The title is a play on the famous first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. .
So: All frugal families are alike; each un-frugal family is un-frugal in its own way. Un-frugal! Help me find a better word, readers.
I was thinking about this because of the recent visit of Mr. FS's brother and his wife. The visit precipitated massive decluttering, which is still not finished. But they were lovely guests, very easy going and low stress.
I had never thought of them as particularly frugal owing to their different life histories: while BIL went to graduate school, he was in biology and so didn't go through the lengthy period of poverty and uncertainty that we--in humanities--went through. I always felt they were frugal, but not pathologically frugal as I am, for better or worse.
Like many, the two are facing economic uncertainty: BIL's lab at a university is funded by the NIH. For the first time in almost thirty years, his grant was rejected (the NIH is experiencing budget cuts too). If his grant is not successful in his re-application, his university, which has hosted his lab all this time, will pay him 25% of his salary. Only with 50% of salary will he continue to receive benefits--like health insurance. SIL is self-employed part-time.
But I was impressed by their planning for various scenarios, from reprieve to disaster. Mr. FS and I engaged in such planning early in our careers.
And I was impressed too by random comments. Like us, they listen to books on tape during commutes. Like us, they borrow those tapes from the library. Like us, they are making sure their kids get out of college debt-free, having seen the consequences of massive education debt on the children of friends.
Like us, they plan for big purchases. Like us, they enjoy the waiting period of saving up. Like us, they never feel deprived.
Like us, they spend their big money on travel.
It seems to me that the key to frugality is intentionality and setting boundaries. BIL said that he wanted his kids to learn the true cost of small every day purchases, like lattes. I told him that that was the premise of David Bach's books, and that Bach had even copyrighted the phrase l____ factor. BIL had never heard of David Bach. Right before they left, SIL asked me if I had a novel she could keep so that she wouldn't have to buy a book at the airport. I was able to oblige, not with a novel, but a book by Bill Bryson.
It was a wonderful visit. In addition to a day at Jazz Fest, we had a frugal feast of Shrimp Creole and I taught SIL how to make a roux, a skill she will be able to bring to Seattle.
Do you agree that all frugal families are alike?