Frugality – A New Way of Life

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.)

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Independence Day thanks & thoughts

As I watched fireworks last night (yep, on Thursday – competition seems to have no boundaries) I felt a little saddened. Why? Because as great as our nation is, it is our lack of independence (you know, that oil thing) which is creating havoc these days on people’s budgets. Some of you just feel a teeny pinch, others a not-so-loving squeeze, and some are in a downright straight jacket stranglehold held in place by $144 a barrel oil.

Last time, I suggested some ways to find $$ in your budget, and oh, didn’t I smile sweetly when I read Smart Money’s suggestions on saving $500 a month. (http://blogs.moneycentral.msn.com/smartspending/?fpn=how%20to%20squeeze%20500%20out%20of%20your%20monthly%20budget) They copied me. Nah, but they concurred with much of what I said. I did, however, miss a key savings area. As I learned with the newspaper, customer loyalty is often rewarded with higher pricing. Insurance is also well-known for this illogical strategy, but hey, the old marketing rules about more $ required to find new customers than to keep old ones just don’t seem to apply with these guys. Strike your independence today and get quotes on home, car, and life insurance. You could find significant savings.

Speaking of the newspaper, through June, we’ve kept $667.33 in our pocket thanks to coupons. Deduct the $130 spent for the paper and we’ve netted about 125 gallons of gas! That, to me, is worth the couple hours a week I spend cutting and matching to sales. Yesterday alone, free bread, free salad, $1.50 a box hair color (I’m worth it!), $1.50 a package Hebrew National hotdogs, and free mustard, marinade and BBQ sauce saved me megabucks for my July 4th party (well, not the hair color – that’ll just make me a less haggard-looking hostess).

For those of you in the straight jacket, you’re probably already doing this. Some other help you might look into:

1) Check with your utility company. This week the paper announced shutoffs are up 40% in Arizona due to non-payment. It’s either gas or gas… Ours offer financial assistance for some. See if you qualify. 

2) Drugs – Now is not the time to forego your meds. Save $2 a quarter at Walmart by asking your doc to write a 90 day script. Mail order saves $ also. Ask your doc for free samples. Contact PPA – perhaps you can qualify for help.

3) Food banks, dial-a-ride etc.  – Find out about community resources and use them. When the straight jacket eases up, you can help someone else by contributing. 

Which leads me to those pinched and squeezed – I doubt those unfazed are reading a frugal blog. Darn.  It’s my belief food banks are going to be inundated. Couponing can allow you to help others without making a dent in your wallet. Chili is $.50 a can this week. With a coupon, it’s free (or darn near.) Peanut butter, pasta, pasta sauce – same. Help stock up the food banks. Why? If I can’t tug on your patriotic civic duty to help your fellow Americans, how about a truth blast about your own financial well-being? If it’s a choice between eating and gas, guess what? And, no gas means no going to work. Which means more welfare. Which means higher taxes. Which means you could find yourself wearing that straight jacket.

America is a system – a great system. Spend this fourth thinking about our service men and women, and their families, who give so much so it can remain so.  And, think about how just a little effort on your part can make lives better right here at home. Then go lose yourself in some fabulous fiction and take the weekend off from all this financial stress!

Remember: A Frugal Fiction book? $3.99. Reading to your child 15 minutes a day? Priceless!