Sunday, May 18, 2008

I found this article after I had posted my last bit, from the International Herald Tribune, which says 'voluntary simplicity' has reemerged.  Several other papers have also carried the article. Evidently a new generation is finding the truth behind the saying that 'what you own owns you.'  A couple of years ago I saw numerous sites on line dealing with this topic.  Maybe the time has come again.  Today I found this by way of Lattes and Life which got me to thinking about the following question: what do we really mean by 'frugal?'  Do we mean that we don't spend a lot of money?  Or do we question ourselves about what we spend our money on; whether we really need it, or if we get good value for our money?  When I worked in a party goods store I saw customers come in and grab lots of stuff with no idea of how much the items cost or how much they needed.  Often they came back trying to return the excess.  A little frugal thought would have saved them time and gas.  Some years ago I learned the hard way that Wal-Mart was not the place to buy fabric.  It did cost half what the cloth at a JoAnn's or the local quilt shop cost; but it was less than a quarter the quality.  Since I want the quilts I make to last, the frugal choice is not Wal-Mart.  Surely frugality isn't simply another money bottom line thing.

I have spent most of my adult life in the academic world (college/university) and over the last decade or so have become increasingly unhappy with it.  Twenty years ago I thought I would pursue a PhD in history and teach college or university classes.  I love research, writing and, at the time, teaching.  This article from Atlantic Monthly by way of Eric Alterman and his Altercation blog reflects so much of my experience and thinking on the subject of higher education.  Over the years I have had similar experiences with students who are either ill prepared for advanced study or have no interest beyond checking off another requirement in their march toward that so necessary degree.  At the same time I have looked at the listing of job ads and their requirements and wondered just what the degree really had to do with the job advertised.  I have seen relatives who are very well qualified by their work experience or who are exceptionally well certified in their fields forced to pursue degrees in order to keep or advance in their fields.  Those degrees did not help them do their work better.  It has merely drained their finances.  A college degree has become a part of the so-called American Dream along with the house in the suburbs, the spouse, the dog, the 2.1 (or however many) children.  We don't really question it and we should.  

The Caffeinated Librarian notes on one of her bullet points today (5/20, in case I don't get this posted today) that she is fed up with plastic bags.  I know how she feels because Mom and I have been talking for sometime about using the large stack of canvas bags I have acquired over the last three decades.  I started acquiring the bags when I was in Colorado and there was a big push along the front range to stop using paper and plastic bags.  My ex-husband and I used them for the very brief time we shopped at Aldis markets in Missouri because the Aldis charged for new bags.  He loved the low prices and I hated the quality.  In the end I did the shopping so I won and we got our groceries from other stores and I occasionally remembered to take in the canvas bags.  Here in our part of Indiana we get a lot of the Chicago news.  Evidently there is a move there to outlaw plastic bags.  It hasn't passed yet but the chances are good and often what goes in Chicago comes around to us.  We are becoming more environmentally conscious and will make the switch when we have to.  Why not sooner?  Well, we use the plastic grocery bags to line our small trash cans in the bathrooms and  we have three cats whose box MUST be sifted out every day.  We say our cats are full of s**t and what we get out of the box proves it.  Because we reuse the grocery bags we haven't had to buy new plastic trash bags which we think is a good thing overall.

I remember a similar situation to this one about twenty years ago.  It involved cuts in bus service. This time it is the airlines.  I saw numerous news stories on both the national and local news casts featuring small town residents without cars who depended on the bus service and were facing near total isolation.  Some could not even shop for groceries because the bus was their only means of transportation.  Just out of curiosity I wondered about what kind of bus service my town has now and found that it has none.  We cannot go to any of the surrounding towns or to major cities by ground transportation unless we have a car.  Surprisingly our small county airport lists flights to a wide variety of destinations.  We may be luckier than the towns mentioned in the article.


donna said...

Well, there is having what you need but being careful to purchase good quality that lasts rather than cheap stuff. And there is spending all of your time just to save money. I prefer to purchase things like soap and such that are relatively cheap to purchase rather than expend a great deal of time to make them. I prefer to buy just the cuts of meat I enjoy eating rather than eating bits of animals that I don't like. And I prefer to educate myself about those things I'm interested in rather than what someone else decides I "should" know. I think this is most of what is wrong with education -- we don't let people take what they are interested in and would love to learn about, we don't let people teach what they are interested in and would love to teach. The world would be a much more fascinating place if we all could be spending our time doing what we enjoy -- and we would probably all be more productive and happy as well.

Tiffany said...

Thanks for the link!!! I thing, for my family, few things are "worth" extra money...we have figured out that certain things are better quality than others, and are willing to pay extra for those items. But otherwise, we really try to make our dollar stretch as far as it can.

I do love what you have to say about the push for college education. I was one who was "promised the world" if I only got letters behind my name. Now I sit in massive debt with a bunch of degrees that I don't even use in my day to day life. It was fun while I was there...but really, I could have done without the last few letters after my name :-)

arlee said...

Plastic bags are verboten in a lot of places here in Canada now. I thought it was rather ironic that one of Vancouver's biggest organic chains was the last to jump in. I've used my own cloth bags for years simply because they were stronger, bigger and easier to use--plus i never forget them like some do on the counters with beans and eggs they don't realize they're missing until they get home :}
i was raised frugal and continue to be frugal, instilling it in my son as well. I'd rather have the money to DO things than the money to HAVE things.
Friends and family laugh at me sometimes, saying i'd probably be "cheap" even if i won the lottery--damn straight--i'd want even MORE for my money then :}