I read an interesting op-ed by David Brooks from the NYT in today’s Arizona Republic, one that made me cringe with “yep-that-resembles-me” insights. In it, Brooks talks about the paradigm shift that led to our current situation: “America once had a culture of thrift. But over the past decades, that unspoken code has been silently eroded.”
He uses many examples to support his position, none of which I really needed to have pointed out to me. I’ve lived his points. I’m a boomer, and like many of us, we wanted our kids to ‘have it better’ – more clothes, more toys, more vacations, more camps, more… everything than we had. Our parents, with the depression still visible in their rear-view mirror, chose security – they still saved, as Brooks points out. We, however, lost sight of security and chose stuff to give us the warm-fuzzies our parents and grandparents achieved by being frugal. We attempted to set the bar for the Joneses, not just keep up with them. We found self-fulfillment in cars and jewels and clothes and houses, sure that the next rung on the ladder, or the cost of living raise would cover our excesses. The word budget only applied to governments, but, well, we all know about the deficit, don’t we?
So, now we face our own deficits. Job security is our depression; life-long employment as likely as gas going back to $2 a gallon, or $3 a gallon, or $0.25 a gallon like it was when I began driving. (This, of course, is how you know you’re getting old – when you start sentences with, “I remember…”)
Some will say Corporate America did it to us by making credit so easy to get. Others will say it’s celebrity and the excesses thrust in our faces daily that make us want. Still others will talk about jobs sent overseas, huge salaries for execs. In the end, they all have one thing in common – greed. We, they, us, all wanted MORE, and waiting, patience, common sense went out the window.
As painful as this time is, I think it’s good for us. It forces us to reevaluate our lives, our priorities, our view of ourselves. Are we nothing more than the 1040 gross income? Transparent without our bling? Worthless unless our kids out-stuff the neighbors?
I’ve faced those questions in recent years and you know what? The answer it no. My grandkids had a far better Christmas spending the weekend with us and buying gifts for the needy than they’d ever have had just ripping paper off another useless present. A fabulous frugal find is far more fulfilling these days than the hundreds I used to spend on clothes that sat in the closet with tags still on; a family get-together far more meaningful than a week in Cancun. It’s about priorities, and mine changed.
Some of you face frugality out of necessity. Be proud. Proud that you are creative, ingenious, disciplined enough to live within a budget, to make due, to accept the reality of your life and enjoy it without attaching a $$$ sign to your worth. Others are just discovering the art, forced to reevaluate due to current conditions like gas prices. Be glad. Glad that you’ll learn these lessons sooner rather than later, glad you can instill in your children values that will serve them over their lifetime, not just for the 15 minutes a new toy accomplishes. For those who still sneer at the word frugality, you’re not reading this anyway. I hope your fortunes never reverse and you can leave sufficient assets to your children that theirs don’t either. However, based on the saving tips on MSN Money these days, this group is quickly becoming as tiny as my chances of becoming a world-famous author. (See, it’s all about acceptance.)
So, check out these 91 Ways to Save Money tips and enhance those skills. You’re part of a growing population, people returning to the wisdom of financial self-control. Now, if they’d just price ice cream out of our budgets…
(They are by the way. Last week, Dryers went on sale for the usual $3, but the container looked a little squatty. It was – 1.75 quarts is now down to 1.5 quarts.)