Frugality in a Consumption Crazed Society

Turn Off Your TV and See What Happens

Being frugal in a society such as ours (this is written in the United States) can be a difficult psychological task. Advertising, especially on “active” media such as television and the internet, is carefully calculated to bypass our reasoning centers and go straight to the amygdala, or what I call the lizard brain. This is the primitive part of our brain that runs entirely on emotion and instinct, especially fear and sexual desire. Advertisers know how we respond to certain images and in our economic and political system there is nothing to prevent businesses from using this knowledge to manipulate us. Even if that manipulation is bad for us as individuals and for society as a whole.

For that reason, frugality is either a conscious act, or a matter of necessity. If it is a matter of necessity it is easier to stick to—there is really no other choice. If the amount of money coming into a household is just enough to make ends meet there need not be a lot of thought about discretionary spending. It just can’t be done. In that case the effects of advertising and the general expectations of a consumer society are a slow wearing down of self-esteem, a feeling of hopelessness, failure, and an underlying rage. Unless the whole thing is reframed as a healthy and sane choice. Then the struggle goes back to a mere matter of dollars and cents, and the psychological noise subsides.

The situation is a little more complex for the voluntarily frugal. Those with money to spend, but that choose not to are subject to daily assaults on that choice. The inner battle consists of a struggle between the powerful images of “the good life” and what they know in their hearts to be good for themselves and the planet. The calculations of what to buy are more complex as well. Taking food, for example, it is clear that the organic choice is generally more expensive in absolute dollars but may still be the best frugal choice for those with money in their pocket. That same calculus must be extended to clothing, furniture, and every other purchasing decision that comes up. And all of this takes place within a culture that has been hypnotized into spending without thought. To be rich, frugal, and green is an act of psychological courage.

That is part of the reason I write. To assist my audience in understanding what is actually at stake and to make choices that both make sense and feel good, even in the face of almost over-whelming pressure.


8 Responses

  1. I have no trouble making the ecologically preferable choice in clothing, since I buy all my clothes second hand. And I am accustoming myself to using my own grocery bags and applauded the decision of my LA County Board of Supervisors to outlaw plastic bags, and so on. But when I get to buying groceries, I am at the mercy of a very snobbish system – ready to sneer at those of us with fewer choices. Faced with the choice of never eating strawberries again, or eating the WRONG strawberries………….. It’s very hard.

    • Yes, exactly. This is the worst bone of contention between the voluntarily frugal and the forcibly frugal. Frugal is the new green, at least until the quantity of money actually available goes way down and the cost of basics goes up. Then we will just be happy to eat at all. As the economy worsens and the number of forcibly frugal rises compassion and community spirit should be the watchwords.

  2. I’m still learning from you, as I’m making my way to the top as well. I absolutely liked reading everything that is written on your website.Keep the aarticles coming. I liked it!

  3. I’m going to remember your words, Annabel. I’ve found much wisdom in them.

    To be rich, frugal, and green is an act of psychological courage.

  4. hey this is a good blog i wonder how you find the time to keep updating it. anyway, keep up the good work.thnx

  5. I used to be voluntarily frugal; I am now forced into frugality by economic conditions. And you know what? I’m happier now than I ever have been. Perhaps it is partly age related: I am more confident in who I am at age 54 than I was at 34. But I think it is more that I learned a valuable lesson that money and things aren’t what make you happy. The people you surround yourself with and the person you choose to become are.

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