Filed under: Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Voluntary Simplicity | Tags: simplicity
My 86-year-old mother died Monday, twelve years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Being a child of ‘The Great Depression’ defined her, and ultimately, me too. She was one of the few moms that worked a full-time job when I was growing up during the 50’s, but because of her sheer thriftiness and frugality she was able to keep making her house payments long after she and my dad divorced, finally paying my childhood home off. When President Carter closed Air Force bases around the country as a budgetary measure, she was forced to transfer to Florida in order to keep her civil service job, so she sold that very modest home, and used the proceeds and her savings to pay cash for a new condo right on the water. Over the next 25 years I believe she saved close to a quarter million dollars, all the while only averaging about $18,000 a year. I did the math just now for the first time ever. She must’ve saved close to 50% of her income every year!
Oh, but she led a good life, even on so little. She took ballroom dance lessons, tithed to her church, enjoyed wearing fashionable clothing, eating out, drinking wine and laying on the beach in her down time. She sent me and my four children a gift check for every single birthday and Christmas, took occasional weekend gambling cruises on Mississippi River boats, once or twice enjoyed a Caribbean cruise on a luxury liner, and came to visit us in Virginia and Ohio twice a year. In other words, she didn’t lead a deprived existence at all. She was a creative genius when it came to finding the funds to do the things she enjoyed, all while saving 50% of her paycheck. The dance lessons lasted for almost 15 years and began with a free trial lesson, followed by paid ones until she got good enough to compete. At that point she got to participate at greatly reduced prices and enjoyed good health and great joy while doing so. Her clothes (2 very full closets worth!) came from the base thrift stores and yard sales. (All that dancing allowed her to wear the petite sizes that were always available in such places) She drank Two Buck Chuck wine (or it’s local equivalent), went to gamble with a $10 limit and quit when she lost it or won, whichever came first, always bought used furniture and appliances and paid cash for her new cars, although I only remember her ever buying two new cars during that 25 year period that she worked. I believe the 10 day cruises were offered to her half off because she agreed to spend her evenings dancing with the other paying guests. And last but not least, while she was teaching Sunday School and supporting her church financially, she was teaching me to be frugal too. She also taught me there’s a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugal is delaying pleasure and instant gratification to make a big purchase or to pay off debts. Cheap is when your spending habits affect your quality of life, or when you never splurge a little even when you do have the money to spend. I believe the difference also lies in the mindset we have around money. If you feel deprived, neither cheap nor frugal feels good or right. Mom never complained about money or the choices she made, so I don’t believe she felt deprived. “Satisfied” would more appropriately describe her attitude.
So, what’s the point of this tribute to frugality? The Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent assisted living and nursing home care took every dime she had, but I’m forever thankful she had saved and planned for that possibility. As a young bride and mother, I went through a period when I wanted nothing to do with Mom’s frugality. I saw it as deprivation. Of course my overconsumption and overspending finally led me to a personal ‘fiscal cliff’. I could jump off, or retreat. I chose the latter. And by applying the lessons I’d been taught, I began to see how it really was all about the choices I was making, not how much or how little money I had. As I began to experience the joys of living debt free, and the freedom it brought to my life, it became easier and easier to change my own relationship with money. Far from feeling deprived, you can color me satisfied too. Following Mom’s examples of living
within beneath my means, and without debt, has enriched my life immeasurably. Thanks Mom!
One more thought before I close: I hope none of you will confuse frugality with poverty. The course I took when I reached my fiscal cliff, and eventually shared with others because of its profound affect on my life, was called “Voluntary Simplicity”, never to be confused with INvoluntary Simplicity, which IS a forced deprivation of the basics of life. Our national economy, as well as those of countries from Greece to China, has reached its own fiscal cliff but no one seems to be paying attention. A continually growing economy is no longer healthy, but a cancer. Like Alzheimer’s, we’ve collectively forgotten how to live within our means, choosing instead to borrow from tomorrow to pay today’s debts. Teach your children well, they’ll thank you some day.
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