This morning one of my posts, Keep the Cold Out and the Warm In This Winter, is featured on the 301st Festival of Frugality hosted on Funny About Money and it got me thinking about why I’m living a frugal life and wondering why others are.
For me, frugality was part of my upbringing. My parents were born in 1930 and 1934 – right in the midst of the Great Depression. Their childhoods were defined by the Great Depression and the war years. By economic problems not just in their village, but in their province and their country. By food rationing. (My Mom still has her food ration booklet from when she was a child.) These were the years when you made do with what you had. If you broke something you fixed it. You knew the difference between a want and a need. You cherished family, friends, laughter, and simple things. Children had a few cherished toys, not “playrooms” filled with them. When you asked my parents about their childhoods they tell happy stories and talk about good memories. They never complained about not having a new outfit for every party or the newest toy or game.
By the time I came along in 1969 my parents had been married 18 years, the economy was doing well, and even with 3 older children nearing college age, my family was living a nice middle to upper-middle class life. But even in those days of consumerism and plenty a thread of frugality ran through my home. My mother loved yard sales, auctions, most of my clothes were from thrift shops. She would rinse out plastic bags, wash aluminum foil, save empty jars and even pieces of string to use for something. New towels, bedding or household items that were received as gifts often got put away for “good” or for “company”, while we continued to use the old shabby towels, the faded bedding, and the chipped dishes. “There’s still lots of good left in these”, she’d say when I’d complain about a pair of scuffed up shoes or a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee. Meals out at restaurant was a rare treat – maybe once per year – and fast food at the local “car hop” was maybe once every 2 or 3 months. An ice cream on a hot summer day from Dairy Queen was one of the ultimate treats. Because it happened so rarely it was cherished.
I was middle school age, my siblings were all adults and out on their own, when the recession of the 1980s hit us. We lost our family business. We lost our home. The local economy was so bad that my father went across the country to find work and months later Mom and I joined him. A van filled with a few pieces of furniture, books, and personal belongings. We spent my teen years living in a city in a rental. Quite a change after growing up in a big modern, custom built home in a rural area.
I married my high school sweetheart in 1989, at the age of 20, and our daughter was born shortly after that. My husband had a good income and we decided that we’d prefer that I be a stay at home mom rather than work and again the frugality had to kick in. We rented for the first 6 years while we saved up to buy a house. We had one car. We didn’t take vacations, go out to eat, buy much for ourselves, and although we did spoil our daughter with toys and clothes, we also “spoiled” her with time and attention. 5 years later our son was born and soon after we bought a lovely home in a nice, quiet family neighbourhood. It wasn’t a big house by the standards of many, but it was more than enough for our little family.
Home ownership was another exercise in frugality. We hadn’t thought beyond the mortgage payments. Taxes, utilities, insurance, maintenance, and even lawn and garden upkeep didn’t enter our figuring. Still, we decided to remain a single income family, and “do without” a new car, a second car, vacations, dining out, etc.
In May of 2003 I came home from grocery shopping with the kids late one afternoon to see one of my worst nightmares happening. My house was engulfed in flames, surrounded by firetrucks and spectators. Flames were shooting out of the roof, the bedroom windows, everything we had was gone. Destroyed by fire, smoke and water. My family was safe though. And as my kids, 13 and 8 at the time, quickly learned. Stuff is just stuff. THINGS can be replaced.
We had insurance but it took 6 months before we had our home rebuilt and another 8 months after that before we had our final payout from the insurance company. My family lived in a very small furnished rental for 6 months during the rebuild process. We had some clothing and a few personal items when we moved back into the newly rebuilt house. It was so empty. No furniture. No knick-knacks. No stuff. By the time we sold the house 5 years later when my husband and I decided to part ways, the house was full of stuff again. It’s amazing how “stuff” will expand to fill space.
After selling the house my kids and I moved into a rental apartment. We have about 1/3 the space for “stuff” and we’ve all had to scale down our personal belongings and furnishings in order for it to work. I’m now working full time as an internet marketer, freelance writer and blog consultant from home and living on significantly less income than we once were. And yet my family survives.
So after a long-winded tale… I’ve come to the conclusion that frugality has always been part of my life. During the lean times it’s by necessity but in the good years it’s still bred in the bone somehow. Yes, I’ve had times when I’ve shopped and I’ve splurged but those days are few and far between. I can always see the difference between the needs and the wants. And having seen my family lose everything when I was barely a teen, having lost everything I own to a fire, and later having to downsize my life to fit into a rental apartment and a reduced income – I can safely say that my needs have always been met. The rest is just gravy.
So tell me. Why are YOU frugal? Are you frugal as a result of a lifetime of frugality? As the result of recent economic problems? A feeling that there’s more to life than mindless consumerism? A desire to set an example for your kids? Are you concerned about the environmental impact of “stuff”?
Image “Great Depression” by buckle1535 used under Creative Commons.