Friday, February 04, 2005

Frugality in the New Century

If you tell someone that you are embracing frugality as a lifestyle, they will likely laugh in that way people have when they aren’t entirely sure if you are serious. It seems as though the word has acquired a certain quaint silliness, putting a polite or humorous spin on what would be more commonly called a tightwad or a skinflint or a pathetic waste of a loser who is probably going to bum twenty bucks off you before the end of the evening.

So, just for the record, here is my dictionary’s definition of it.

Frugality: (n) Prudence in avoiding waste.

You know what I like best about that definition? The ‘prudence’ part. Prudence. Prudence means ‘careful management’. So, someone practicing frugality carefully manages what they have in order to minimize waste. It goes far beyond mere money, touching just about every aspect of life.

Practiced correctly, frugality does not make a person into a Scrooge-like miser perched in rags atop a pile of coins. It will, however, produce a person who knows precisely what they really want and who truly savors the things they have.

I can’t tell you how often I meet people who lament about their sheer inability to make major life purchases, like a home. Both of us working full time, and we can barely afford the rent. We just can’t seem to get ahead…

It is usually because they do not practice frugality correctly. Frugality is a lot more than turning shampoo bottles upside down to get that last lather-rinse out. It is about having a clear idea as to the relative value of what you are purchasing.

There’s nothing wrong with owning a Hummer. There’s also nothing wrong with owning a house. Ditto having the new spring wardrobe in time to step out at the annual Ladies Who Lunch Spring Fling. Or having a lusciously funded college fund for your kids, or retiring at age 55 instead of laboring on into your 70s.

Where it goes wrong is if all you ever want out of life is to retire early, but instead you’re driving a Hummer. Or you want nothing more on this earth than to have a roof over your head that actually belongs to you, but then those darned sales kept happening and instead you’ve got a collection of shoes that makes Imelda sigh with envy.

Frugality is all about knowing what you want, and in what order you want it. Which is more important to you, home ownership or driving a new car now? Which is more mortifying, having to tell your kids it’s Scholarship or No School, or having to wear (gasp) The Same Dress Twice In A Season?

Personally, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong. That different people have different values should be pretty obvious to most thinking people at this point; and that nobody has the One True Way should be equally obvious.

The only wrong thing is to never bother to think about it. So take a minute. Your time and your money both are finite – in order to use them wisely, you have to use them with awareness. Be frugal with them. Enjoy them, each coin and each minute, to their fullest and then sit back with full boasting rights to say, “That was worth doing!”

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