Come out of the frugal closet
Leading by example may help some paycheck-to-paycheck pals get a handle on their finances.
A recent post on MSN Money's Smart Spending blog made an excellent point: In the United States, it's acceptable to show off what we buy, but not very cool "to live within our means and be value-conscious."
"While we love a great deal, we don't want to cross the invisible line that suggests we need a great deal or can't afford to pay full price," according to author Kentin Waits, of partner blog Wise Bread.
Obviously some people do need that great deal, or can't afford to pay the full freight. But Waits believes, and so do I, that plenty of "closeted frugalists" are out there, afraid to speak up about their lifestyles.
He has a solution, though, and it's pretty simple.
"Come on out," he urges. "Talk about how and why you save. Lend some sanity to the conversation and give your peers a chance to agree, emulate and come out, too."
Maybe that's you: someone who believes in intentional living but is a little apprehensive about letting anyone know. Would people look down on you if they knew that your stylin' furnishings are courtesy of the Freecycle Network? Or that the "new" jacket is new only to you because it came from a yard sale?
That very well could happen. Some people are extremely invested, so to speak, in a consumerist mentality: new = good, old = bad, secondhand = eeewww. If someone admires your table but disses it when she finds out it came from Freecycle, pointing out the logical inconsistency probably won't do much good.
But it might, especially if you explain that free actually equals:
- No credit card debt.
- Money you could spend on other necessities (or put toward an emergency fund or retirement planning).
- One less item in the landfill.
Be careful how you get your message across, though. There's a fine line between explaining and proselytizing. Don't make co-workers or friends feel defensive about their own choices -- because these are choices, and very personal ones.
On the other hand, some of those folks might be secretly wanting to learn more or, as Waits noted, to come out as frugalists, too.
Here are my suggestions for how best to step out of the frugal closet:
Pick your spots. Don't just announce, "Hey, everybody, I'm a cheapskate! Don’t you wish you could be, too?" Put your experiences in context. If a conversation turns to overdrafts or credit-card balances, it might be a good opening for, "I used to have problems with checking until I found out about free budgeting software. Now I never give the bank any extra money in fees. If you like, I’ll send you the site's URL."
Give good reasons. "No more overdrafts" is a very good reason. Or suppose someone teases you about the 9-year-old car you're driving? Don't take offense. Instead, explain: "It's great not to have a car payment, and the insurance is lower on an older car, too. After I paid this car off I kept banking the 'payment' each month; when I need to buy a replacement vehicle I'll be able to pay cash." (Post continues below video.)
Be ready for snark. Some people think your choices are an indictment of their own. Snide comments may pop up, but a soft answer really might turn away wrath: "Why, yes, I did get this Liz Claiborne silk blouse from a thrift store. It cost me $4.99 two years ago and I get compliments on it all the time." Some people may still snort, but others might resolve to go prospecting at Goodwill themselves.
Be ready for curiosity. People who have been socialized to upgrade technology regularly might honestly wonder what kind of life you can have with an older phone. This would be a good chance to say, "This phone still does everything I need. I could actually afford the latest iPhone if I wanted it, though. That's what I like about being frugal: It gives you more options."
Breaking the silence
Once you've let people know how you roll, they will start noticing things: the brown-bag lunches, the bicycle or bus pass, the classic attire vs. switching duds with every new trend. Be ready to answer if someone asks you a question but again, don't be pushy.
Somebody has to speak up. Why not you? You aren't just outing yourself, remember. You're potentially helping others to take control of their finances.
"The power of ridiculous levels of spending and consumption lies in everyone's silent agreement and acceptance," Waits says.
"Maybe it's time to be proud of that 12-year-old car and that trusty old flip phone. Maybe it's time to stop apologizing for the home-brewed coffee and the TV that's decidedly not flat. All these things help make you wonderfully frugal -- and isn't that worth celebrating?"
Readers: Are you the only frugal one in the group? Has anyone ever asked for help, either privately or openly?
More from MSN Money:
Thanks for the timely post. I find frugality is not about being cheap, but making wise choices with money. That 's going to look a little different for everyone, but the underlying premise is the same...making wise choices. I love being able to have little debt (other than a mortgage) and being able to use those funds for other things. This allows me to be in more control of my finances and have the freedom to buy something, as long as it's budgeted for.
That should have been the first clue that the marriage wasn't going to last...
I learned years (and years and years) ago that there is no point in doing anything about chosen frugality except living it.
When you delight in paying 10% - 50% less for the same crap as your coworker, and understand new cars are for suckers, to provide you with almost new cars, etc., you find silence about frugality, as with living well in general, are the best revenge.
Sure, there were a few people who didn't "approve" of my finagling of finances, and after a decade and a half most of them are gone now. But the one's who stayed and the new friends I've picked up along the way make my life a lot better. We collaborate to hold cheaper parties, see who can buy the group's kids the most awesome thing for Christmas with a strict $10 limit, and regularly hold clothing swaps so that we all have something nice and "new" to wear, but aren't deep in debt.
If no one is allowed to talk about money, and how to save it, how to spend it wisely, and when it's OK to just let go and splurge, how are we all supposed to combat the consumerism beast anyway? Madison Ave. spends BILLIONS on advertising to get us to make foolish choices, our own voices are all we have to fight that. I say USE them.
Also, one only needs to peruse a facebook account to see that the claim that "In the United States, it's acceptable to show off what we buy, but not very cool "to live within our means and be value-conscious" is total hogwash - every other post is from someone who bought $200 worth of groceries for $50 or how someone saved so much money at thrift store X or liquidation store Y.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
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Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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