if you’re reading this blog, it’s pretty likely that the word “frugality” is a part of your vocabulary. maybe you don’t use it much in real life (like us), but it’s probably something you think about and read about at least a little bit. none of us can make these drastic life changes, like early retirement, without embracing frugality to some degree at least.
lately we’ve been noticing some little things that have been expanding how we think about frugality: when we order coffee at starbucks (only when it’s on work’s dime!), we get a five or 10 cent discount for bringing our own cup. when we shop at whole foods, we get five cents off our bill for every bag we bring in. at the co-op where we shop sometimes, they even give us a nickel back for every jar we use instead of using plastic bags or containers, and that usually adds up to at least $1.50 off each trip, when combined with the bring-your-own-bags rebate. our local coffee roaster gives us a whole dollar off when we buy a pound of beans in our own canister, plus a free cup of coffee in our travel mug! just this morning, a food vendor gave a $.50 discount for not needing a plastic fork and knife, because we carry bamboo utensils in our travel bags. these companies appreciate that we’re saving them money, and they pass the savings along to customers to encourage more resource saving.
this got us thinking: isn’t it in everyone‘s best interest to be frugal (for the money savings), and consume fewer of the resources that will just get thrown away after one use (for the resource savings)? the companies encourage it, we like saving the money, everybody wins. being frugal in the individual sense — frugal with a small “f” — is great. we save money, we can build up our savings faster and we get closer to our goals. but what if we think about frugality collectively — Frugality with a big “f” — to think about how we can all save money and resources, to reach our common goals?
like it or not, this is a consumerist society, and our economy is built upon that idea. those of us who plan to one day rely on our investments to support us are actually forced to be hypocritical, because we don’t want to consume much ourselves, but we hope others will keep buying the products that will drive the share prices up or pay our dividends. this is a bummer, but not what we’re talking about today.
we’re talking about the seemingly inconsequential stuff — the plastic bags, the paper coffee cups and plastic lids, the plastic water bottles, the disposable food wrappings, the single use utensils. those things cost money to produce, and businesses pay that price and then pass that along to consumers. we’re always hearing about rising prices, like starbucks’ recent price hike. what if we all — consumers and businesses — jointly agreed to constrain prices by being smarter about how we’re using resources? all of us frugalists would sure be happy, but there would be a lot of other positive side effects: less trash going into the landfill (or ocean!), fewer trees getting chopped down to make paper cups, less oil being refined to make plastic water bottles.
and thinking even more broadly, can we redefine frugality to focus not just on saving money, but just on saving generally? and not just consuming less in terms of spending, but consuming less in an absolute sense. the frugal way of life is inherently more conservation-friendly, since we already buy and consume a lot less than most people. so this isn’t a huge philosophical leap. and if enough of us think this way, it’s bound to have a positive effect on prices, which is a virtuous cycle that all of us frugal folks would love to see.
what do you think? do you buy our idea of reframing frugality? think we’re being too optimistic and prices will always rise no matter what? think it’s too much work to carry your own bags, cup and utensils? (we think it’s just like any new habit, and becomes second nature pretty quickly!)