Friday, August 2, 2013

The advantages of frugality

This is our twentieth year for our woodcraft business. Not many crafters reach this stage, particularly those for whom their craft supplies their primary income. Many crafters must find outside work in order to survive, and slowly their craft becomes either a hobby or at best a distant secondary source of income.

But we've managed to hang on, sometimes by the tips of our fingernails. The financial insecurity of the craft world has taught us one very important thing: frugality. Twenty years ago we had a choice. We could either be thrifty and work at home, or we could spend money and find a 9-to-5 job. We chose to be thrifty. We've remained so ever since.

As it turns out, a thrifty lifestyle offers advantages to everyone. Consider the following.

My dear friends Wendy and Tim, with whom I stay whenever I'm in Portland, have an unusual lifestyle. Wendy is a writer and Tim is an actor. There is no finer recipe for financial insecurity than the combination of those two occupations.

Tim's case is particularly interesting. His specialty is Shakespeare and he's done a lot of theater work in his time. He's also done advertisements and occasional television appearances. I've known Tim for nearly as long as I've known Wendy, so it's been interesting to watch his struggles over the years as he labors to do the work he loves.

But unlike high-demand Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp, most actors struggle to find work on a day-to-day basis. Last year Tim did quite well; this year, not so well. That's why I was happy to hire him to help me run the booth while in Portland; a few day's work is the least I can do to thank them for putting me up during my stay.

When Tim can't find acting work, he turns his hand to a number of odd jobs or other means of producing income. He's hard-working, honest, and willing to do almost anything. These are important quality traits in anyone, but especially for someone who has chosen an insecure field (like acting) for a career.

But Tim said something interesting last week. He said over the years, more financially successful friends have urged him to give up acting and get a secure nine-to-five job. Steady jobs are actually tough for actors, because they must often drop everything and rush to an audition at a moment's notice. Tim's flexible hours from odd jobs is far more suitable for keeping his acting options open than a steady desk job would be.

Because he refused to leave acting, the income gap between him and his wealthier friends grew quite wide.

So he's resisted the steady employment and chosen instead to keep pursuing the acting, even if it means financial insecurity. As a result, he and Wendy -- like Don and I -- have honed the art of frugality to perfection. They are thrifty and careful. They live within their extremely modest means. And both Tim and Wendy have, as a result, been able to pursue the careers they love.

But then an interesting thing happened. Many of the friends who urged Tim to give up acting in order to be more financially stable, have lost their employment in these hard economic times. They are staggering around, lost and insecure, desperately applying for jobs to keep their heads above water. They have no idea how to cut expenses or live frugally. It's not just that they don't know how; but they also resent it like crazy. They see frugality as a deprivation rather than a creative challenge. They are resentful and hurt.

Tim said that frugality has allowed him to pursue the field he loves. Frugality has allowed him to float, buoyant and light, on the rough waves of a tough economy, while many others are desperately struggling to keep their heads above the water.

Something to think about.


  1. Isn't it amazing that we appear to have so many people in America today for whom frugality is an affront? It's very hard to relate to a mindset that feels so entitled to a lifestyle of indulgence and living beyond one's means.

    I read today that over 40% of young adults now live at home with their though this is a bad thing and a new societal trend. I had to smile, since I view it as a return to the more traditional way of life in America wherein families remained together and worked to support the family farms and businesses that grew and sustained them and made America a free and great nation of hardy and independent souls.

    I applaud Wendy and Tim. They, you and Don and my husband and I all have a lot in common, and it makes me proud. It also means we have a whole lot farther to fall when the bottom falls out than do so many Americans who think their groceries come from the store and their highest good comes from their checkbooks.


    1. Those young adults aren't home working on a family business. They're at home due to the difficulty of finding full time employment. I'd be in that position myself If I didn't have the GI bill.

    2. And a LOT of those "kids" (the survey was from 18-30!) are mooching off their parents and not lifting a finger to be productive and help their folks. They are living there because they get to continue the life of luxury their parents gave them as they were growing up but that they cannot afford on their own. There may be some families pulling together, but I doubt most of those surveyed are families that work together for the common good. The don't have the first clue about how to be frugal. For them frugality is complete physical and mental deprivation, and they just cannot fathom being without cable, Internet, Netflix, and an iPhone. Sad, sad, sad.

    3. I agree, in my area close by there is a family on a farm where the man works almost non stop and the oldest one (daughter) lives down the road in the other farm house rent free shacking up and gets a brand new car from the parents, no wonder she doesn't work! Youngest one doesn't work anymore and stays at home when she isn't shacking up! Sometimes I think these parents deserve what they get and it will hit hard soon!

  2. Patrice,

    Great post my friend! I also believe the problem with a lot of the Americans, they live beyond their means, rely on all the electronics, and money to create their American Dream. If you notice, most of these type people are really not happy in their lives and if unemployed wouldn't know how to survive being frugal.

  3. Patrice,

    When you wrote, "...but they also resent it like crazy. They see frugality as a deprivation rather than a creative challenge." That really convicted me of my own attitude.
    Three years ago my husband opted to take an early retirement, because of the economic downturn. We have been forced to learn the art of frugality. We have two children under 10 and since retiring he signed our youngest up for a "mommy and me" class and LOVED having that time with our son. We homeschool so I was schooling our daughter. We loved having him at home too. My husband realized how much he had missed and wanted to stay close to home, so he started a handy-man business and like most home businesses income is not financially secure. So I went around bitter and resentful for not have the extra money for music lessons for the kids, vacations, etc. I know in my 'right' brain I am very blessed but,like my kids, in my mind I lived like a spoiled brat (rarely do I say things to my husband in fear he will feel like a failure for not providing)
    Thanks for the kick in the pants, we have a house with no mortgage, are kids are healthy, our cupboards are stocked with what we need and often with goodies we don't, I have a husband who values his family and wants to spend time with us. God has truly provided for us during these 'hard times'. Thank you for reminding me to look at living frugally as a creative challenge instead of wasting time thinking of what I would do IF I had more resources. :)

    from CA

    1. Go give your hubby a BIG kiss and tell him how much you and the kids appreciate him! Do it every day from now on. It takes true talent to start a handy-man business. It takes knowing how to do hard things or sincerely wanting to learn. You are one lucky woman!

    2. At the end of your life, or your husbands, it never matters 'what you had' it's just STUFF, but if you were 'there' for your family. THAT is what's important and the fact that he loves spending TIME with his children....what more could a mother really want? Than to know that her husband loved and cared for THEIR children. That he wanted to be there to spend that 'mommy and me' time. THAT is what will matter.

      Do you even realize just how LUCKY you are?????????????????????

      A homeschooling mom of 4, of which the father of the 1st 3, was NOT a father and certainly not a hands on father. Count your blessings woman!


  4. (Something happened in cyber space and I think I lost my message, so I'm starting over. If it seems like the same comment got posted twice, sorry.)

    I'm not always as frugal as I should be. I like expensive 4-year-old cheese, and fair trade coffee, and fancy chocolate.

    But my car is 17 years old. My summer shoes are 5 years old and I don't have any winter shoes - only boots. I haven't had a new winter coat for 10 years. The one I have now is fine.

    I sew my own clothes from old linens. People are always admiring my, ahem, interesting garb.

    No cable TV. No vacations.

    All this and more is how I can afford the cheese, the coffee and the chocolate. And why I get to do what I want to for a living.

    I wouldn't have it any other way. I'll never go back to the golden handcuffs.

    Just Me

  5. off subject. when the incredibly expensive, unaffordable affordable care act takes hold how will self-employed fare? or any of us, for that matter?
    a major hospital here is laying off workers in order to hire them in the future as part-timers because the affordable care act is projected to be beyond their means to provide insurance for the full-time employees.
    i'm worried about it.
    it might cut into the coffee and chocolate budget, not to mention bare necessities.

    if you cannot afford health insurance how can you afford government fines for not having any?

    deb harvey

    1. The U.S. Supreme Court said we all have a constitutional right NOT to buy health insurance. We have a right not to be covered. That means we have a legal right to refuse to enroll in government Exchange coverage. It's the law.
      Refuse to enroll. No. 11-393,
      Twila Braze,
      She is doing a tremendous job to stop Obamacare!

  6. I have to bite my tongue when folks around me start complaining about not having enough money. They send their kids to horse back riding lessons (they are not farmers, have no land or horses of their own), birthday parties where you have to pay to rent the restaurant, and are glued to their $100/month iPhones.

    I can see 3 ways right there to cut expenses. Some people just don't understand that when the income doesn't cover the outflow, and you can't increase the income......something's gotta give!

    1. "$100/month iPhones?" Isn't it more like $300 or $400? I haven't a clue because I don't have one.

      Just Me

  7. It's about to get even more frugal around here, since the idiots at the IRS seem to think we owe them another $2000 from 2011 because we used the money in our health savings account. Uh, duh, that's what it's for - health expenses, and now they want to tax and penalize us for it. I cannot tell you how furious I am with what passes for government in this nation right now.

  8. We made 5 gallons of homemade laundry soap this weekend for < $ finding new ways to be frugal!

  9. I have a very close friend that married his Bible-college sweetheart right after they graduated. The only job he could find was as a security guard, which pays very poorly. Despite that, he and his wife decided to live on his income alone, and for his wife to stay home and raise and home school their kids. In addition to his job, he also served as an unpaid pastor in their church. Their first years were tough. Lived in a small mobile home. Squeezed every penny 'til Lincoln squealed. Eventually were able to afford a small house. "Doug"'s hard work eventually was noticed by one of the companies where he had served as a guard, and he was hired by them directly. He is now an executive making a very decent salary, and they have a beautiful home on 5 acres in what is now a "high-rent" area, although they bought the property fairly cheaply when the original landowner decided to break up a large pasture and sell parcels. Their 6 kids, all grown now, were home-schooled through high school, and most went on to college and all have started out on nice careers of their own. Although "Doug" makes a very good salary, they still practice the frugal living that enabled them to get where they are now, and that their kids grew up with and also practice for themselves. The money that they save by their frugal living is plowed back into the community by donations to their church and various charities. "Doug" and "Jane" (not their real names) have been an inspiration for all, including me. And he still serves as senior pastor at that church, for the same salary!