I am a consumer. I am frugal.
Can I honestly include those two statements on the same line and in the same paragraph? If I am a consumer, can I truly be frugal? Is frugality an ideal that I can never really reach because I will always be at odds with the polar opposite of frugality, which seems to be consumerism? Or, do I just accept the fact that true frugality might merely just be the personal management of consumerism.
To begin to answer my own question, maybe I should examine what I consume. I consume electricity, water, gas, television, wireless telephone, land-line telephone, internet service, food, vitamins, water, clothing, furniture, toiletries, household cleaners, shoes, medical services, public school services, and so much more. I continue to bring in new stuff at a discount, then either sell the old stuff at a garage sale or give it away. And most of the time the old stuff is in pretty good shape.
I’m not the only one. My neighbors are consumers. The people in my community are consumers. The thousands of folks who own the cars that I see lined up at the mall are consumers. You are a consumer too.
We are a nation in debt due to the funding of our habitual consuming. Most of us work hard at one or more jobs just to fund this machine. Sometimes we even do without sleep or quality family time so that will be able fund the desire or need to consume and collect more and more stuff.
We love to say we “need” a new couch or car or whatever. But how much of our consuming truly falls into the category of need? The folks at Wal Mart are so convinced that we believe we “need” the items in their store that they’ve stocked it to the roof with everything imaginable and cheap. They know that we’ll walk through the door and just HAVE to spend $19.98 on a neck warmer shaped like a cow. Can’t live without it. And it’ll take an hour on the job to earn the money to buy it, but that doesn’t ever enter our mind.
It amazes me that during this time of economic tightening us consumers haven’t really slowed down. We all talk about it. We all complain about the prices. We clip coupons and raise the thermostat and tell the kids to keep the doors shut ‘cause we’re not air-conditioning the world. Yet we still purchase all kinds of useless things, things that we have to sacrifice time and energy in order to bring it into our home. We buy things that we will sell for ten-cents-on-the-dollar at our next garage sale or just give away. This "stuff" is an ever-growing pile that causes us to stress over how to organize it and manage it. Some of us even build outbuilding to store it or rent storage units to house it. Sounds kind of crazy, huh?
When I think about it, it all seems so ridiculously silly and like a gigantic waste of time.
This makes me realize that I have been focusing all my frugal habits on a tiny area of my life. I clip the coupons. I cook from scratch. I conserve my gasoline. I keep my air conditioning turned up. I line dry most of the clothes.
But what else can I do? What else can you do? For example, is cable TV a necessity? Do we have to have a television in each room? When I replace my fridge, do I need a brand new one when I know there is someone out there who just bought one but now has to move and can't take it with them? What about that new pair of shoes or that new couch? And if we decide that we actually need something, is it better to spend more on quality or spend little on cheap?
The answers to these questions are not always clear cut. It’s not all black and white. It requires that we stop being a nation of impulse consumers of useless stuff and start thinking more clearly about the impact of our consumerism on our pocketbooks, our families, our communities, and our world.
The final question here is: How can I start to be more responsible and better steward of all that God has given me and my family? As far as I’m concerned, I know that when I truly start addressing this question, I’ll really be on the path to being truly frugal.