Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money

What Would Happen If Everyone Were Frugal?

small cars

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)

14 thoughts on “What Would Happen If Everyone Were Frugal?

  1. How could you not mention the benefits to the environment. It would be great with much less consumption and trash being produced.

  2. There is one large flaw with your thesis and this statement, “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.”

    Just because someone lives below their means doesn’t mean they reject consumerism. A person earning 1 million a year can live way below their means and consume a great deal.

    Similarly, if everyone rejected consumerism, the free market would dictate that prices would fall and others would pick up the slack. Perhaps not Americans but any of the 6 billion people around the world would pick up the slack. It’s already happening anyway which is why we have $133/barrel oil. India and China are consuming goods faster than Americans.

    A skyscrapers goes up every 30 days in China and India. I know I’ve been there. Africa isn’t too far behind either, there are many new consumers everywhere.

    If American embraces frugalism on a mass scale, it will become a 3rd world country.

  3. Let’s call this what it really is…a completely useless article. Imagining what something would be like that obviously won’t ever come true (and the writer doesn’t even want to come true) doesn’t have any purpose. Can someone please explain to me why this was written?

  4. I think the best result would be that there would be a lot less useless junk in the world. If people learned to buy things of value I think the world would be a much better place. We can all dream, can’t we?

  5. Why is everyone so anti consumerism? There is nothing wrong with consumerism as long as you have the money to spend. Why should people have to be frugal if they earned money. The reason to earn money is to spend it and to imply there is something wrong with that is a disservice to everyone learning about personal finances.

  6. Personally, I think this is an interesting article, though I think some of the assumptions may not be true.

    One thing that came to mind as I read it is that we could become less of a “throw away” society. Years ago, there were shoe repair, TV repair, sewing machine and vacuum cleaner repair shops all around. Now, they hardly exist. Something breaks. Toss it out and buy a new one. Sole wears out on your shoe. Buy new ones. Fixing things is a lost art. Part of the reason for that is that good have become so inexpensive thanks to China and other places. It is cheaper to replace than to repair in most cases.

  7. I like the article, sure it isn’t likely to happen but I kind of like the world it suggests. I miss the simpler times.

  8. To Secular —

    Thanks for reading the article and thinking about it! I agree that living below one’s means is not the same as rejecting consumerism. I see it as two separate things, and both would have to occur to see major changes. (Sorry if I didn’t word that statement clearly.)

    Also, for purposes of this article, I was imagining these changes to occur worldwide, though I agree America could become a Third World country if we all embraced frugalism. As a culture, we need balance between overconsuming and underconsuming — I do, however, believe the scales currently tip way too far toward overconsuming.

    To What is that? —

    To answer your question briefly, though I’m not sure you really want an answer — I believe it’s valuable to think through the consequences of our actions.

    I suppose you think all fiction is useless, too. I disagree — many times, people learn more from imagining things as they might be than from examining things as they are.

    To everyone else —

    Thanks for adding your ideas about what might happen if we were all frugal. I hope to hear more.

  9. There would certainly be a lot less waste, but I also think there would actually be more room for ‘luxury’ goods. The way I see it, frugality is not just about saving money to have money. It’s about saving money on some stuff to spend money on other things that mean more to you (assuming of course that you are financially secure). I foresee more money spent on quality — quality food, quality experiences, quality furniture, quality clothes, quality education, quality time, etc.

    This could actually be very good for the economy, and especially for truly skilled workers who take pride in their work.

  10. I thought this was interesting. It is very hard to get our minds around a society whose sole purpose is NOT consumerism. It’s all we’ve ever known, but really, consumerism is a construct that was put into place after WWII to stimulate the economy. We can change things. If you google “the story of stuff” you should find a very interesting lecture by an economist. It truly has changed the way I look at the world around me.

  11. simple is good.i think alot of people are caught up in the glory of thinking they are rich. as americans we can get carry away with wants and shopping.I love a deal. i have 2 young boys who want to be spoiled. when we all were kids times were more simple.the problem is alot people dont care about being frugal and think if bread is a 1.50 at walmart that they could get it cheaper at a different store. walmart is great but sometimes people need to compare. alot of people have blinders on. a blind men cant see. this was my biggest lesson with my family and my husband family. they just simple just dont care.

  12. As the owner of a small luxury products business (dog and horse clothing & costumes), the first thought that came to my head when I saw the title of this post in my email was, “We’d go out of business!”

    I’m all for frugal living and responsible spending, but a complete “cultural earthquake” would destroy our socio-economic balance.

    I don’t agree with what you say about people being able to retire earlier because they would have more money. If the majority of “luxury” businesses were to close down, a good majority of people would be out of work, and demand for work would cause wages to decrease and many people would go hungry, much less be able to retire earlier with more money.

  13. My understanding of frugality and the way that I live it means that I live within my means.

    When we see millionaire athletes and entertainers with millions who live within their means we feel that we should be able to as well.

    The problem is that we do not earn the same salary. Living within your means and buying quality items would make a definite shift in the social and cultural landscape.

    The espousal of frugality does not mean that some people will live in really small homes or that everyone will live near public transportation. If you could afford something larger or better than you might be willing to pay more for it.

    As people spend more for quality, there will be a trend to repair instead of replace items because the purchase is worth mending.

    The issue of frugality really should address personal debt, responsibility and consumption. If a person decides to have a large home because he/she can afford it this may be a frugal move for that individual but foolhardy for another because of the amount of money spent. When I see someone spending money on an item that I consider to be junk which will have to be replaced well before it is time, then that is foolhardy.

    Frugality is in the eye of the beholder!

  14. Pingback: Creating a Mindset that Matters: Frugality versus Abundance | Sushi Money

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