Thursday, October 01, 2009

Some thoughts on frugality

I aspire to be frugal more than I actually am. Of course, despite not achieving my own goals (such as not eating out), I am probably more frugal than most Americans.

No cable TV, no Internet at home, no utilities, no car payment, no money spent on gas lately (my truck has been in the shop almost a month now as the mechanic is slow to correct his error), shop for groceries only at Aldi's, get most of my vegetables scavenging, usually spend less than $100 a month on food, including eating out, etc., rent is only $385 a month now (from $1,190 a month when I rented a house in Elgin), don't buy books or music, but get both for free from public library, gave up, rather reluctantly, my Netflix account back in January, and pay a fixed rate of $48 a month for cell phone. I figured it out and realize I live quite comfortably, including child support and student loan payments, on a little over $1,100 a month. This is below the poverty line. Why, then, don't I feel poor.

I can thank Esther for instilling frugal habits into my lifestyle. She still is, in many ways, more frugal than I. When we were saving money for long-distance hikes, we lived a very cheap and simple lifestyle. I've gotten so used to it that it has become normal. I find it interesting that in recent tougher economic times frugality has become de rigueur and even celebrities downplay their wealth. But the advice I read about only pays lip service to frugality, such as shopping at Costco instead of at a supermarket or riding a bike to work 3 days a week.

I've found, too, that most of my friends are pretty frugal. This is understandable because non-frugal friends are expensive to be around. It is a fairly common middle-class practice to make social occasions shopping occasions. Think about all of the different theme parties for everything from Tupperware to sex toys that are just a big sales pitch. And everybody has a friend who insists on eating out whenever you get together. Not my friends. They insist I make them something to eat, and don't grouse when I tell them their food was scavenged from a dumpster.

Frugality fits my lifestyle because I would rather do work that is fulfilling than slave away at a job I hate in order to pay for a bevy of things I do not need. Time is far more valuable than money, and experience trumps acquisition any day. When I loot through dumpsters and find perfectly good things thrown away, I think of all the labor that went into producing it and then into making the money that originally bought it. All that sweat and toil that I bypassed by doing something socially stigmatizing like lifting the lid on a dumpster.

Which is more fulfilling, all that wasted labor and material, or getting something for practically nothing? When I'm on a long-distance hike, days upon days removed from civilization, I don't spend any money, but I feel enriched and enlivened by all these experiences that are uncanned, unscripted and spontaneous. And I wouldn't be out there in the first place to enjoy that unless I eschewed the trappings of materialism. Gotta go. Library time up!

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