Friday, May 04, 2007

Frugal is not a bad word

Some people have been giving thrift shoppers and other blogging frugalistas (how do you like that one?) a hard time recently.

The arguments run kind of like this: the Bible doesn't say anywhere to go out and look for bargains. If we're not "really down and out" ourselves (define that as you will), then we're robbing from the poor if we buy something nice at a thrift shop--especially if we resell it and make a profit. (Heaven help the Christian who mentions making a profit on something. Didn't some Christian songwriters go through this one a long time ago?--God gave you this talent, you write this song and it's for everybody to sing, how can you ask us to pay you for copies of it?) Wait, there's more: if we're picking up books or vintage aprons or other frou-frou at yard sales or thrift shops, then that ranks as non-essential anyway, so then we're getting addicted to stuff or wasting the little money we did spend. (Wait a minute, I'm already seeing some contradictions here. If it's frou-frou stuff, then wouldn't it be just as silly for the "really down and out" to buy it?) And overall, we should be willing to pay "full price" for whatever it is, so that we're not ripping anybody off.

Now Stingy is bad. But Stingy is not Frugal. Stingy is putting dollars out on pizza delivery (full price) and pennies in the offering plate. Stingy is illegally photocopying textbooks. Stingy is not providing what your family needs even though you have the means to do so. Stingy lives next door to Chintzy Hardbargain and down the road from the Misers.

Frugality is making life as beautiful as you can on a little bit of money. Sometimes that little bit of money is all you have, period. Sometimes you have more than that but you're using what's left for something else that's important. Anybody with a credit card can throw money at a problem (full price, I assume); Frugality teams up with Creativity to make the most of what's there. And sometimes Frugality just has to say no to things. I can't bring myself to pay $2.19 a can for something at one grocery store when I know the discount supermarket sells it for half that price. What's full price, then? Store A's price or Store B's?

The comment was made on another blog I will not name that Mrs. Frugality wouldn't invite people over "to evangelize to them" if she didn't have the right cake pan, and that she wouldn't go out and buy the cake pan unless she could get it used or cut rate or something. First of all, I would never invite people over "to evangelize to them." About anything. I've been on the other end of the cake in that respect, and I did not appreciate it. Second, I don't know even the most frugal person who would feel that way about having a perfect cake pan before inviting guests. In fact, most frugal people I know would bake the cake in a casserole dish or something, or make something else, or just have tea and 99 cent oatmeal cookies. People are the point, not food.

And finally, as many people have pointed out in response to this ongoing issue: it's not a crime to shop at thrift stores if your shoes are intact and the stroller you're pushing didn't come straight off the curb. In fact, you are SUPPORTING THEIR MINISTRY by shopping there. It happens to be a delightful side benefit of this kind of shopping that we often end up with something unique, vintage, out of print, or otherwise amazing. And isn't that a whole lot more creative than getting something exactly the same as your neighbour's at Stuff-mart?

If you want more thoughts on this, I can't do better than refer you (once more) to this old post at The Common Room: Frugalities.

P.S. to this post


Queen of Carrots said...

As a matter of fact, I have never been able to find a good deal on a cake pan and always bake mine in a casserole dish. And it never seems to have come in the way of having people over. Good comments.

Anonymous said...

I had not heard of people commenting negatively about thrift store shoppers, at least not in my circles.

Yes, there is a distinct line between frugality and being a miser.

My father teaches on Christian Stewardship and this topic is often discussed in our family. Like your illustration with the pizza and collection plate, in our opinion, frugality is the wise spending of money and very advocated by the bible.

One of the marketplace rules is that the cost of something is the value that the marketplace will support. So, while the house we just purchased was quoted at $175,000 to rebuild, we purchased it for much less. We did feel rather awkward because in our eyes, and that of the sellers we knew that the value of the house was much more than the price that was held by the market.

And yet, it is a small house and therefore not attractive in mainstream culture. Even to my husband's family they think we are nuts to be buying a house under 1000 square feet with just one floor and 3 bedrooms, a main room, bathroom and kitchen... thats it!

To me, that pressure exuded by culture is one very subtle tactic the Biblical believing Christian has to struggle hard to fight and just simply be aware of its words.

TheNormalMiddle said...

I think you said it very well. And I love it when any article uses the word Chintzy so hey, you got me double-good with this one!! :)

The whole frugal thing just blows me away that anyone would try to discredit being WISE with our money! I don't care if you've got a dollar or several millions of them---we should be good stewards of what we have, no matter how much or little that is.

I need to tackle this issue over at Finding Contentment in the Suburbs (my other blog).

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I found your blog through Meredith's. I've been following the discussions from last week, and I think you beautifully stated a rebuttal to all the negative comments about those who live frugally.

Unknown said...

I found this post very interesting, thanks so much for it! I do at times get comments about being frugal but in no way am I stingy, my family has what they need and for sure I dont put pennies in the collection plate. I totally understand the concept of what your getting at, hopefully others will read it and stop calling people who are frugal, that nasty STINGY word.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Good rebuttal to a truckload of hooey. I was also amused by the disconnect between the criticism of buying too much stuff, and thus being ungodly, when you should leave it there for the truly desolate to buy. I guess it's okay to be ungodly if you're poor enough.