Great ideas come from outside my head. Imagining that we can do everything ourselves, being the ultimate independent, and exclusively self-made person may be noble ideals, marvelous accomplishments, and possibly delusions. As someone recently said, “you didn’t build that“, which followed the equally important part of the quote, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” And if you didn’t recognize that as a President Obama quote, then you manage to follow politics even less than I do, which is impressive. Lots of ideas are sent my way by people hoping to help me out of my financial strife. Most are repeats, but a few march through with fresh ideas that make me go, “Hmm.” One idea about frugality was delivered via the frugal medium of twitter, an idea of doing more with less came in from a channel that limits the message to 140 characters. That made me go, “Hmm”, with a chuckle.
The divine Ms. Michaelene McElroy, known on twitter as @MichaeleneM, and known newly-minted author who is becoming known for her book, “The Last Supper Catering Company” (how’s the sequel coming?) delivered this tweet in response to one of my blog posts.
“@tetrimbath Tom, it might be time to start holding “Frugal” seminars.
Practical tips on how to save $$ during troubled times.”
The thought hadn’t even come to mind.
Frugality is engrained in me. Without the word being used or the topic being discussed I witnessed it daily as a child. It wasn’t until I had my first mortgage that I realized how much of a struggle it must have been for my parents to raise me comfortably. I always considered us upper middle class because there was very little that I wanted but couldn’t have. Yet, as a kid, I knew that my mom wanted those windows that were lots of little panels and that we couldn’t afford them. So, in a very Martha Stewart moment before Martha Stewart began sharing her moments, my mom took out some electrical tape and made the windows look like leaded glass. Sounds odd? Only in retrospect. Like many of Martha Stewart’s craft projects, if you don’t know how it was made, you simply accept the effect. That tape never seemed to fade or peel and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on the living room window. By the way, some part of me proudly defends my mom because her name was Martha too, and as far as I am concerned, she came first.
Frugality has become more of a conscious act, partly that’s because I recognized that frugality helped me (temporarily) retire early, it is a core concept in my book, Dream. Invest. Live., and I championed it as Board Secretary of The New Road Map Foundation. I give due nod to the book, Your Money Or Your Life, where I first learned that frugal could also mean respecting the resources in my life, including money, time, people, and the planet. (I’m actually a case study in the new edition. I never saw that coming, either.) As my finances degraded in 2011 and 2012, my frugality turned from a lifestyle choice, to a lifestyle necessity. Fortunately, that transition was easier for me than for those who’ve never lived frugally.
Even though I talk and write about frugality, I’ve mostly limited my discussions to the finances and balancing that with this slice of time called a life. The details of frugality are implicit for me, and it wasn’t until Ms. McElroy’s tweet that I considered doing anything explicit. Yes, small houses are more comfortable than big ones, at least for me. Yes, as I wrote in an earlier post how I enjoy dining in rather than out. Yes, I consider it a treat to walk to a client instead of having to drive. Yes, I may have curtailed the occasional enjoyment of single malt scotch; but, I’ve also learned how easy it is to make my own flavored vodkas, frequently using herbs from my yard or leftover spices. Gotta trim so much rosemary that I could never use it all? Well, steep some sprigs in vodka for a few weeks and produce a martini that goes well with stew.
As much as I like the idea, and am willing to pursue it if there is sufficient interest, I look around at all of the fine examples of frugal champions: Martha Stewart, in her own way; The Ultimate Cheapskate, Jeff Yeager; entire communities, like the Simple Living Forum; and most of my artist and advocate friends who have turned frugality into expressions of style and passion. You can’t experience it, but just thinking about my community made me pause at how some with far less than me manage to so expressively live.
An image flashed to mind: a frugal band would probably include the modern day equivalent of a washtub bass and a washboard snare. I guess that would be the five gallon bucket and the steel drum. Spoons still work.
So, just for the fun of it, we could Start A Hangout on Google+ where we’d talk about such things. We could create a community called The Frugals. (Done. At least at the start I’ve set it up as moderated until I get a feel for the spam traffic.) There’d be plenty of proud experiments to proclaim and celebrate. No sales pitches, people, and let’s skip the politics. There’d also be the appropriate caveats. Spiced vodka is easier than spiced homegrown herbs, at least for me. Of course, if I’d washed the bugs and such from the herbs first – ah, but lessons learned, eh?
I ponder a lot. In particular, I ponder, “How did I ever end up in this situation?” A common ponderence. For a while I pondered such questions by watching the fire in the fireplace. Then during a burn ban, I scaled back and pondered by putting a candle in the fireplace and found that the thoughts and feelings flowed just as easily, especially with a spiced martini in hand. A candle cost less than a fireplace load of wood, too. It turns out that the flame from an oil lamp works almost as well, but that scaling back to an LED is going too far. Frugality is not a race to an extreme, but a search for balance. Find the true value and concentrate on that. Fortunately, in today’s world, there is immense implicit wealth. Advertisers tell us to buy the biggest television or the fanciest car or fastest computer. But The Daily Show is just as much fun on the small screen. My Jeep (not a Grand) Cherokee is fine, even if they don’t make them anymore. And almost everything I ask my computer to do gets done far faster than if I tried doing it myself.
So, I think I’ll take Ms. McElroy’s advice (and go buy her book, and go buy one or all of mine while you’re there – though the frugal part of me suggests going to the library); and maybe the Google Community will answer part of that need for questions, answers, and celebrations whether it comes from my head, hers, or someone else’s. The more examples, the better. Of course, if you want to pay me to drop by and talk about it, too; well, that’s frugal as well because it respects the resource that is my experience. Oh, such an admission may be a breakthrough for me. I must ponder this. I think I’ll go light a lamp or maybe even a candle.
Wow! What a delightful surprise to find your blog post in my email. Tom, I can’t wait to see your idea for The Frugals to come into the light. I offer my home (small, but welcoming) for frugal island locals to meet and discuss how we can support each other. I find living frugally and debt free not only broke the financial chains, but the emotional bond I found inherent with “want” vs. “need.” Thanks, too, for the nod to The Last Supper Catering Company. How I wish our local library carried independently published books so it could be shared…but that’s a topic for another time. Your attention to politics is equal to my attention to social media, so please keep me apprised of what comes next.
I’ve lived a frugal life in all the ways you mention, including a year-long stint with my kids on the Oregon coast when they were young. I continue to live a simple life in most ways, but so many people who talk about frugality as if it’s a Holy Grail are absolutely willing to live a different way when life changes. It’s a good question to ask one’s self. “If my ship came in tomorrow would I still want to live this way or would I want the fire in the fireplace again, dinners out, the single-malt Scotch and other accoutrements of the good life?”
For me, it’s not a matter of not wanting to have money. It’s a matter of what I’m willing to do to earn it and the trade-offs therein. If I could sell my novel and get a big contract, hey, I’d give up my “simple” life in a heartbeat. With no apologies.
“Things” no matter what they are are just “things” and don’t say anything about what’s inside a person. Some of the best people I’ve known in my life were rich.