Monday, October 13, 2008

Buy Less! Enjoy Life More!

While traveling through North Carolina recently, I saw a billboard that looked something like this:

Nothing on the board indicated who had sponsored it. But the sentiment echoes one of my personal philosophies. I know that we’re in hard economic times, and just about everyone has been adversely affected. People are losing their homes, their jobs, their savings. But if we are heading into the kind of difficult economic times similar to what America experienced in the 1930’s, then perhaps the upside is that we’re also heading into another era of frugality. Some baby boomers make fun of depression-era thrift: carefully saving used wrapping paper and aluminum foil, reusing teabags, saving bread crusts to make bread crumbs. And Americans may never go back to that kind of thrift. But the positive outcome of a negative situation may be that some Americans are considering giving up their consumer-centric, wasteful ways and shifting their thinking in order to get by in a struggling economy. Do we really need to live in such enormous houses, to drive such gas-guzzling cars, to refurnish our homes every few years, to buy new wardrobes every season, to see shopping as a recreational pursuit or mood lifter? Hallmarks of American consumer philosophy today include wastefulness, disposability and overspending, and in many cases, the result has been debilitating debt. New stuff not only takes money to purchase (which translates to more hours on the job), it also takes energy to manufacture. So re-using or recycling or repairing your old stuff is not only good for your personal finances, it’s good for the environment as well.

Hmm, you’re thinking, isn’t this off the topic of things happening in the Fredericksburg area? Turns out, it’s not. A couple of Sundays ago, I eagerly attended a presentation by Jeff Yeager, the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Roadmap to True Riches, held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship downtown. Jeff’s point is exactly the same as the North Carolina billboard: More stuff doesn’t make us happier. In fact, being willing to buy less stuff means more financial security and less stress. His talk didn’t cover any new ground for me, but it was nice to see that frugality is back in vogue and he’s making the rounds. I haven’t read the book, so can’t recommend it. And if I do read it, you can be sure I’ll be checking it out of the library, not buying it.

So hopefully frugality will make a solid comeback. And if you think frugality is dull, take a look through this blog for all of the things you can do around here for free, or for cheap. Wherever you live, I promise you there are plenty of free things to do, too.

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