Hurting People’s Feelings By Living Frugal, Talking About, Or Making Different Choices

Motivation, or attitude, make all the difference in the world. It helps that I am slightly competitive, and I view the whole money thing as a game. I do better when I think of it as a game where everybody out there is out to get me to spend as much money as they can with the least bang for the buck. My goal is to try to keep as much money as I can, spending what I do where I can get the optimum bang for that buck. What I consider a bang, others may not.

Some get a bang out of owning the fanciest stuff. I care less about appearance and brand names than I do about function. I’d much rather have a fifty year old free kitchen table (with avocado green legs so ugly they frighten small children) than have a brand new, beautiful table for any amount of money at all.

We don’t have cable,either. In fact, for years we did not have TV- we still technically don’t but we do have a large television and a (currently broken) DVD player and we do watch movies. Obviously, we have the internet, but I think it saves us as much money or more than the cost of the service. We are not into materialism, conspicuous consumption.  We do like instant gratification as much as the next person, but consider it a character flaw to be squelched.  Sometimes we get into a rut where we eat out too much, but then again, sometimes we go for months and months where we don’t do that at all. We’ve gone for years without going to the movie theatre- except a free children’s matinee. We went to Disneyland 23 years ago, and that was mainly because the HM’s Grandmother used to live about 45 minutes from it.  For vacations we were taking ‘staycations’ decades before they were cool, or we tent camped and cooked out.  We have lived summers without air conditioning and we have heated primarily with a wood stove. Our clothes come almost entirely from thrift shops (although that is harder to do with a growing boy). Date nights were evenings at home or mornings sharing coffee and a book, after and before the kids went to bed.  And, of course, we cook from scratch.  You all know all this, you do it, too, and most of you could teach me a thing or two and set a better example of self-discipline.

I used to participate in a parenting newsgroup (remember newsgroups) where people often asked questions about ‘how do you afford….’ And ‘we’re drowning in debt, how can we fix it?’  Others would reply with ways to spend slightly less money – use coupons to go out to eat and go to the movies. Here’s where you can buy forty dollar shampoo for twenty-five dollars (I am not making that one up), and trade babysitting when you have your bi-weekly movie and dinner date nights.  When I would offer the sort of tips that would actually help, sharing some of our lifestyle listed above, people who were in despair and stressed out over their debt levels would respond by talking about how deprived we or my children must feel. I must confess this really got my goat. My children did not feel deprived, and they would view having fewer children in our family but more movies, restaurants, and amusement parks, as the real deprivation.  And something has to count for parents not being stressed out over the family debtload.

 

I’ve also been told, “I take it you are not from the US. Your lifestyle seems like something out of a >fairytale.”

No, I do live in the U.S. And I do often get told that people just don’t live like we do anymore. Then I go pinch myself to see if I’m real, and I am, so I conclude that some people do=) Actually, I know others who choose this lifestyle, too.  Here’s the thing-  It doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a deliberate choice.

I *do* know that in some cases it really just isn’t possible, But I also know that  it is doable in far more cases than we might think. But our preconceived ideas are so ingrained that we just won’t believe it. I’ve participated in more than one newsgroup, actually (back in the day) where people will ask me how I manage with seven children and one income, and when I tell them, I hear, “What country do you live in? Because nobody lives like that in the U.S.A. anymore. It’s just not possible.” I love to hear that I’m accomplishing the impossible:-)

And then I heard some variation of this from time to time:

“We must be careful that our _choices_ don’t become _laws_ that others feel condemned if they do not make the same _choices_. That is legalism.”

That one is really ironic.  First of all, do people making the mainstream, default choice ever get told to be careful that others don’t feel condemned by their choices? Do people who eat out a lot, go to Disneyland regularly, have expensive date nights, use public schools, put their kids in day care, etc, ever even think, “Well, I should be careful that my choices don’t make others feel condemned?”

But here we have people who are miserable and who are condemned by their own lifestyle, but if I mention how we avoid it and suggest ways they could escape it, that would be bad because it might make them feel guilty.  And of course, it already is a law that if you spend more than you make, you will be in debt and you can never get out until you stop spending more than you make. I did not make that law. It’s as real as gravity and if anybody feels guilty and condemned by hearing that, it’s not my ‘fault,’ it’s the unfortunate fact that reality is not optional.

I know that this is not always true- and for people blindsided and kicked in the teeth by circumstances outside their control, of course, none of this applies, but yes, quite often we are in this lifestyle that has become a ball and chain around our necks because of our choices in the first place.   God forbid that we should make others feel ‘condemned’ by sharing how making different choices has led to a different result.

It is also not up to me to make sure others do not feel condemned by my choices. I have no control over other people’s feelings. It is up to me not to be rude, but other people’s *feelings* are their responsibility. It has been my experience that people who “feel condemned” by me sharing what I do are going to “feel condemned” or rather, take offense at what I do no matter what, unless I start doing exactly whatever it is that they are doing or I don’t share anything at all except a rather useless “tsk, tsk, of course it’s understandable that you would want to continue to eat out weekly and buy new clothes at Macy’s and never step foot in a thrift shop or yard sale, have five hundred dollar birthday parties and hire a party planner for your three year old, and you should be able to do all those things whether you have a job or not.  Life is so unfair” (exaggerated for rhetorical effect, of course)

I would suggest rather that we must be careful not to be rude, not to be pushy, not to be hostile, and most importantly, not to take offense easily ourselves, as our actions and feelings are things we can control.. If somebody wants to be offended or ‘feels’ condemned merely by *my* choices, that is a *choice* that the individual made, and *nothing* I do is going to change it. Trying to make oneself less offensive to somebody who has already chosen to take offense at my actions or choices when *no offense was intended* is an exercise in utter futility. I’ve been there, downloaded that. We really have to stop thinking we can take responsibility for anybody’s feelings but our own. It’s impossible.

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