frugality versus self-sufficiency

In the midst of all of this talk of financial apocalypse – which is probably a little bit overstated – I realized that the idea of saving money in times of crisis is a lot different from saving money in a time of plenty.  Cutting back on Nintendo games is a lot different than learning how to heat the house with paper scraps.

A common debate that goes on in my consultant-infested workplace is the debate over “good” investments. I have some colleagues who cling to the stock market; some who swear by real estate; some who preach the mantra of gold and commodities; and some who have just decided to spend their money as it comes and damn the consequence.  I fall somewhere in the middle – increasingly skeptical of the stock market but more skeptical of the idea that commodities or real estate can pick up the slack for the whole US market.  I’ll beat that topic up a lot more in the next few days.

But in times of distress, learning to save money on things that make a difference can matter a lot, too. Learning to grow your own food is different than chopping off a few bucks on eating out.  The former will create value out of nothing – the latter simply cuts out an expense you didn’t need to have.  For the record, I don’t think we’re there yet.  We don’t need to all start planting potatoes for the next great famine.  And I’m not convinced that we need to hammer down on luxuries yet, either.  If I dropped Netflix it equals less than .1% of my income.  You might say, well, take .1% here and .1% there and soon you have a few percentage points, but you don’t – I don’t have that many minor expenses.

I do think now is the time to start focusing on stupid expenses. Nobody needs a new TV now.  You might need a new computer, though.  You don’t need a new CD – but a book (depending on the book) might be money well spent.  Is it time to start wearing that crappy old shirt that’s out of fashion a bit longer?  Yes.  Is it time to keep wearing that worn-out old coat that doesn’t protect you against the cold enough – no.  Spend money like a smart person.  That means you need to apply a simple question to every expense:  do I NEED this?  If the answer is no, pass for at least a few days.  You’ll see a difference in your bottom line in a hurry.

13 comments

  • Among my best investments of all time I have a magazine subscription and an online workshop — nothing to do with actual money. But like you say here, I spent it smart and it's definitely paying off.

  • Aah, the pitfall of stupid expenses. If only I realised that they were stupid at the time, it'd work out better.

    I'm still plugging away on the stockmarket, paying down the mortgage and keeping a healthy emergency fund. What else can you do?

  • If I remember anything from my economics classes, in times like this we as consumers should keep consuming, should keep spending to help our economy. However, since our Economy does not follow the natural laws of Economics and being artificially manipulated, I say be very careful with your spending and investments.

  • I like this post very much. You make some very valid points. It's about buying what is neccessary and needed and waiting on what is not needed. People need to really suss out their needs (immediate, can wait, long term, actually a want) and not give in to temptation and buy now. Look before you leap!

  • Yes, good post.

    You can never have enough potatoes though.

  • New books are enormously expenses disproportionate th their value. It would be much better to borrow from the library or shop at a used book store.

  • How about canned goods, guns, and silver/gold? Those might be worthwhile investments right about now…. ;-). Kinda.

  • I've probably said this before . . . I remember maxing out my 401K after the dotcomm bust and 9/11, for 18 months it didn't move as the Dow inched down into the 7000s, even though I was shoveling in money. Once the markets started growing again, in the next two years it tripled in value. I can't say that will happen this time, and it certainly hurts to look at the balance, you are doing yourself a disservice if you're not on a regular investment program.

  • Great article. For the last couple years we've been growing a few edibles, each year we grow more than the last. This has been a huge help with our grocery budget (saving ove $100 a month). We're also trying to build up a network of local suppliers for everything: we have a local farm we get milk, eggs, chicken & beef from, we have a few other we can get pork from and a few to get veggies from. We also know local sources for grains. By doing with we're helping bolster our local economy and we're building a network we can use in tough times.

    We cut back to just putting a small amount in our IRA's and we're using the rest to pay down the mortage (which will be gone in 3 years if all goes well). That will be a huge help if the economy tanks, no mortgage, no car payments, we can grow our own food, we have a network of local food suppliers. I think we'll do alright.

    We're also going to get a woodburner for heating this winter or next (free from a family member) that will be a great as an alternative.

    • We haven't bought tomatoes in about 3-4 months now. My dad planted about 3 bushes and we has SO many tomatoes, we don't know what to do with. We can't even eat them anymore.
      It probably saved us tons of money considering how much the tomatoes cost in “Garden State”…

  • I think if you have one TV and it breaks, you need a new TV now. Kidding aside, those who have stockpiled cash for times like these might find great deals on new items they might need.

    • Those great deals aren't happening right now, wait until the end of the year – between christmas and new years.

      I have cash saved to replace my very old rusting washer, but am hanging onto it for now. I'm betting christmas will leave stores knee deep in higher dollar items. The savings will go towards bulk purchase of detergent and any left goes to more insulation/weatherstripping to reduce the energy bills.

      The upcoming new luxury: staying warm.

  • Those great deals aren't happening right now, wait until the end of the year – between christmas and new years.

    I have cash saved to replace my very old rusting washer, but am hanging onto it for now. I'm betting christmas will leave stores knee deep in higher dollar items. The savings will go towards bulk purchase of detergent and any left goes to more insulation/weatherstripping to reduce the energy bills.

    The upcoming new luxury: staying warm.