"Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor." - S Johnson

November 19, 2009

piggy bank
Originally uploaded by Qjim
Because we are more or less totally broke right now I've been dipping my toe in the world of coupons and super-grocery savings. I have to say, with all honesty, its not the world for me. The biggest reason is because most of what we buy -- bread and milk and veggies and fruit and pasta and meat and cheese and spices -- you know, ingredients -- don't often have coupons available for them. (Cereal coupons have been the thing that have had the best rewards for me, because I'm a cereal junkie, and at fifty cents or so a box I can justify indulging myself in cereal.) But another reason is that it simply seems like such a low return on investment. My biggest savings to date is $14 and change - not a sum of money so small that I wouldn't pick it up if I found it on the street, but considering the time I put in to doing the research, not exactly a high dollar/hour return either. Still, these are good skills to learn, simply because I can see a time coming when that $14 might be the difference in eating all our meals or not in a given week.

One of the blogs I've been reading makes an interesting point about one of the other blogs I've been reading, a point that I'd like to sort piggyback onto here: we are all frugal for different reasons.

Much to my mother's horror, I'm not a naturally frugal person. We don't go crazy, but I'm a spender, not a saver by nature. If I see something that would be a perfect gift for someone, I buy it. If I have two dollars, I'm far more likely to buy a treat for myself or my son than I am to drop it in the piggy bank. I'd rather buy a sandwich than make one, rather replace my socks than darn them, rather buy a book than borrow one. Its the way I'm hard wired, and up to this point it hasn't steered me far wrong. (Note that I said "up to this point").

Of course, our world is different now, and the Year of Disasters (personal, medical, national) came up on us, and we are having to slowly ... slowly ... change our ways, and find cost cutting corners and frugality at a time when every penny counts. Broken glasses, broken legs, surgery, car repairs, leaky pipes: all things that we could have taken in stride two years ago are now a cavalcade of disaster, each one pushing us a little closer to the edge.

I know my family isn't the only one going through this (in some ways its helpful that this happened to us at a time when so many people around us are having similar fiscal problems), and we are fortunate to have a good support system and to still be (knock wood) employed. I am confident we'll never be out on the street, even if we are, technically, food insecure.

But our frugality is built of simple necessity: our income has dropped, our expenses increased, and its hard to make ends meet at the moment. When this crisis clears, will I have "learned" anything? Some new skills, perhaps. But I don't think my basic nature will have changed.

My mother isn't like this. A child of the depression and World War II, she's a saver to the core. She abhors debt, and whenever I find myself struggling to pay the bills now, its her voice I hear in my head, admonishing me for my spendy ways. What's that parable about the fuzzy forest creature who puts away food for the winter and the one that does not? That is the story of our lives. Still, I admire her for having the control that I do not have, just as I admire this blogger for apparently saving more money in a month than I actually bring home in a month. I feel certain that if we had her monthly income clipping coupons would be the last thing on my mind.

Winter is coming. That holiday that focuses on the gifts (and doing crafty gifts is expensive in its own way, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I can easily buy gifts for far less than my start-up costs for making or baking presents for a dozen people.) I'll be frugal (because I must) but I'll hate it, because in frugality I find that I'll be giving token gifts rather than carefully chosen ones. We'll work hard to keep our 'temporary difficulty' from our son -- he's still a little too young to be affected by a lot of the "I wants" -- the big thing he wants is already purchased, and even if it were not he would not, I think, have missed it or felt his life was lacking without it. As he grows, though, I will watch him carefully for which temperament he has. Is he me, generous and reckless with money? Or more like my mother, thrifty and sensible - a saver. My own experience tells me this is one place where "nature" wins out over "nurture" or "upbringing". My mother feels richer having money in the bank. I feel richer with a light pocket. Who is to say which of us is better off?


jenne.heise said...

I'm penny wise and pound foolish myself; my latest little game has been stock-up shopping from grocery flyers. I figure I 'win' if everything I got was something we would normally buy, we have a place to store it, and most importantly, if the register total for 'how much you saved' is MORE than the total I spent.

But I can't bring myself to *sell* things, too much work.

My family believes that there's nothing wrong with giving used items, but then the tradition is a huge christmas. If I wanted a good selection of books for christmas I had to ask for used!

A number of Beekman's Christmas presents this year are Freecycled; the most successful Giftmas present Miss B. got last year was Freecycled and the box was all crapped up.