Much has been made in the media of later of the recent surge of interest in frugality and thrift. And, with good reason — waves of foreclosures creeping across the land, increasing unemployment, peak levels of food stamp use, and an economy teetering at the edge of ruin fill the news daily. A return to thrift and frugality from an era marked by consumption and excess, however, doesn’t have to mean a decline in quality of life. In fact, spending less can make life better and healthier than ever.


Shared Meals Are The Cornerstone Of Family Life


In 2008, it was widely reported that McDonald’s became the nation’s second largest merchant card processor. That, along with the continuously growing concern about the degree to which the children, as well as the adults, of the U.S. are becoming obese and unhealthy, says a great deal about the changing culture of meals in America. On the go, in the car, micro-wave magic, convenience pseudo-foods, eating in the omnipresence of the ever babbling television, grab a plate and wander off, rarely all sitting down together at the same time – times sure have changed.


This is a perfect example of how frugality can enhance quality of life. Shared meals, absent the noise of the television, truly are the cornerstone of family life. It is around the table that children learn the art of conversation, that parents are able to hear about their children’s daily life, about their friends, their goals, and their dreams. A few words in passing, while rushing here and there, or during a commercial break just aren’t the same.


Eliminating the cost of drive-through foods and take out foods, and using smart shopping techniques to buy groceries with an eye towards eliminating over-processed, chemically laden convenience foods is frugal in the short term and the long term. Cooking meals from scratch can make for healthier and less expensive meals right now, which can, in turn, reduce health care expenditures in the future.


Cooking doesn’t have to be time consuming. There are numerous dishes that take just minutes to prepare, such as broiled fish on a bed of couscous, accompanied by steamed fresh vegetables. Share the work and enjoy more family time, bring the kids into the kitchen or better yet, into the food cost cutting garden filled with easy to grow and quite productive plants, such as tomatoes, zucchini, spinach, and green beans.


Consider The Colonial Model


Thrift and frugality were very much a part of the money culture during the Colonial era. The concept of taking out loans for non-essential consumer goods like we do today, for things that amount to little more than toys – like putting a big screen, plasma TV on a credit card knowing the balance will be carried and interest will be paid – was pretty much out of the question for anybody with any kind of money sense. People worked and saved up for the things they wanted.


Life wasn’t so disposable then, either. Money didn’t seep out of the family budget on disposable dishes, don’t repair just replace appliances, and the like. The throw-away culture wasn’t a part of life in that era and people valued what they had. Knowing how to do things and how to make or repair things was a standard part of living, learning such skills an essential part of growing up.


Rather than sitting passive in front of some costly electronic entertainment, learning to become ever better consumers, children of that era were active and busy, learning how to produce things of value to their daily lives. Even fun was often productive, combining, for example, a picnic and a day of berry picking.  People gave children – gasp – guns and they didn’t go and shoot up their classrooms. Instead, they contributed to the family food stores and protected the family livestock from predators.


Interesting how the self-esteem of colonial children wasn’t so fragile that schools and parents felt the need to engage in nonsense self-esteem programs touting pseudo achievements and to eliminate virtually any form of competition that could harm the delicate psyches of their precious little ones. That is because children had an important role in the overall well-being of the family. Their achievements were real, and so was their self-esteem.


It’s not too late to incorporate such elements into the modern family. Turn off the TV, forget about buying the next new and improved gaming system. Do things together that blend productivity and fun. Teach money management skills that will last a lifetime and the proper balance of time and money, the proper balance of things and people.


Show by example that you think people are more important than things by reducing unnecessary expenses and freeing more time to be spent with family. Children will remember an evening spent together playing board games much longer than they will yet another gaudy guilt gift given by a parent too busy climbing the corporate ladder to actually spend time with them.


The current economic turmoil is forcing many to reevaluate their lifestyles and reduce their spending. However, shifting to a life management perspective that includes thrift and frugality need not mean a sacrifice in the overall quality of living. Rather, it presents an opportunity to live life in a much more meaningful way, a way that enhances the health, happiness, and over-all well-being of the family as much as, if not more than, it benefits the family finances.









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