Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money

Frugality Isn’t Common Knowledge

common frugality

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how eventually saving money becomes second nature. What used to seem hard or foreign suddenly becomes common and easy. I wrote this piece because I was frustrated with an acquaintance who wanted to know the “easy” ways to save money, but balked at everything I suggested as “too hard.”

After thinking about it, I decided that my instant judgment of this person as an idiot was a bit harsh. After all, it does take a while to overcome inertia and laziness. After another, unrelated, experience this week, I’ve decided that the problem goes deeper than simple laziness. The problem is that the knowledge of how to live frugally isn’t as common as one would think.

This week, I was talking to someone about some books I’d picked up at the library. She expressed an interest in the titles and asked, “How much did it cost to get those books?”

I stuttered for a moment and said, “It’s free, as long as you live in the county, which we do.”

The other person was stunned. “Free books?”

“And movies, music, and books on CD,” I added. “You can get a ton of stuff for free at the library.”

She went off shaking her head, vowing to check out this hotbed of freebies. I was shocked, though, that she had no idea how a library worked and how much money she could save there. This was a woman of my age group, not a young kid. I assumed that how a library works was common knowledge. But you know what they say about assuming…

I’ve had this happen with other frugal activities, too. Some people don’t understand just how much money you can save by bringing your lunch to work or school every day. Some people have no idea how to cook even the most basic dishes so they order take out every night. Some people are shocked by how much gas money can be saved by planning trips and combining errands. Coupons might as well be a foreign language for some people, free entertainment doesn’t exist in their world, and some don’t realize how much can be saved on utilities by simply being conscientious about usage. Yet all of this is stuff that I’ve always considered to be common sense and common knowledge.

Apparently, it’s not. I think it used to be, but in our consumer-oriented world where there is a store-bought solution for every problem, we’ve lost sight of some of that common knowledge. It’s too easy today to just buy a book or some take out food. We don’t stop and think about frugal alternatives. We don’t stop and think about how our actions (leaving the lights on all the time, for example) relate to our bills because it’s just so easy to flip that switch and leave it on. Unless you’ve had someone teach you the basics of frugality, you probably have no idea about what’s available and how easy it can be to trim some expenses.

I think this is why many people balk and whine when it comes time to save money. They just don’t know how and they don’t know that it doesn’t have to be a big production. All they can see is that their “easy,” consumer-oriented, ways of doing things are threatened. They think that they’re going to have to learn a whole bunch of skills and work really hard. They don’t realize that it can be just as easy, or easier, to save that money. How simple is it to drive to the library and pick up a bunch of free books, once you know that you can? It’s no harder than going to the bookstore. How easy is it to make a quick batch of pasta to take to lunch? It’s easier (and less time consuming) than driving to a restaurant, reading a menu, ordering, and dealing with other annoying patrons and crowded places. And so it goes. But people need other people to teach them how easy it all is.

We used to get this knowledge from our parents and grandparents who still had roots in the “old,” less consumer focused world. They were the keepers of frugal knowledge. Unfortunately, many of them are passing away and we’re left with generations who’ve always had everything at their fingertips, as long as they were willing to pay for it. Most people haven’t had to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” as members of the WWII generation had to do. Schools no longer teach anything related to money or frugality (and have done away with anything un-PC like home economics and shop classes which were good places to learn some frugal skills). Unless they have a frugal parent who takes them to the library and free concerts, makes meals at home, and harps on them about putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat, many kids grow up utterly clueless about money saving behaviors.

I would encourage any frugal people who read this to make it a point to teach others what you know. Rather than making fun of them or dismissing them as an idiot (which I admit to being guilty of), help them out. Show them how simple it can be. Remind yourself that the things you do on auto-pilot everyday are not common knowledge for many people. Sure, some people still won’t get it, but some will appreciate having their eyes opened. And if you’re not frugal but want to be, don’t feel badly that some things seem so foreign to you. There are plenty of resources available and lots of great people who can teach you and once you figure it out, it’s a very easy way to live.

(Photo courtesy of Matthew Hunt)

6 thoughts on “Frugality Isn’t Common Knowledge

  1. It isn’t just that frugality is new to some people, it is that things we use to do, knit, canning, gardening, making friends with your neighbors, cooking is becoming lost knowledge for a large amount of the population.

  2. You think you’re frugal – ha! Go to the library and check out the book called “17 cents and a dream”. It’s a true story and I think you’ll enjoy it. It takes frugality to an entirely new level.

  3. You are so right! Consumerism is the norm, and many folks, particularly under 40, have little direct experience growing up in a truly frugal lifestyle. They have been convinced that the solution to every problem is to buy something, not “use it up….”. This mindset becomes a huge issue when you realize these folks are also carrying huge debt, often from education costs which seem so difficult to avoid. The fault, however, lays in a society and public policy that actively advocated waste, disposability, and consumerism starting “way back” in the 50’s. Just think about what long has been used as a measure of our nation’s fiscal health: the CPI.
    Thankfully and to their credit, these same folks are often pursuing a lifestyle frugal in the sense of our environment: bicycling/walking everywhere, eating organic, going paperless, plastic-free, and advocating global solutions to the waste we see everywhere. So, kudos but lets’s educate, and save the frugal practices from earlier eras!

  4. What is interesting as those who look at frugality barely half way. In the last issue of Good Housekeeping, the editor was talking about saving paper towels by only using one instead of 2-3 for drying hands. What ever happened to cotton towels that could be thrown in the washer/dryer and used for years? We go through about one roll of paper towels every 2 years because we use alternatives such as towels and then they get to ratty they become rags which are then used for cleaning.

    I was looking at a book once about Jackie Kennedy and it showed pictures of her on Christmas day at the White House wearing a sleeveless cotton top. Now I know that Washington DC isn’t the Artic, but it is cold enough that undoubtedly the heat was on that day allowing them to cavort around in summer clothing all winter. Undoubtedly the presidents and their families that have followed them get to do the same thing. How can our president understand the needs of the people when he get to live in a house that is warmed enough to wear summer clothing year round. May seem like a simple thing, but once you get used to that for several years, you forget what putting that extra sweater on and cuddling under a lap quilt while reading will also keep you warm. Then you start forgetting that some can’t afford even the heat on in their houses or how the homeless really feel in states where it is bitter cold.

    I grew up poor with a mother that not only had been born during the depression, she had been born into a family of 15 children. The only way to survive was to be super frugal. So yes, it is hard to realize that some just don’t get it, but with them we need to be patient. So many things that people consider necessities, really aren’t. Some thing have only become necessities in the last 10-15 years (like cell phones for everyone not just a working parent that travels a lot). 20 years ago no one generally had a cell phone, I-pods hadn’t been invented, etc. so most of those ‘have to haves’ aren’t necessities, but big time wants.

  5. Interesting comment Gallete. Here in the UK there was recently a programme on TV about people living on benefits (welfare). One couple with three children were wearing short sleeved tee shirts and dresses – clearly not summer outside as there were no leaves on the trees so the house must have been very warm.

    They received £18,500 a year, tax free, and the family could not manage and went to a food bank. Unbelievable, anyone frugal could live on that amount of money so easily and in fact many do as there are not that many people here who earn that much when they work!

  6. Sadly, here in the US when the FoodStamp program was started, they were barred (legally) from offering nutrition, etc. counseling at the same facility…You’d think that’d be a perfect fit, eh?
    Folks get stuck in poverty through a lack of skills, and not just job related ones.

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