Saturday, February 11, 2012

An empty gesture

In the hometown of my alma mater, U.C. Davis (Calif.), an ABC news article came out about a family who decided to not spend any money during the month of February. Rather than "frugal Friday," this was supposed to be "frugal February."

The father is a columnist with the Davis Enterprise, and here's how he opened his column on the experiment: "Please, all bow your heads and pray for our humble family as we attempt to do the impossible: make it through the entire month of February without spending a penny. Or a dollar. Or anything in between."

Do the impossible...???

The town of Davis is flat as a pancake and everyone rides bikes. There are far more bikes than cars (real handy if you're a starving student as I was). So this family could easily eschew their vehicle for a month (they also work at home). They stocked up on food and other essentials ahead of time. And presumably so they won't fall behind on their bills, this frugality only applies toward "discretionary" spending.

After living near the poverty line for the past 19 years, somehow this exercise didn't impress me. Some people leaving comments on this article described it as an "empty gesture" and I must concur. Empty indeed.

Maybe there are people out there who are so addicted to spending that they went "Ooooh, I'm impressed!" upon reading this article, but we sure as heck weren't part of that group, and nor is anyone we know. Avoid renting movies or buying Starbucks or going to restaurants for a month? Heck, how about a year? Or two?

But this is the kind of thing that takes place all the time in Davis, which I assure you is an extremely, um, progressive town.

Don't get me wrong, I loved Davis when I lived there. I loved it so much that I moved back after my college years. In fact, it's where I met my husband. I'll always have a fondness for both the campus and the town.

But the people living there tend to do a lot of "empty gesture"-type activities. This family has no true understanding of frugality if all they've done is stocked up ahead of time and stayed away from Starbucks.

I know far too many families who are struggling with unemployment or other financial woes. Buying coffee or movie tickets or restaurant meals or even gas isn't an issue because they can't afford it. Hello???

Arrgghh. And this was considered a newsworthy story.


  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And it's not just Davis...most of these: "Do Without/No Spending" articles/blogs make me a bit dubious. There's one on not going grocery shopping for a year...yet, they do buy food at a very high end boutique shopping the Napa Valley: EXCUSE ME!! I guess grocery store has more than one meaning. By the way I live a few short miles from both Davis and the Napa Valley so I know what I'm talking about...

  2. I read this article too. Whether you spend the money the month before or during, you are still spending the money. The wife showed some of the food they had stocked up on and it was a lot of junk/frozen foods. What happened to planting a garden and saving seeds, or getting rid of internet and cable?

    1. Exactly, Christina! What a wasted, silly effort by this family. Maybe someone should write to them and point out where they went wrong. I think they'll listen, because I have a feeling they meant well, but they went at it purely from a liberal-progressive angle. They need to talk to some REAL preppers, THEN give it another try!
      --Fred in AZ

  3. Humm, I hear what you are saying but at the same time people need to start saving at some point in their life and planning for their future. If this family could inspire just one more family of where they waste $$ each day it's not such a bad idea. I just finished a low/no spending plan in January along with a group of bloggers. While I had no need to stock up on anything (freezer and pantry stay full around our house)It helps us to stay on track with our spending and be more aware of where the waste is around our home. Pretending to be poor and really being poor are two different things but if it helps others cut back more maybe it can be a blessing for some.

  4. I saw this too and kind of chuckled when the wife share that she stocked up on butter from Costco.

    My family began a journey of simplicity because of an accident in 2005. We had no planning and had to regroup and move forward or sink.

    No spending was our only way out. We had little in anything, but we have brains and worked out how to a wonderful life on less. When we thought about milk and butter, we wondered how we could have a source, instead of needing to go to the store for this. So we bartered for goats. When we needed bread, I began researching how to make bread-and discovered for change I could make delicious bread, and was made aware for the first time the garbage in our foods.

    When we needed meat, we began the journey of learning what would be the easiest, low cost critters to raise for the most bank. We have not bought meat since 2007.

    Not spending money is wonderful, if we remove the eyes of American consumerism when we say this. I am not a liberal. But we are so engrossed with material items, that to the frugal(or more correctly-to the thrifty) these efforts that the family made are fruitless.

    I am so thankful that my husband and I had little debt when he had his accident. I am thankful that a piece of wasted scrub land in New Mexico could become a farm and transform a catastrophe into an oasis.

    I pray that people understand how silly this family is. We must remove the shackles in the nation of debt-any debt first and foremost.

    After getting out of debt, America could do well to turn to those that are thrifty so we can turn our nation around.


  5. I'm betting if this father reads what you had to say concerning his "experiment," he'll no doubt have some choice words to say to you, Patrice. What he is doing is so typical of the liberal-progressive mindset these days. We have noticed that everything liberals do is always made out to be so prophetic, dramatic, emotional and AWESOME. At least, they want everyone to think it is. And you can be certain, if a liberal-progressive hasn't done it, it wasn't worth doing.

    We watch very little TV, but there are a few shows on PBS that we enjoy. (There are many more we don't enjoy and never watch!) The opinions, attitudes and actions of the PBS interviewers and participants is almost always very arrogant and snobbish. These liberal folks truly think they are experts on everything and anything. But they're never so important that they won't beg for donations! Ah, yes. Send money, donate your automobile, subscribe to this or that, even donate your personal effects after you die! All this, even though PBS nationally receives almost half a billion dollars of our tax money every year!

    This Davis Enterprise columnist may actually have good intentions, but I seriously doubt it. I'm betting he's conducting his little test to show the world that he and other liberal-progressives are just as capable as any old "prepper" at living a frugal life if they have to. As you've pointed out: He's going to fail miserably, because he just doesn't really get it! And unless he completely changes his way of thinking, he never will. --Fred & Deb in AZ

  6. It's nice to be rich enough to "live poor" when you choose to...

    1. Hit that nail square Quizikle.

      I've always lamented that "it takes an awful lot to do without."

      Jeff - Tucson

  7. It would be more impressive if he decided to do a frugal year or a frugal decade. A frugal month where you stock up ahead of time is a waste of everyone's time and proves nothing. However with liberals remember it is always about the intention not the actual results.

  8. I live a frugal life because it makes perfect sense to me. It has made it possible to do a good deal of prepping. Plus,that way when my house needs repairs I have the money to do them. I also have more to give to those who are less fortuate than I am. Don't get me wrong we are far from rich or even well off. This little ditty makes me smile and I keep it on my fridge.


    God bless Patrice and all the preppers out there.

  9. Really, they spend 1,500-2,000 on movies and such. That's outrageous, that's what is poor people spend on our housing, cars even basic bills give or take. I wish I could spend that amount on fun things not basic life Necessities. Any one can go to Costco or the store spend a lot of money an then not shop for a month. They should use their basic food budget ( I bet they don't have one as spend whatever) and live off that for a month, not bulk up for the test. Anyhow good for us who live like this, and teach others how to begin living frugally and such!

  10. maybe if anyone benefited from this "experiment" in this particular household, it was the kids..they got to play with the toys and stuff that they already had and at a glimpse, they seemed to be having fun. what would have made the one month more beneficial to all of them, was to do without electricity, and modern day conveniences...or actually did something constructive with the time they allowed..anyone with the ambition of a two toed sloth can go a month without spending money..but can they forgoe spending money on excesses for a whole year? can they depend on themselves in times of crisis without pulling out the billfold or credit card? did they learn anything at all from the experience and were they challenged to make the experience an ongoing thing?

  11. Patrice,

    I didn't know! That makes us fellow Aggies.

    Like when I went to their first football game, they played the Lumberjacks. I graduated from Humboldt State AND was in grad school at Davis. Couldn't decide, so sat on Davis side and cheered the 'Jacks, LOL. Got me noticed, it did.

    Ah yes. My dear old Alma Mater. Makes me glad it was long ago! LMHO


  12. That is hilarious! I spend maybe $100 a month on groceries, and that is just recently. My bills total $900 a month, we have chickens, goats, pigs, cows or food, garden, etc., I'd love to see him go 6 months without stocking up before hand, like an impromptu "go" sort of experiment. Not a prepared one, where he stocks up beforehand, and artificially tips the scales in his favor. Though I do agree, on one hand, in some small way, it might impact someone to get a clue.

  13. I've never been in a Starbucks store.

    I haven't had a new dress or new blue jeans in 15 years.

    I don't own a pair of high heels.

    My vehicle is 15 years old.

    Just Me....just sayin'

    1. I'm with you, Anonymous! I have never been in a Starbucks store, either. I don't own a suit (I have one sports coat and a nice pair of pants that probably don't fit me anymore), my Jeep Wrangler is 20 years old and it still runs like a top! I own just this one computer that is 4 years old, and I own no other electronic gadgets except for a cell phone that I use strictly to communicate with my wife when she goes to work, to shop in town and so forth when I'm at home. Believe it or not, it has NO games on it nor a camera! In spite of all this, I manage to stay informed about what's going on in our nation. Which is more than I can say for all those people I see in stores in town, walking around with either their cell phones glued to their ears or holding some gadget in both hands while they plod along like zombies. No, thanks!
      --Fred in AZ

  14. I'm going to be slightly contrarian here. I don't blame any of the regular readers of this blog from being annoyed at this experiment/stunt. Everyone here is far beyond this and is really walking the walk as far as preparation, frugality, and self-sufficiency.

    However, if this family is used to leading a life where every desire they have is solved by a trip to a store of some type, then a 30-day ban on discretionary spending prefaced by a giant trip to Costco is a good thing. Maybe they'll learn that many shopping urges pass if you don't satisfy them right away. Maybe they'll learn it is cheaper to lay in supplies for a period and then cook off of that rather than going to the grocery or the restaurant when you are hungry. Maybe if they take a walk to reach their destination, that will be time for one more conversation they wouldn't have had.

    I'm no big fan of stunt journalism, but everyone has to take their own journey, and this is a step in the right direction for this family. By analogy, everyone here is an Ironman Triathlete of Prepping, and it is easy to scoff at "start small" ideas like parking an extra row away from the building in the morning so you increase your exercise. But sometimes, people do need that easy, accessible role model so they can get started.

    1. An excellent point, Jennifer. You're quite right, we must all start somewhere. Thank you for the perspective.

      - Patrice