Sunday, November 30, 2008

Conservation, thrift, recycling - the frugal choices

Take a look at this amusing, yet (in my opinion) educative article. It talks about how, long before it became fashionable to be "earth-friendly" and "environmentally responsible" (both of which I applaud and try to implement), people were thrifty, creative recyclers and stretchers of budget, simply in order to thrive during the tough times.

"I turn empty tissue boxes into space shoes for kids. I'm the one who thaws the frozen foods next to the boiling tea kettle, who warms my lunch on the hot dashboard of my car instead of in the microwave. I bucket brigade my bathwater to the rose bushes. I invented and patented a valve that allows one to irrigate gardens with used shower water. Like my father, I'm a toothpaste squeezer, brushing with the last dregs of elusive paste throttled from the very corners of the tube."

Often, when I talk about our choices of frugal life, I'm asked, "and can't you, indeed, afford this, that and the other thing..?" - it shows how much definitions of "can afford" and "can't afford" vary. Some people will only make a major purchase if they can pay for it in cash. Others will consider taking a limited loan which they can return within a reasonable amount of time. And some will say they "can afford it" if their bank will allow a loan high enough to cover the cost of the purchase - without ever considering how they will pay their debt off.

So, when someone who just bought a nice big apartment in an expensive location, and signed up for being in debt for the next twenty years of their life asks us, "can't you afford this?", I think to myself - you'd say we can. We say we can't.

Furthermore, even if we can afford something, it doesn't mean we will buy it. We will consider how much we really need it (as silly as I feel for pointing this out, this wasn't always obvious to me). Perhaps we'll decide that, even though buying this or that wouldn't put us under financial strain, we'd better direct our money elsewhere. It's all a matter of priorities.

For example, tithing. We are taught to give away ten percent of our income, but many people say they can't afford to do that. Indeed, some are poor - but let's think, in the last month, did I buy something I don't strictly need? If I could afford that item, I can afford to give a similar amount of money to charity. I try to remind this to myself whenever I'm asked to make a modest donation, right after I bought a "treat" for myself.


elena rulli said...

Dear Anna,
another meaning of "afford" could be related to our planet: can our planet afford our use of some resources other than others, for example?
I'm not a totally 'green' person but I believe that our choices in life style can and must comply to a better conservation of natural respurces and biodiversity, because what we cannot really afford is to keep the destruction of lands, forests and seas: otherwise, what shall we leave to our children in heritage?

Have a good week start

Anonymous said...

I read Melanie's article....lots to make me laugh, but I do understand the seriousness behind her words. It is too true, isn't it, that frugality & ecologically-minded behavior is treated as something brand new. I just want to shake my head. Perhaps I ought just to be glad that the "johnny-come-lately"s have discovered thrift at all!


Anonymous said...

Hello from the US! An excellent article - over here in the States, many people are learning thrift and frugality out of necessity. Although my husband and I are often looked down on for renting the top floor of his parents home (which provides them with an income as well) instead of owning a large home of our own. I must say that we are more than happy in our 4 rooms and are weathering the crisis well with our thrift store clothes and simple meals. I think in the end this will be a good thing for people here as they will re-examine their use of money and their priorities. Keep writing these wonderful posts, Anna!

God bless you.

Otter Mom said...

I think a lot of people don't understand the difference between "need" and "want." It's not just the younger generations, but I think it's more prevalent in them. However, we can all fall into the trap of having it "now" on credit instead of waiting until we can afford to buy outright.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I don't think people who spend more necessarily "look down" on those who lead a simpler lifestyle. It is more that there are social pressures to behave a certain way and those pressures can be hard to resist because we THINK other people will look down on us, or because of codes of behavior that we THINK we have to follow.

I have always worked in offices and as an American and a woman, I always believed I had to wear a different dress or suit every day. Then I went to Europe and noticed that most of the women, whether they were clerical workers or executives, would wear the same 2 outfits over and over again. It blew my mind.

-- Pendragon

Mrs. Amy @ Clothesline Alley said...

I once read an article that referred to my generation of Americans as "Generation Now" as we are impatience, must always be entertained with gadgets galore, and cannot fathom the idea of doing what our parents & grandparents did--working their way to the nice furniture, clothing, and other material possessions they have in their middle and old age. Sean & I have always gotten a lot of less than kind words for shopping in thrift stores, having all used furniture, buying red tags at the grocery store, and so much more, but doing so allowed us to have that money when we really needed it this past month. When we were able to take care of that emergency, debt free, nobody was laughing at us anymore. ;o)

Buffy said...

The difference between the current generation's expectation and those of, say, my mother's are vastly different. My mother's sister got married at about 20 years old and she and her husband lived in a caravan. Couples these days obviously marry later and then expect to afford a three bedroom house with new furnishings and fittings. It's just not affordable without serious credit and, of course, means two salaries coming in.

Lydia said...

If more parents of my generation (I am around 20) were as wise as mine I don't believe that we would have this financial crisis. When my brothers and I started to get a very small allowance when we were young, my parents made us pay for everything we wanted that was not a necessity, and only gave us gifts for Christmas and birthdays. My mom even had a little register were she kept track of our spending and allowances. Well, at about age eight I got in huge debt with the little register (huge for an eight year old that is). It took me months of not buying anything to pay it off and when I did I was so relieved. I learned at that young age what the burden of debt was and I have successfully avoided it ever since.