Thursday, June 5, 2008

Living on Less and the Sacrifice Mindset

Tania Andersen, a Washington Post columnist, recently asked if people could give up their spending ways ("Could You Give Up the Goods and Buy Less?" Washington Post, 6/3/2008). She cited Jeff Yeager, a first-time author who advocated some of his own personal methods in The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches.

Among the suggestions the author offered was using things longer, like "starter" homes, televisions and stereo equipment. He advocated purchasing food that cost only a certain amount of money. He opined waiting a week before making a big purchase.

All sound ideas, one could think — unless one perused the reader comments at the end of the column.

Talk about naysayers! People wrote that they had to dress nice for work and how mealy apples were at "mainstream" grocery stores. Others noted they didn't have time to grow their own food, not to mention that eating nothing but rice and beans would cause malnutrition.

How did these people equated "sacrifice" with "poverty"? How did they go from "spending less" to farming God's Acre and wearing stretched-out used underwear from Salvation Army? Is it the metro Washington area, or all people this insane?

Not to mention that the author suggested none of those ridiculous ideas.

From the comments, you would think Yeager suggested we all move to the woods in Montana and read by candlelight (using only candles we make ourselves from our earwax and stray hair). Not at all. Wait a week before buying the 45-inch television, he offered. Is that crazy? In DC, apparently, it is.

I also was stunned by the columnist's assertion that none of this was achievable if one had children. Granted, I have never had to withstand the wheedling and whining that sometimes even the best kid can practice. (I've seen Happy Meal toys and some of them are pretty cool, so who can blame them?) However, I also know parents who didn't put up with said whining, whose kids did not have every iteration of Elmo known to humanity (and thank the gods for that!). Keeping children warm, dry and without want does not include emptying out Toys R Us or Pottery Barn Kids.

I'm not a monk. I have belongings. I dine out. I spend money on things I'm sure some people consider wasteful. I'm sure I'd pooh-pooh some more extreme frugality practices, even some I read in The Tightwad Gazette (don't tell Amy Dacyczyn!). However, I am astounded at the closed-mindedness of so many people when it comes to thrift.

Being careful with money is not a bad habit. It used to be an admirable trait. What happened?

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