Now here's an interesting thing. An article appeared in the Outline entitled "Being Frugal is for the Rich." The author, Miles Howard, profiles a young Millennial couple who call themselves the Frugalwoods. I'd never heard of this family before, but it seems they decided they wanted to escape the rat race while young, so they crazy-saved their money, invested their savings, bought a homestead in Vermont, and retired young. Now they're blogging and writing about how the gospel of frugality can save others as well.
The interesting thing about this article is not the Frugalwoods themselves, but the sneering tone of the writer, Miles Howard, who seems to take affront at thriftiness. "Their story slots neatly into a classist myth that millions of adults in this country still believe: the American Millennial," he snarks.
Mr. Howard appears to think that because the Frugalwoods didn't start from a position of poverty, their thrifty lifestyle is hypocritical and a slap in the face of those who truly DO start from a position of poverty. Then he profiles the typical Millennial who, contrary to popular belief (presumably by the "millions of adults in this country") is "underprivileged." He laments the high student loan debts of the Millennial generation and the poor wages they're earning after graduation, forcing them to live in their parents' home well into adulthood. (Did he look at what kinds of unemployable degrees the Millennials earned that locked them into this debt cycle?)
"Regardless of intent," concludes Howard, "these Millennials [meaning, the Frugalwoods] are telling an older generation of elite Americans – the very people whose policies and financial decisions kneecapped the economy – what they want to hear: that everything is more or less okay, and young people just need to be more thoughtful about their money. And that's a [expletive] idea to perpetuate. Because whatever happens in the years ahead, penny-pinching will likely remain a lifestyle enhancement for bourgeois Millennials who possess enough money to enjoy the dividends of being thrifty. For most of us, there are no dividends: just thrift."
Here's the thing: neither the Millennials nor the "older generation of elite Americans" who "kneecapped the economy" can help anyone but themselves. The national economy is a vast engine far beyond the power of individual influence. It seems to me the Frugalwoods simply did the best they could with their "bourgeois" circumstances – and did very well – and now endeavor to show others how they did it. What's wrong with that?
"For the rest of us, there are no dividends: just thrift," says Mr. Howard. So answer me this: What's the alternative?
Seriously, what's the alternative to being thrifty? The Frugalwoods could have continued their previous careers and squandered away their money on material possession, fine dining, vacations around the world, personal electronics, or other frivolous spending. They didn't. They became thrifty, and by doing so, they achieved a different lifestyle.
But what about "the rest of us," as Mr. Howard so condescendingly asks? Are there no dividends from thrift, just the dull grind of thriftiness for the rest of our lives? What's the alternative? To spend and spend and spend money you don't have and dig yourself deeper into poverty?
What Mr. Howard seems to forget is thrift and frugality are powerful tools – especially for those who are poor. If someone is having a hard time making ends meet, they will simply dig themselves into a deeper hole by NOT being thrifty.
I remember years ago, when Older Daughter was a baby, getting into a somewhat heated discussion with another new mother about diapers. Don and I – penniless, with a home woodcraft business and a new baby – couldn't afford disposable diapers, so we used cloth, washed them, and hung them to dry.
This mother argued she couldn't afford a washing machine, so she had to keep using disposables. I whipped out my price book and calculator (for in those days, being a student of Amy Dacyczyn's "Tightwad Gazette," I kept a price book) and looked up the price of the cheapest disposables in the area, punched some numbers in the calculator, and demonstrated to this mother how she could purchase a washing machine within two months if she switched to cloth diapers and washed them at the Laundromat (which, presumably, she already frequented) until they could buy a washing machine of their own. Additionally, the washing machine would last for years and allow them the ability to do their own laundry for less expense (and hassle). She could save even more money if she line-dried her clothes.
This mother was not amused by my argument; and doubtless for the rest of her child's toddler years complained bitterly about how expensive disposable diapers were – without doing anything about it.
Folks, the only economy you can influence is yours. No one else can make you rich, but lots of things can make you poor … including your own profligate or illogical spending.
Kudos to the Frugalwoods, whoever they are. Regardless of how "bourgeois" they started out, they're doing things right financially. A lot more people could learn from their example – not the example of financial helplessness Mr. Howard demonstrates.