Frugality Is Not a Crime

German chapel ornament

When you have to do it, belt-tightening’s no joke. But, gladly, most Americans don’t have to — not even in this economy. […]

If you’re blessed with good fortune in these hard times, you’re not helping anyone if you let frugality chic stop you and yours from having a very Merry Christmas indeed.

I nearly choked on my soy milk when I heard this commentary on Marketplace this morning. It’s yet another story about how resisting the urge to spend as much as possible this Christmas makes you worse than Scrooge – it makes you the scourge of capitalism and the American way of life.

I make no claims about having much knowledge of the economy. Nearly all of my news comes from NPR, and I know that’s not like being a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the commentator, Will Wilkinson, is exactly right and austerity is one of the factors that makes an already shaky economy begin to look even worse.

My issue is not with this interpretation of the the law of supply and demand, it is that we are stuck in a system that can only be salvaged if we acquire more stuff.

Wasn’t it greed that got us into this problem in the first place? How can buying more Gap sweaters in bizarre colors just because they are on sale and your sweetie should have a few more boxes to open make the world any more livable?

Change is a scary thing. Realizing that the global economic structures are being turned upside down and may never look the same again is frightening. Trying to imagine what might come after U.S. domination seems unfathomable for most of us in these fifty states.

Clinging to the very structures that have been proven to betray us is not helping matters. Continuing to shop like everything is normal isn’t the soothing balm the ad campaigns and the radio experts are trying to convince us it is.

detail of our treeWhat if we are choosing to buy less and handcraft more? What if it just makes sense to give to charity instead of purchase a book that your uncle will never give himself time to read? What if this down economy, even if you are yet unscathed, is just the reason you were looking for to ditch materialism and show your family you love them by giving them less clutter, not more?

I cannot believe that this financial crisis is just a fluke of the markets. With all of the internal shifts that are forcing people to look at their lives in entirely new ways, we need our relationship with money and consumerism to be transformed as well.

Our souls need room to breathe. Wouldn’t there be a lot more time to figure out how to do that if we spent less time in the mall and less time dusting our new trinkets?

Our earth needs room to breathe. Won’t easing the yearly December burden of delivery trucks and crowded landfills and depleted resources be the greatest gift you could give to your Mother this holiday?

9 thoughts on “Frugality Is Not a Crime

  1. Barbara December 18, 2008 / 12:15 am

    You are so right, epiphanygirl!
    Living in a country which is not at the very top of the consumer ladder is not the end of the world. Canada is pretty comfortable (when it is not too cold) and people live a decent life, having the things they need and a few extras. I lived in Germany 30 years ago and I learned to make do with less wardrobe variety and a simpler lifestyle. In Japan, 20 years ago, I lived in a one-room apartment on one-quarter of my Canadian salary plus some savings. I enjoyed the simplicity. Frankly, I feel a little nauseous when I visit one friend in the States and all she can think of doing is going shopping for more crap they don’t need.
    Things do need a ratcheting down. The world will not come to an end — unless your world consists in drowning in crap.

    • girlwhocriedepiphany December 19, 2008 / 5:24 pm

      Dear Barbara,
      We always notice that touch of simplicity when we visit our family in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (both of my mother’s parents are from Canada and we are very close to great aunts and uncles and cousins who still live in the Maritimes). Mom and I often envy that subtle differences, the fact that consumerism is less fever pitched. When I lived in Ireland, I made a life out of what could fit in two (albeit very large) suitcases. I didn’t miss all of the STUFF as long as I had my books and my favorite boots. Now, well, I am fighting off the American consumer impulse as much as I can. I am mostly winning…

  2. blisschick December 18, 2008 / 11:35 am

    Yes, this is a totally complex issue: we stop buying to a certain point and it puts poor people out of work which makes them poorer but they are poor to begin with because we have helped to create their third world, crap economy by enslaving them to our need for wal-mart junk. So how to extricate not just ourselves but the rest of the world from this high cost of living cheap? Especially when we are far beyond living in a world where we each make all the things we need. Localized economies are a huge part of the solution but I have no idea how…

    Especially in a world where my partner and I “get in trouble” (!?!?!) for asking her family to cut back this Christmas!! When you can’t even get this need to simplify across to your own family, how screwed are we on a global level? Her sister immediately read our request as us saying we didn’t want her junky gifts. WHAT?! we simply had told her that we live in a small house (on purpose) and that it’s getting a little tight…etc.

    So we know how it feels to be made to feel like criminals over not spending. We were told we are cold and mean — for trying to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas!

  3. Catherine at Frugal Homemaker Plus December 19, 2008 / 12:43 pm

    Amen, sister! I actually shouted “Are you SERIOUS!?!?” to the radio when I heard this commentary. The only reason that my family is doing okay in this less than pleasant economy is because we did not spend like drunken sailors when the going was good. If we have to buy mountains of stuff to keep it up, then it clearly is not sustainable. Buying our way out of this mess can’t possibly be the only option.

  4. Tess December 19, 2008 / 1:08 pm

    Earlier this year at work, just when the current crisis was beginning to bite, we had a guest speaker at an event who is an eminent British economist. Her advice was similar – keep spending and everything will come right again.
    But how can it, when apart from anything else, more consumerism will continue causing environmental catastrophe which will wreck all our economies anyway?
    I’m with you, but even with this awareness I’m finding it difficult to live more simply and be more frugal.
    And Blisschick, sorry you’ve had this difficult experience with your partner’s sister. Oh dear.

  5. yolanda December 19, 2008 / 1:50 pm

    I can so relate and agree with you on this post. I always agree with your views and leave your site with a new understanding.

  6. girlwhocriedepiphany December 19, 2008 / 5:34 pm

    Dear Bliss,
    No fair! A silly response, but that is what my gut says when I hear that you two are getting repaid with unpleasantness for making a great decision that makes such sense for you and for the planet as a whole. It is amazing how much unrelated power people invest in other peoples’ decisions. I am so sorry you have to deal with that. Something tells me that you of all people has the ability to turn what might seem like coal into a bit of glittering gold.

    Dear Catharine,
    Just when you think NPR is safe, they come out with that stuff! I know, it’s good to hear the opposing side on the issues, but sometimes it’s just crazy talk!

    Dear Tess,
    Ah, the “experts.” It’s amazing how people who clearly have a capitalist agenda can get away with spreading madness wrapped in rhetoric that declares shopping is for the public good.

    Dear Yolanda,
    Welcome! I am so glad that you are enjoying yourself in my little corner of the world.

    Thanks and blessings to all,

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