money on those kinds of clothes.

But in general, I think I'm pretty safe from being TOO frugal :)

Frugal Scholar said...

@Fabulously Broke--Love the image! So many women have that. I have never had the guts to spend so much on an item of clothing. I guess I'm going to work my way up to it. So, though I share the philosophy, I have trouble putting it into practice.