I don’t know the exact demographics of our town, but it’s definitely a lower-income area than the city where we used to live. There is only one grocery store in town, and it’s not stocked with organic produce and ten dollar jars of coconut butter. Houses here are lot less expensive than they were in the city (which is the reason we were able to afford our 3/4 acre lot here, and for that we’re grateful). We love the down-to-earth nature of the town, but we’re also aware that there are probably quite a few people here who are struggling financially.
We’ve moved beyond the days when frugality was absolutely necessary because of our low income. But we continue to keep our expenses at pretty much the same level they were at when we were poor, because that allows us to move as quickly as possible towards our goals. We want to add a window in our dining room, and even though I suppose we could technically afford to just have a window company put in a new one for us, we’re going to head over to the Habitat for Humanity thrift store and poke around in their enormous used window stash and see what we can find. Frugality is so ingrained in us that we just prefer it that way.
But I wonder if it’s a luxury to be able to make decision like that? Well, I know it’s a luxury to be able to ponder how to go about adding a window to a room… what I mean is whether it’s a luxury to be able to think in terms of buying things used, minimizing our ecological footprint, growing our own food, etc.? The things we do are things that people a few generations ago did without even thinking about it. But these days, it seems that people who are talking about things like environmental preservation, reusable shopping bags, thrift stores, and organic gardens are all relatively well educated and well off.
50 years ago, having a backyard garden was commonplace. Now, it’s not as common, and I notice when I walk through town that the poorer neighborhoods don’t seem to have gardens at all. A garden is a very frugal way to provide food for a family, but it does require a time investment, and people who are working two and three jobs probably don’t have the time.
It seems completely counter-intuitive, but I feel like frugality is more popular among people who don’t have to be frugal, but rather choose to be frugal.
Why is this? Is it because middle class people have more time to ponder their choices? Is it because we’re exposed to more choices in the first place? I know that not having a TV is a very good influence on my family in terms of avoiding commercialism and advertising. And I know other families have made the same choice. But I wonder what the average income and education level is for TV-free households?
There are definitely people who are living below the poverty line and absolutely thinking outside the box in order to make ends meet without going into debt. But I feel like many of us (at least those of us who are blogging about it) are living frugal lives in order to be able to save money for retirement, our children’s education, and various other goals, rather than to stretch a small paycheck to cover the bare necessities.
This has been bouncing around in my head for a few days now, and I’m still not sure if I’m doing a good job of explaining my thoughts. Basically, I feel like more needs to be done to help people who could truly benefit the most from frugality gain a good understanding of the options that are available. What do you think? How can we make high quality organic food available to people who aren’t making a ton of money? How can we encourage the dual benefits of avoiding consumerism and protecting the planet, when people are struggling just to make ends meet?