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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can frugality be a "necessary evil"?

If you are among the 70,000 or so subscribers to the uber-successful "Get Rich Slowly" blog, you may recognize my title: it was the title of a post a few days back. I read the post, which quoted approvingly some other writer who opined that "frugality and education" were "necessary evils" for the early part of life. Eventually, I suppose, you move beyond the need for either frugality or education.

Even now, typing these words provokes a physical response: I feel like I'm having a heart attack! I kept returning to the post, meaning to write a response, but remained so upset that I could only produce a single sentence. While a fair number of people disagreed with the premise of the statement, a surprising number of people persist in thinking that frugality has to do with deprivation.

Au contraire
. Frugality give you more of whatever you're after. It can be time, of course. But it can also be stuff.

Here is a real life example. A while ago, my daughter, at 18 in the frivolous accumulation stage of life, asked me to keep an eye out for her fave mascara. So I did. Here is a copy of the email I sent her, using the language of the crazed couponers: Wags has Maybelline on bogo. Do you want that mascara? To which: YESSSSSS. Brown and black.

So today I went to Walgreens (Wags) and got her two mascaras for the price of one (Buy One Get One). I spent around $7.00 for the two. For those who want two mascaras, here are the possibilities.

Profligate Person: Buy both for $14.00 on credit card. Pay minimum. Pay interest on mascara till paid off.

Normal Person: Buy both for $14.00. Whatever.

Frugal Person: Go to WAGS when they have a BOGO. Spend $7.00. Now you have $7.00 more.

Now, we can look at the options a Frugal Person has with the extra $7.00.

SAVER: Save the $7.00.
CRAZED MASCARA ACCUMULATOR: Buy another BOGO set, for a total of 4 mascaras.
CHARITABLE FRUGAL PERSON: Give the $7.00 to Habitat for Humanity.
FRIENDLY FRUGAL PERSON: Treat a pal to some coffee and a muffin.
SOCIABLE FRUGAL PERSON: Go out to lunch with a friend, Dutch treat.
NICE MAMA FRUGAL PERSON: Buy some cashews, also on sale, to give Miss Em as a treat.

Note that in all cases, the frugalista has MORE. So when people opine that frugality and education are necessary evils, to be endured when young, I must disagree. I think you'd be crazy NOT to be frugal.

So, what would you do with the $7.00???


camorra said...

I think that I would have dinner out with a friend if I had an extra $7 to spare. Things don't last, only experiences do.

Shelley said...

I agree, it is so stupid to require 'evil' to be associated with 'frugal' as to be very annoying. For people I care about I would spend a great deal of time and effort to explain why 'frugal' goes with 'good' - 'wonderful' even.

As to the $7.00, it wouldn't occur to me that I had an 'extra' $7.00. I would think I had just spent $7.00 for something I wanted and got a good deal. I think many people do lose sight of the fact that to 'save' 50%, 70%, whatever, you still have to spend the amount to be paid -- no one is giving you the 50 or 70%, really.

Perhaps one does outgrow the need for formal education, but I'll be very sad come the day I stop being curious and stop learning.

I don't read Get Rich Slowly as a routine, but often visit when other blogs I read (e.g., The Simple Dollar) link to it. Doesn't sound like I need to add it to my list if this is any example of their thinking.

Duchesse said...

Oh, easy: Friendly/Socialble/Nice Maman!
I also love to secretly save and surprise Le Duc with a big gift like a weekend getwaway.

I'm not too exercised about the phrase "necessary evil" (though have not read
post). I infer that the writer intends to indicate, by that term, "things that are unpleasant or undesirable, but are needed to achieve a result", which is the online Encarta definition.

And for some, education IS unpleasant- they just gut through to get the credential. That's too bad, and I'm going to predict that those are the same people who hate their jobs but lack the will to change.

Funny about Money said...

It was interesting to read people's responses to that post. I was surprised at the number of people who see frugality not as common sense or as streamlined, easy living but as some sort of bondage.

Maybe it's a reflection of the bondage that so many Americans are in: debt, which is in fact a form of slavery. When so much of what's associated with your financial life is onerous -- and when your finances have onerous effects on more important aspects of your life -- it's not surprising that you'd see the adjustments you have to make to accommodate those effects as "evil."

Or it may simply be a reflection of the unrealistic expectations some people have of life. We can't all live like the Richistani. You have to be rich in the first place to enter Richistan. Disappointing, isn't it?

What would I do with an extra $7 right now, this minute? Go out to breakfast.

Naaah...I'd go buy some coffee beans, then come home and defrost a piece of steak for breakfast. Fry it up with a sweet potato, serve it with a really great pot of java. Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea.

FB @ said...

I'd probably save the $7.

Or buy another set of 2 mascaras IF they are difficult to find on sale :)

EEE said...

These discussions about whether or not you have seven dollars "extra" are interesting. It's like when you go into a store and something is 80% off, you actually feel like you're LOSING money if you don't take advantage of the offer, when really you're SAVING.

I like the Nice Mama option. :)

And as for frugality being unpleasant, well, I suppose it can be--it's all in the attitude. I have a friend that recently told me she's been saving money and it's FUN! She said, "It's like a little game I play with myself--how little can I spend?"
I think that's a delightful way to think about it!

me in millions said...

I'd combine the BOGO with 2 coupons and get 2 for $5. :) Honestly, I wouldn't do anything witht he extra $7. It would roll back into my money and I would spent it on something else that I need.

Frugal Scholar said...

@camorra--so true!

@Shelley--I would probably save for a rainy day.GRS is an extremely propular blog, so don't ignore it on my account. It was just the one post that stuck in my craw.

@Duchesse--I guess all my teaching of Milton makes me sensitive to the word EVIL. Your comment on education--very wise. Thanks.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--I sometimes think the issue is that the audience of GRS is pretty young. I did remark your later, sensible comment (later than my comment, I mean).

@FB--I tend to save myself.

@EEEEEE--Would love to hear more about your friend for whom saving is FUN.

Frugal Scholar said...

@me in millions--That's the best, but I don't/can't do coupons because I can't handle the clutter.

Chief Family Officer said...

Great post! You illustrate the benefits of frugality perfectly. People who have lots of money are frugal - that's how they got (and stay) rich in the first place! Just read those Free Money Finance's posts about millionaires :) You should email J.D., maybe even offer to write a guest post on your view of frugality. It's the sort of thing he likes, and will get you lots of exposure.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

P.S. I found you via Like Merchant Ships' Tumblr blog :)

Revanche said...

I love this post! My BFF always used to make fun of me for bargain-hunting, saying that if I had a superpower, it'd be a coupon-clipper. Her joshing was in good fun, but I always wondered why on earth she couldn't understand how awesome it was to legally pay next to nothing for something I needed or wanted.

That's essentially having my cake and eating it too. See? Get stuff, spend very little = double win! I know I know, I don't need to explain it to you. But it seems like such a simple concept: pay less, have just as much if not more as before, and have that money to save, treat someone, or move on to the next deal. So many MORE options when you're frugal.

Frugal Scholar said...

@cfo--Thanks for the compliment. I have been an appreciative reader of your blog. And thanks for the tip!

@revanche--Thanks to you too. It seems so obvious, doesn't it?

Christi said...

LOVE this post!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Christi--Thanks! Come by again.

ann said...

funny post.

i found GRS when i first started budgeting (may 2007)– the info i gleaned from that site helped me learn to be aggressive about tracking my finances.

at the time, i had a 10k savings goal i wanted to meet before moving to spain to teach english for a year. i had also just taken a huge paycut so that i could live full-time in BR (previously i’d been making a lot of money [for an english grad] but working half the week in BR and half the week in NOLA). i was scrimping and also taking odd jobs for cash. it was about six months of relative deprivation for me.

then i moved to spain, where i was making enough to money to live decently while only working 12 hours per week. a sweet deal for sure. but i was also applying to graduate $chool (paid out of savings); traveling (paid out of savings); and paying dance tuition at a ballet studio and a flamenco studio (which accounted for most of my monthly ‘mad money’). i allotted myself between 3 to 5 euros a day to spend on a treat – usually a tea and crepe at my favorite tea shop. but there was no possibility of shopping, or going out to dinner – i would save up to go see the occasional 10- or 20-euro flamenco performance, and that was a real splurge.

when i returned home (round one of grad applications being a bust), i resumed my lucrative NOLA-based job but maintained my budgeting practice - also maintaining a sense that i could not spend money on nice/frivolous things for myself. when JD posted that diagram of a happy budget (50 percent needs, 30 percent wants, 20 percent savings), it really resonated with me – i felt as if i had suddenly been given permission to spend money on fun stuff. the two game changers for me from GRS have been the ‘track every penny you spend’ advice and that budget diagram.

the context for JD re: the ‘necessary evil’ post, as i understand it, is that to get out of debt and to change extremely frivolous spending habits, he had imposed a pretty strict regime of budgeting and frugality. when the impetus for frugality is a crisis, i think it can be hard to get out of the crisis mentality even when your finances are finally healthy.

so i think the ‘necessary evil’ post maybe reflects more of this experience (one to which i can relate) – NOT that you should stop being frugal when your financial situation is better – but that if your frugality was necessarily tied to deprivation, there comes a time when you no longer need to deprive yourself of fun and even frivolous things. his example was that he really does like comic books, and now he can buy them without self-flagellation. i think he would consider the BOGO mascara to be an example of the fun stuff you can buy with healthy finances, just like his comic books.

ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Someone Beautiful said...

I appreciated this post. I suppose if you literally can't afford anything, such as the next meal, then being frugal seems evil. But I love what you said. Why would we not want to buy one get one free of something we are getting anyway. I would be of the mindset that I got one free and not think to spend the other $7. I must be more frugal minded than I realize. I also don't wear mascara often and was stunned to read $7 for mascara!

Frugal Scholar said...

@ann--Sorry for the late response to your thoughtful post. I was grading papers etc and let things slip a bit here. I wasn't criticizing the blog oberall--just the one post. BTW, there's a pic of your brother on the blog somewhere, enjoying a meal cooked by my son!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Someone--Like most teens, my daughter is quite "particular" about which mascara is acceptable. I myself wear stuff from the Dollar Store! Like you, I tend to save the money I "save."