Start Where You Are

The other day I was reading a post on a message board from someone who was very proud of their money saving efforts.

They listed things they’d cut including the house cleaner, the lawn service, eating out, and that they’d dropped premium channels on their cable. They’ve started buying store brands and given up many designer labels. They also sold a luxury car and replaced it with a cheaper model. They were pretty proud of themselves because they were now saving several thousand dollars per year. I thought they were doing a good job, but other posters jumped on this person telling them that they weren’t being frugal and that their efforts were stupid.

The general consensus seemed to be that this person had been living so high on the hog that most of their cuts were just “Duh” things that all frugal people do. Other posters made fun of the original poster because the OP thought that cutting out designer labels and lawn services were big deals. To the ultra-frugal on the board, these things were things that the original poster should never have had to begin with. They told the OP that they thought their efforts at frugality were silly and inconsequential and to come back when they were doing things like shopping at thrift stores, planting a garden, and sewing their own clothes. The attitude was, “You’re not frugal enough to post here. We’re better than you and we think you’re not approaching this the right way.” As a result, the OP got frustrated and stopped posting.

What these ultra frugal people have forgotten is that you have to start where you are. Some people live at a higher spending level than others. Maybe their income allowed it, or they simply lived above their means. Whatever the reason, when the day comes that they need to be frugal they have a lot of big cuts they can make. They can cut the exotic vacations, designer labels, premium brands, lawn services, house cleaners, and expensive cars. They can quickly reduce their spending by thousands if they choose. To these people, these cuts are very big deals.

It may be hard for them to live without housekeeping or lawn service. It may be a big sacrifice for them to do these things themselves. To those of us who’ve done it this way forever, it may seem like a “Duh” thing to do, but to those who’ve never walked this road before it’s a big deal. Those who’ve lived the high life have to start being frugal somewhere. For them it’s easiest to cut those big items. Once they’ve mastered that, then they can move on to thriftier things.

While there are some frugal people who’ve been that way all their lives, most frugal people came to the lifestyle because of a job loss or income reduction, because they watched their parents squander money, or because they had a concern for the environment. Most of us started out by cutting out the obvious big things. Maybe we didn’t have a lawn service to cut, but we probably had some other frivolous spending to eliminate. We had to start somewhere. Once we’d made the big cuts we moved on to the frugal lifestyle and started planting gardens, line drying clothes, and canning vegetables.

It’s pointless and mean to make fun of someone who is genuinely trying to bring their spending down. Everyone has to start somewhere. Maybe their cuts aren’t something you can identify with, but it’s their life. They probably can’t (yet) identify with your use of reusable cloths instead of paper towels. You had to start being frugal somewhere and so do they. Be kind to others and support them in their efforts. Model a more frugal lifestyle for them and maybe they’ll eventually get as good at it as you are. If you discourage others and tell them that they aren’t “doing it right,” (and, by the way, there is no “right” way to be frugal) they’ll give up and decide it’s not worth it. If you’re new to frugality, start where you are and do what you can. Learn as you go along and you’ll find that before long you’re living a very frugal life.

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6 Responses to Start Where You Are

  1. You may also consider that, for some people, spending many hours every week mowing their own lawn or cleaning their own house is time they lost working on their small business or doing other money-earning tasks that potentially earn them more than they pay for those services.

    Sure, you can save energy costs and appliance costs by washing all your clothes by hand, but is that time value of money really worth it to lose? For some it is, but for others whose time value is high, it might actually be a net loss.

  2. patty says:

    There now s a snobbery associated with not only being ecology mind (I can spend $3k on an organic bed!) and with being thrifty now. I saw this on several blogs, it is a type of class warfare and it is never helpful or pretty. It is sad. I say enjoy what you have, and use what you have.

  3. Ezra's Mom says:

    Thanks for this post! And thanks for the important reminder, White Eyebrows. I am in the process of trying to be more frugal. But I am also in the process of starting my own business and helping my husband with his business. And I have a problem with low energy and headaches. And I have a one-year-old.

    So, yes, I could save even more money if I had limitless time and energy, but I don’t. So I focus on the ways to save the most money and on what things we really value. We’ve cut out a lot of things, but cutting out the housekeeper who comes once every 1-2 months to do the deep cleaning is going to be one of the last because it’s worth it to us, even though theoretically we could set aside the time to do it ourselves.

  4. Sarah says:

    Great post – rather than cutting people down we should try to be supportive of people who are doing what they can to better themselves. And I agree with WhiteEyebrows – “frugal” may mean sewing your own clothes and only buying from thrift stores. But to others time is factored into the frugality equation. To each his (or her!) own.

  5. 20 and Engaged says:

    Great post! I’ve noticed some of the ultimate frugal people have a sort of snotty air about them, looking down at those who are cutting their spending from where they are. You can go from 100 to 0 in a day. If you have a house keeper or someone who takes care of your lawn, those are obviously the first thing to go. You can’t expect someone to go extremely frugal overnight. That’s equivalent to a crash diet. You can’t go from cheeseburgers and pizza to grapes and cheese. It’s just not going to be successful. Shame on those people. We need to support each other.

  6. Le-Anne says:

    This article says it all. It is important to recognise the frugal journey as it is to learn different methods and ideas. A start is a start, no matter from where that starting point begins.

    I do not have a problem with people spending their money on services or items, it helps the economy going, especially for the self-employed! They make adjustments in areas that suit their lifestyles, and in the end, isn’t that what frugal is about – creating a ‘lifestyle’?

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