The word just sounds so, “austere”! And that just makes it worse, doesn’t it? After all, the government of the United States implemented an austerity plan that pretty much irritated the citizens. So who would want to live that way? Well, when you actually look at the definition of the word, many of us are already doing so. Not so much out of desire, but out of necessity. The economy has tanked, at least from the perspective of working class families. Maybe that’s not a track we want to follow!
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So what is the definition of frugal?
1. economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful: What your office needs is a frugal manager who can save you money without resorting to painful cutbacks. Synonyms: thrifty, chary, provident, careful, prudent, penny-wise, scrimping; miserly, Scotch, penny-pinching. Antonyms: wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, prodigal, profligate.
2. entailing little expense; requiring few resources; meager; scanty: a frugal meal. Synonyms: scant, slim, sparing, skimpy. Antonyms: luxurious, lavish, profuse.
Okay! Frugal doesn’t really sound so bad! Not wasteful, entailing little expense, requiring few resources, those all sound like pretty good things. The trick for most Americans these days is figuring out how to live that way. We’ve become a nation of consumers. We have been that way for a long time, in fact, since the Industrial Revolution. When machines came along to do so much of our work for us, things got “easier”. We had more “free time”. What to do? Buy things!
We stopped doing the things that our ancestors did out of necessity. Like growing food. Like fixing our own clothes or even making them. If it “wore out”, we just went out and bought (consumed) another. We do it even more today. It’s not that we want to waste our resources or our money, but it’s the way things are done.
More and more, young families are learning that the spending habits of their parents just aren’t available. So how did that happen? Did my generation forget to teach them how to save money? Did we not expect them to learn how to balance a checkbook? Well, yes to the first one and “not my fault” on the second. We as a generation in general (which I know will get me in trouble) didn’t really give a second thought to savings. Social Security was to be our fallback for retirement. Now we see the government trying to take our “retirement” from us. Money we “put away” for our “golden years” is now no longer ours! As for balancing a checkbook, I say “not my fault” because we let the school system run willy-nilly through the streets of our children’s minds and didn’t pay attention. Yes, we let go of the responsibility of raising our children. Don’t believe me? Wanna huff and puff at me? Take a look around our “society”. There are plenty of examples running the streets of parenting failures.
Ok, I’m not saying every single member of the next generation is a failure. I’m not even going to say that all parents have failed. That’s too obvious as well. I have a daughter who is as brilliant and resonsible as anybody I could hope to meet. I wasn’t even an influence in her “formative years”! (Yes, I’m very proud of her.)
If you wonder why I mentioned balancing the checkbook, it’s because there is a 20something member of our family that seems to have difficulty with the concept of “keeping track”. Simple computer programming statement: If “money out” is greater than “money in”, the bank is not happy. (Too bad it doesn’t work that way for the government.) It’s really a pretty simple concept, IF you keep track of “money in” vs. “money out”.
Now, how does this lead to frugal living? Well, if you’re keeping track of the ins and outs, you’ll know pretty clearly if there’s any left. For many young adults, young couples, young families, this is the predicament. If living the consumer lifestyle is in place, then it becomes tough to have any left. It also makes it very hard to “look ahead” to What If.
If instead a frugal lifestyle is in place, then spending habits tend toward “needs” rather than “wants”. Of course, we need to have shelter, water, electricity and food. This is the nature of living in America.
Shelter is going to be an apartment or a house. Rent or purchase? Again, look ahead. What is affordable? What offers the best solution for now to get to tomorrow? Sometimes, the location is mandated by employment. Then frugality pops up and says, “Is that domicile, 30 miles away, justified by the lower price? Won’t there be a higher fuel expenditure? How much?” Always something to consider, especially if the vehicle of choice is more gas guzzler than sipper.
Water and Electricity are often not things over which we have any control. But not always. If you happen to rent a house, as we do, the landlord/owner may not be opposed to installing a rain catch system. If you own the house, then the question becomes, is it affordable, not can we. What good is catching rain? You won’t spend your “utility” bill on watering the plants. What plants? How about those plants that are actually fruits and vegetables, so your food cost is lower! That’s frugal living, too!
There are alternatives to Electricity, too. Ok, not alternative like nuclear, but the source. There are solar power systems, wind power systems, hydro power systems (which is what they call the main lines in Canada), all of which are not inexpensive. Yet. The cost of solar systems has been coming down in the last few years and looks like it will continue to drop. If you own the house, and have access to a natural water source (like a stream), then you could easily have a small hydro power source. If you live in a consistently sunny location, solar power is an option. If it’s windy a lot (think Chicago), then a power windmill might help. If you live in southwestern New Mexico, wind and solar together are viable. Hydro? Not so much.
Ahh, you say, but those are expensive solutions! I won’t argue that! However, if you’ve been living frugally in order to get into that pretty little house with all the right features and amenities, then you already know how to put away money to get started on your self-sustaining systems. Oh, just make sure you don’t live in one of those states that says you can’t use rain water.
One last thought. Frugal living applies to many aspects of life. One of the advantages of getting away from the “major metro” centers of “civilization” might also include the ability to have some chickens. Imagine, fresh eggs every day! Fresh chicken once in a while! Fresh veggies growing in your own yard! How much could you save by NOT going to the grocery store and taking a chance on consuming GMO products? Maybe more important, how much more peace of mind would you have?
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