The Forgotten Virtue of Frugality

In today’s climate of pending financial recession (Pending, because economists say we aren’t receding yet), we could do with some old fashioned frugality. For those of you who don’t carry a dictionary around on your ipod, frugality is being thrifty with your expenses; making a little go a long way; prudently saving and sparing what you have.

At the start of our nation, frugality was celebrated and admired. The biographer of John Adams notes how often Adams praised his wife for her frugal ways, and points out that most men at this point in history esteemed prudent economy. Those who lived liberally and beyond their means were cautioned and avoided. Not so today. We disdain sparse living and idolize luxury. We compliment large “borrowed” purchases and embrace extravagant living.

Waste not, want not

At the core of frugal living is saving; not using too much, or re-using and storing what you already have. Be sensible and store up precious treasures — don’t waste them like a fool. (Proverbs 21:20)

My grandmother, like most women her age that weathered The Great Depression, stockpiled the silliest things: egg cartons, pill bottles, baby food jars, buttons… My mom inherited coffee canisters and cigar boxes labeled with my grandma’s shaky writing full of miscellanea she collected through the years. Why? Because she hated to waste something she may find a use for. I admit, her re-using knack rubbed off on me and I have a pile of “scrap” paper I refuse to toss until both sides have been utilized. Yes, her house was cluttered, but she limited her purchases by creatively re-using what she already had.

Why use two feet of toilet paper, when four squares will do? Do you reach for a paper towel, or use a dishrag that you can wash and re-use again? Do you teach your children to cap their markers so as not to waste the ink? Do they fill up every page of the coloring book? Do you save unfinished morsels for later or toss them? If you have spare change, must you squander it on sweets or do you save it until you’ve a good amount?

Habits of a frugal life

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests ten controlling principles to living simply. I’ll share the ones I believe apply to thriftiness.

  1. Buy useful things, not status symbols. Suze Orman, financial guru, owns one pair of earrings because that is all she needs! Honestly! Take a look at her pictures. Must I spend extra for the pricey label? Is the luxury really necessary? Can I teach myself to value saving the money over spending to show-off?
  2. Reject addictive items. Financial advise tips always mention cutting the lattes to save on your budget. Its true. Those $4.00 delights add up! So does alcohol. Proverbs says that those who live for pleasure will not own much in the long run. What pleasure is stealing you blind?
  3. Refuse the propaganda of modern gadgetry, especially in the area of children’s toys and baby “necessities”. Do we need expensive kitchen gadgets when the cheap hand operated tools will do? Do you weigh the usefulness (ie, how many times you’ll implement the item) before buying? Gadgets more often than not, end up in the garage. I personally buy most of my kid’s toys at thrift stores or garage sales. I’ve learned that I waste money every time buying a high priced toy. They’re played with once, then ignored. And we laugh at the adage, “My kid had more fun with the box than the toy!” But why don’t we take it to heart? Pick up some big boxes for free. Add markers, paper and tape and your kids will be happy for a whole afternoon! I always changed my babies on the bed or floor. I hated the thought of spending money on a senseless changing table. And I won’t get started on wipe warmers, bottle disinfectors, baby Nikes, extravagant infant toys, etc! We simply don’t need a lot of gear to raise a baby. We simply don’t need what the advertisers say we can’t live without.
  4. Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Share something with friends or use public objects. Must we own all the Disney movies, or collect every hardback a favorite author wrote? Can I share X-box games and gadgets with friends? Can I enjoy nature on my two feet instead of a four-wheeler?


Take care of what you own

Proverbs 12:27 contrasts a lazy man who doesn’t bother to cook his food with the diligence of the wise man who values what he owns. How often to I see possessions squandered? A child’s bike lays rusting in the yard. Care of the family vehicle is neglected, under the hood and under the seats. What happened to shoe polishing and sock darning? Our mentality has become, “Why bother with the work of upkeep, when I can just buy a new one?” This is the antithesis to frugal living and reveals how lazy our society has become.  

The simple life

Consider. In Bible times, a second set of clothing was a mark of wealth.  Two meals a day was the norm, but many lived on just one. Their meals were simple. They ate bread, fruit in season and occasionally fish. Meat was for celebrations. Wine was watered down to make it last. Jesus never owned a house. Giving water to a stranger was an act of kindness. Jesus and his family slept very comfortably on a mat, on the floor, in the same room.

Times have changed. People have not. The Son of God chose to live in a time marked by simplicity of life. He lived sinless without extravagance. If my goal is to live like Him in this modern era, it puts my “things” and things I think I need into proper perspective. Fashion, though fun, is not a must. Extravagant meals, though certainly enjoyable, are not for everyday. Renting is okay.  I don’t have to give above my means, water will do if that’s all I can offer. I can survive without a Tempurpedic and privacy. If Jesus is my ideal, my “ideals” probably need a good one-over. 

Ben Franklin, a man of his time sums it up. “Waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality, nothing will do, and with them everything.”

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