Thursday, October 22, 2009

Watering Down Frugality

If you go by the dictionary’s definition of frugality, you will find that it is “1.) economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful and 2.) entailing little expense; requiring few resources; meager; scanty”.

However, some confusion comes into play with a basic definition. To people “on the outside,” the word has a connotation usually associated with “cheap,” “tightwad” or “miser.” Those who live frugally know it to be a completely different lifestyle than those words bring to mind. Frugality is about being smart with your spending. Whether that means buying less, buying better quality, buying on sale, or not buying at all depends on your level of frugality.

You see, there are different degrees of frugality, and I believe all should be applauded. Everyone making an effort to improve their quality of life while making changes in their spending habits is using their resources more wisely. Sometimes people start slowly and continue to make changes as their comfort level is altered. Some people dive in to the deep end from the beginning and take a “sink or swim” approach. Some decide to “up” their level of frugalness after they learn new and exciting ways to save money without compromising what is truly important to them.

To go along with the “sink or swim” analogy I used above, I am dividing people into 6 categories. Let’s examine them now:

SUNBATHERS: This category is filled with people who are aware that there are people swimming out in the water, but are not interested in participating. These are people who like to spend money. They put little to no thought into trying to save money or look for a bargain. If they find a sale, it is counted as a “bonus” incentive for buying the product, but are not deterred if the item is full price. They are not interested in pursuing a frugal lifestyle for some reason (reason does not really matter).

SIDELINERS: This group is the spectator group. These are people who like to find things on sale and may even shop with the intent of finding a good sale but still seem surprised when they find a good bargain, as if it is an abnormality. They know people are finding great deals and wonder how. They worry that their lifestyle will be compromised by living any more frugally than they do, but often wonder if they could pull it off themselves. They search coupons hoping to find their favorite products. They want to get into the water are afraid the water might be too chilly for their tastes.

TOE-DIPPERS: These are people who are beginning their journey into a frugal lifestyle cautiously. They do not want to compromise their quality of life or just are not confident in their ability to really make enough changes to have an impact. They are proceeding carefully…looking for sales harder, researching prices for items on the internet, shopping around stores for the best deals. They begin to consciously keep coupons and use them regularly at the store. They may “downgrade” from an expensive-to-maintain car to an easily serviceable model to cut costs. They have become content with the temperature of the water, but are not sure about its depth. Some are content to walk through and just get their feet wet and others are building up their courage to wade out a little deeper. Unfortunately many get side-tracked here because they buy cheap rather than frugally. When this happens the sting of the water is too cold and they run back ashore.

WADERS: This group is waist-deep in the frugal lifestyle. They are comfortable with being open about their savings-based lifestyle and are not afraid to let others see them out in the water. They have conquered the initial steps and are usually familiar with how to get the best grocery prices, how to utilize coupons on a regular basis, and have made efforts to reduce home energy costs by efforts like turning off utilities when not in use. They only order water at restaurants because they refuse to pay for another type of drink. They are encouragers to the toe dippers, offering, “Come on in! The water’s fine!” They have learned the difference between buying smart and buying cheap. They know that it is okay to pay more for quality. They usually know items that it is okay to go “cheap” with and when quality truly matters to them. Many people are content to stay here and jump as the waves roll in. Others are heading deeper to where they can no longer reach the bottom and are forced to test their swimming abilities.

SWIMMERS: These are those who are swimming about and truly enjoying their frugal lifestyle. It is very much a part of their everyday lifestyle, and they are comfortable with their place in the water. This group “works” grocery store and pharmacy sales and coupon policies. They menu-plan based on store sales. They often stockpile non-perishables and toiletry items. This group refuses to pay full price for anything and often uses coupons, sales, bartering, negotiating, and other tactics (or any combination of them) to purchase for themselves and their families. They share their tips with others although sometimes the others cannot understand how swimming works. This is the group who has people standing behind them in line at the store who fall into three categories: 1.) those who wonder how in the world they learned to swim so well, 2.) those who are annoyed by the fact that swimmers get in the way of their fancy yacht, and 3.) those who feel pity by the fact that these swimmers obviously do not have the means to walk.

DIVERS: This group is full of those who are one with the ocean of frugality. They enjoy home-made or home-grown items. They use cleaners made exclusively of baking soda and vinegar. They have mastered the efficiency on their utilities. They often do without the conveniences that society has grown to depend on (cable tv, multiple phones, super texting plans, new vehicles, high speed internet, convenience foods, fast food). They squeeze every mile they can out of their gasoline when they have to drive places but often find other ways to get to their destination, such as biking, walking or public transportation. Meals are cooked from scratch. They all, I would think, have a large pantry and/or a deep freezer. This group understands that there is a world underneath that being able to dive allows them to appreciate that those on the shore will never get to experience themselves unless they too begin to get in the water.

It’s funny…those on the shore are soaking up the rays and wondering what the fascination is with the water. They often pity that those diving in the water, as they are not enjoying the sunlight as they are. Those diving however, understand that that sunlight warms their water and appreciate it for how it works for them. They pity those on the shore for missing out on the ocean life.

The thing is, as long as you have gotten your feet wet, I feel you should be celebrated. There is nothing wrong with your particular level of frugality. If you are comfortable there, you should be applauded for doing what you can to enjoy the water. Not everyone is a strong swimmer. Not everyone wants to encounter the sealife that can only be seen when you dive. Not everyone wants to wade any deeper than their ankles for fear what is swimming around their feet. The point is, celebrate what you are doing and enjoy it. If you want to go deeper, it is okay to go at your own pace. Most of us have gotten to where we are by slowly wading out deeper and deeper and finding our own comfort level.

Of course, these are stereotypes, and with all categorizing, many will not fit easily into one specific category. But you probably know where you fit the best. I am somewhere between a wader and a swimmer. I am swimming, but I’m not yet a strong swimmer. Sometime I get scared and drift back to where my feet can touch. I’m working on it and getting more and more confident daily.

So what about you? Where do you fall? Leave a comment letting me know if you are content with your current category or what you want to change in order to take that next step.
Photo credit: kerryvaughan

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