There is currently a commercial running in my area for those “all in one” cable packages. The tagline is something like “do you know someone who will do anything to save a little money”-and then they show a man going around the house turning out lights that folks are using so they wind up sitting in the dark, a husband and wife hanging used paper towels on clotheslines all over the kitchen and a woman putting ziplock baggies in the dishwasher. They go on of course to say you don’t have to do all that, you just have to buy their cable package and you can save a bunch of money. The gist of this whole commercial, and of popular culture, seems to be that people who are frugal #1-obsess over minutia #2 are extreme to the point of discomfort and #3 somehow live a more limited life than those who are “regular” consumers.
People THINK they know what frugal people look like. When they picture it in their mind, I think most of them see someone wearing out of fashion clothing (possibly faded) picked up at thrift stores, sporting out of fashion haircuts, driving old clunker cars, eating tuna casserole and living in houses decorated with a mishmash of cast off furniture that was probably homely 15 years ago when it was new. After reading a bit about frugal folks and their penchant for cooking from scratch and making their own cleaning products they may refine that vision a bit to be a beaten down housewife with her hair coming out of a bun, wearing a stained apron with snot nosed children screaming and hanging on to her legs.
But what does a frugal person really look like? That is almost as impossible a question to answer as “What does a middle class person look like”. The reality is that there are as many different frugal folks, with as many different reasons for being frugal as there are “regular” consumers! In my case, what would someone see looking at me?
They would see a nice 3-bedroom home somewhat stylishly, although not lavishly, decorated. They would see 3 cars, a camper and 2 motorcycles. Well dressed children (frequently in name brand stuff) with their drawers overflowing with clothing and their rooms full of toys. The backyard shed is full of bright plastic things for the little ones, and the barn is full of hobby stuff for the big kid (a.k.a. dh). I dress pretty stylishly, well as stylishly as a 30 something mother of two can. We even have a hot tub on the back deck! In short, we pretty much look like everyone else on our block. From outward appearances we actually appear to be better off than quite a few folks in our town.
I don’t think that anyone, looking at my family or looking in the normal, publicly traveled areas of my house would be able to tell that we practice frugality at all. (of course that gets blown out of the water pretty much any time I open my mouth, I’m somewhat of an evangelist sometimes-well, ok, most of the time) They would have to look a little deeper to see the signs of frugality.
You would have to poke around my laundry room to see the tin of homemade laundry detergent, the old yogurt container full of sponges and fabric softener, the box of dishwasher detergent used to soak out stains, and the packages of “free sample” laundry detergent and fabric softener sheets.
You’d have to look in the pantry to see the Aldi’s and Save-a-lot brand labels on the boxes and cans, and the large stockpiles of food bought on sale and used to stock up the pantry (thereby avoiding last minute runs to the more expensive local store).
You’d have to look in the back of the garage to see the bins of clothes for each child in the next 3 sizes up bought for a pittance at thrift stores and garage sales.
You would have to be told, while looking through my dresser drawers and the kids closets and drawers, that 90% of what you see are hand me downs and thrift store buys, to include winter coats, snowpants, boots and Thinsulate gloves.
You would have to look in the kitchen drawers to see that some of the baggies have been washed and reused, and that many of my baking supplies came from the Mennonite bulk food store.
If you looked closely you would see that the stack of VHS tapes and DVDs by the TV are from the library, and that the book lying open on the coffee table has a library sticker on the back.
You would have to be very pushy (and rather rude) to look in my purse, and wallet and online to see my price book, my checkbook balances, and my investments (which are just where dh and I want and expect them to be at this point).
And yes, you would have to be told that although one motorcycle, two cars and the camper were bought new (several years ago) the other car, motorcycle and even hot tub were bought second hand.
To me, living frugally is not limiting, or even embarrassing. It is a hobby and a calling, something I do because to me it doesn’t make sense NOT to do it. It is a way of conserving the resources that I have so that I can spend money where I want and need to without guilt. I truly enjoy my life and feel that by being frugal I am living it to the fullest rather than being more limited.
How I conserve resources and what the things that I want and need are will change over time. When I was working, my time was more limited and precious. At that point I was willing to spend more money on conveniences to have more time (and was in a position where I could indulge that choice). Right now, as a SAHM I have much more time (albeit in 10 or 15 min chunks between princess and buddy requiring my attention). Our savings and spending goals while we have young children are much different then they will be in 13 or 14 years when the little chickens have started to leave the coop. But to me the IDEA of being frugal will always continue.