Frugality and thrift are far from the predominant mindsets in our culture, even among the multitudes of people who are taking control of their finances and paying down debt. In times past (the Great Depression comes to mind), “thrift” was seen as a virtue, but not so much anymore. Frugality could, however, become popular again…someday.
If a great cultural shift (maybe a cultural earthquake) occurred, and the majority of people chose to reject consumerism and live below their means, our world would look much different than it does today. It would also look different from the earlier days when thrift was respected. Because times have changed, we could never go back to the way things were in the past. Both within our households and on our landscapes (malls, McMansions, etc.), our consumerism has already created so much stuff that a new thrift would look much different from an old thrift. Here’s how I imagine the world might look if most of us became thrifty again:
For starters, advertising would change. Advertisers would try to find new ways to get their messages out to a shrinking pool of buyers, and mass market ads would change their approach, emphasizing value and utility over prestige and luxury.
Malls, retail stores, and restaurants would start going out of business. The retail buildings might turn into flea markets or community centers or discount and secondhand stores. Fewer new things would be purchased, so production would go down, and companies would likely focus more on producing a few popular items rather than creating a multitude of brands and varieties of each product.
Because production would go down, fewer manufacturing jobs would be available. New ways of making money would appear, and people would likely start creating jobs for themselves, doing things they enjoy, rather than enduring work they hate in order to pay the bills (which will have decreased). While the job market would shrink, more people would have saved enough money to choose early retirement or stay-at-home parenting, so jobs could still be available for younger generations of workers.
Styles would change less frequently because people would continue to use their sofas and wear their clothes as long as they were useful. (No one would feel social pressure to buy new clothes every few months or to redecorate their homes every few years.)
The average square footage of new houses would shrink. Existing large homes would be hard to resell, unless they could be split into townhomes to house more than one family. Celebrities would be reluctant to appear on Cribs and similar shows because their fans would be disgusted by such an overt display of extravagant spending.
People would start looking closer to home for entertainment. Friends would gather for games nights and potluck dinners. More movies would be released directly to video (or get to video more quickly) because rentals would be more popular than first-run shows in the theater.
Travelers would be less likely to stay in luxury hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Camping, home-swapping, and hostels would become more popular. Resort areas that offer low-cost attractions and are close enough to urban areas to become day trips would be busier than usual.
Mass transit would have more riders; car companies would find reliable cars with high gas mileage becoming more profitable. SUVs and other gas guzzlers would become novelties, collected and lovingly maintained by automotive enthusiasts who take them only to car shows.
For this vision of the future to come about, drastic changes would have to take place in our culture’s collective thinking. Though I often tire of being in the minority because of my frugality, I’m not sure I would really want to see such changes. (What kind of an economic disaster would have to occur before the majority of people considered frugal living a viable choice?)
I suppose I really am glad that not everyone does live frugally. I have gotten too used to having endless choices; I would hate to see some of the things I love disappearing just because they are no longer popular enough to remain in production. It’s fun to imagine what the world would be like if everyone were frugal, but living in that world probably would not be nearly as much fun.
Image courtesy of . SantiMB . (too busy)