"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." - Sir Winston Churchill

The Politics of Frugality?

By , March 20th, 2008 | 13 Comments »

politics frugality

Since when did choosing to live a frugal life become a political issue? I don’t make a huge deal about my frugal lifestyle, but when it “shows” in public, more and more people are feeling perfectly free to slap some sort of political label on me. Maybe it’s because it’s an election year, because the economy is slumping, or because those rebate checks are being sent out by the government, but suddenly it seems that my personal frugal or environmentally friendly choices are big political issues.

Want some examples? Take the cashier at the store last week who, when I pulled out my reusable bags said, “So, you’re a Gore follower, eh? Bet you’re voting for Hillary.” This weekend an acquaintance and I were talking about the rebate checks being sent out and I mentioned that I would save mine. She told me, “You must be a liberal because the conservatives are doing all they can to save the economy.” Another person, upon hearing that I was opting to repair a broken appliance myself rather than replace it, accused me of being a “hippie tree hugger liberal” who should buy a new appliance so as to create more jobs and put more money into the economy (never mind that buying the parts keeps the local parts guy in business).

These people seem to take it as a personal insult (maybe assault is a better word) against their own political beliefs. If I’m acting in a certain way, it immediately puts me at odds with whatever beliefs they hold. If I’m saving money and they identify with a political party that encourages spending, then I’m automatically against them. If I’m concerned about the environment and their politics dictate that global warming is a fraud, I’m acting against them. On the other hand, other groups of people assume that I share their political ideologies and give me the emotional equivalent of a high five or pat on the back. They thank me for supporting their party. Trouble is, I don’t always agree with their party, either. No matter which way it goes, these people feel free to comment on my “obvious” political leanings which, of course, are all based on inferences they’ve made from their own beliefs. They don’t know anything about me or my choices.

So when did frugality go from being a personal choice to a “political lifestyle choice” that makes others automatically assume you have a political agenda? I wish I knew. Frugality used to be admired, not derided. In my grandparents’ day, people were proud of their ability to save and do for themselves. Frugality was much more common then and people of all parties did what they had to to get by. Now frugality puts you out of the mainstream and into the “hippie tree hugger” category, apparently. My ability to save and do for myself is seen as putting the economy at risk or, worse, as the result of some political cult indoctrination. Why can’t it be seen as simply choosing to do something good for myself and society?

Why do my choices have to be the result of a political leaning? Maybe I simply like to save money because I don’t like being broke, regardless of who is in the White House. Maybe I like to save resources because I want to have a planet to live on in my old age, regardless of who I voted for. Maybe being thrifty gives me intangible rewards that don’t change every time a new party takes control. Maybe I just enjoy this lifestyle and always will, regardless of whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent.

For the record, my frugal and environmentally friendly choices have never been politically motivated. I was taught frugality from a young age by Depression-era grandparents. I’ve always been concerned about the environment and it’s not because I follow any particular politicians’ views on the subject. It’s simply because I spend a lot of time outside in nature and understand that our choices affect the environment. My reasons for living this lifestyle are motivated by experience and personal satisfaction, not because I’m liberal or conservative, red or blue.

Do my frugal choices mean that vote for any particular party? Nope. I vote for who I think is best for the job, regardless of party. Is my use of reusable grocery bags the equivalent of a political bumper sticker, hawking my candidate of choice? I don’t think so. I would argue that it reflects my personal, rather than political, beliefs. I personally choose to save money, live within my means, and try to ease my burden on the environment for reasons that don’t have anything to do with politics. It doesn’t matter to me who wins the election in this regard; I will still go on exactly as I always have, regardless of who wins or who I vote for.

If you must slap a label on me, don’t tie it to politics. I can simply be frugal, or environmentally conscious, or thrifty without also being liberal or conservative. When you see me using reusable grocery bags or driving a hybrid car, maybe you should simply ask me, “What do you get out of that?” instead of asking, “Who are you voting for?” You’d learn a lot more about me and my lifestyle choices that way.

Image courtesy of ldcross

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  • I used to be a political junkie but I’m about worn out with politics. Why is it that EVERYTHING is turned into a political issue?

    What would happen if the Federal government took a two year sabbatical?

  • Caoineag says:

    I do think some areas automatically associate conservation and frugality with politics, mainly because the conservatives don’t tend to be wasteful. However, in my area its not. There are simply too many libertarians, conservatives, moderates, independants and liberals who do these frugal type things.

    I definitely don’t get the association of frugality with politics. Its not like any of the parties other than the green party really push for their members to be frugal and responsible for the environmental impact of their actions…Its really an individual choice.

  • disneysteve says:

    Caoineag – That’s funny because I think just the opposite. I associate good environmental policies and conservation with the liberals, not the conservatives.

  • Caoineag says:

    Sorry disneysteve, that was supposed to be “conservative DO tend to be wasteful”.

    Somedays I think I am dyslexic…

  • Debbie M says:

    Part of my thriftiness and environmental consciousness comes from my days as a Girl Scout. As far as I know, Scouting is considered to be fairly conservative: It’s pro-religion and you’re supposed to respect authority.

    So ha.

  • Ceejay74 says:

    I feel bad for frugal, environmentally concerned conservatives whose party overlooks their segment. But more are speaking out; Dave Ramsey flat-out said to use the stimulus package to either invest or pay down debt on his show (a ‘liberal’ POV, apparently, though he’s very family-values-conservative in other ways). More Christians, too, are coming on talk shows to explain that just because they’re Christian or even evangelical doesn’t mean they’re anti-environmentalism, or against civil rights for people whose lifestyles don’t agree with their own.

    I too hate how labels are getting slapped on everything–it oversimplifies, and people with a diverse set of beliefs that don’t fit into liberal or conservative must be frustrated because their true complexity isn’t being acknowledged. Hopefully everyone’s getting as fed up as us, and those I mentioned above, so we can start separating some things from bipartisan politics.

  • lynn says:

    What a shame. I have never received any political comments associated with my frugalness. Most people admire me for my ability to reuse, fix and be as self sufficient as possible.

  • Maismom says:

    Ha, I learned somthing here. I didn’t know being cheap means liberal LOL

    I am cheap and live in California. I must be very liberal!

  • ~Dawn says:

    Hopefully this comment area won’t get off topic too far….

    I personally think you have just run into a few very opinionated people in your area.
    In my area, Denver, I don’t recall the last time I heard any condescending comments about frugality.

  • trex says:

    The reason that they are associated is because the political parties have demonized each side. There is never a middle ground and you aren’t allowed to have some opinions on one side and the other. it’s always either / or. Very unfortunate in my opinion.

  • Cheapchick says:

    Amen and hallelujah! I have been defending my frugal ways as part of my lifestyle and not part of anyone else’s agenda for a long time. All levels of government are wasteful with both resources and money. Our economy’s growth is contingent on everyone being in debt. I think we are starting to see the beginning of the end.

  • Alex in Toronto says:

    Sounds to me like your dealing with too many busybodies that have been heavily brainwashed by the ads and political pronouncements of the corporate ruling class that works heavily to indoctrinate citizens into becoming consumers to support their corporate structure and their own viability at the expense of the human beings running the machines.

    I am frugal because I enjoy working less and doing so I have more time to enjoy the things I already have without a need to consume more and making do with more. I DON’T NEED TO BUY CRAP SO THAT THE CORPORATIONS MAY LIVE YET ANOTHER DAY.

  • Jenni says:

    I so agree with all of you! And being that I grew up in a time when wearing faded jeans with holes in the knees, and Kmart clothes, was not in vogue…I just moved on, taking my mom’s teaching by modeling frugality as a way of life. And I don’t want to have any great, great grandchildren playing in a park on top of a landfill, of stuff my generation threw away. Like there is a park in NY that is suppose to be just like that.
    My mom made quilts to make ends meet, so I tend to save clothes to do just that. Winter quilts aren’t easy to come by either. Anyway, even Chris Rock is talking about being pigeon holed, and not wanting to be, that he is bipartisn. Which is good.I think.


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