We all take a lot of cues from the people around us. We see other people doing things and, if it seems reasonable and useful, we often start to mimic it ourselves. It’s a meme, in other words; an idea spread from person to person within a culture.
I see it often with my own family, where our children are so often imitating the little behaviors they see in their parents and in each other. If our daughter sings a song a few times, chances are a few hours later one of our sons will be singing the same song completely independently.
I see it with my friends and family, too. If someone else finds a great new way of cooking a chicken, let’s say, it isn’t long before others are trying it, too. Often, if it’s a good method, it becomes a permanent part of everyone’s repertoire.
Frugal tactics are a perfect example of a meme. If you start going to the library for your books and you tell your friends about it, you might just find that they check out the library as well. If you start cooking at home and sharing the proceeds, you might just find that your family and coworkers start trying to cook at home, too.
This is a big part of the reason why it really pays off to surround yourself with frugal people – or at least people willing to try frugal tactics. Their tactics are an example for you, and your tactics are often an example for them.
It goes further than that. Frugality can be a great example for children. If they see you cooking at home or visiting the library or shopping at secondhand stores, they’re at least somewhat more likely to eventually imitate that behavior.
The same thing is true of people in your life who are not frugal at all. If some of your friends aren’t particularly frugal but they see you having success with things like air-sealing your home or using more energy efficient lighting, they’re more likely to at least give it a try and discover how easy it can be to live a little cheaper.
How do you go about this? You don’t have to make a production out of it. Share a recipe and add a note saying, “This cost just $3 in ingredients, I made it in half an hour, and it was sooo good!” Tell a friend about the fun you had playing disc golf at the park, and mention casually that it was free. Leave books that you checked out from the library out on an end table.
In other words, live your life in a frugal fashion and you’ll slowly cultivate some elements of frugality in the people around you. Eventually, a few of them will try new frugal tactics, and you’ll be one of the first people they want to share with.
As is often the case with me, my thoughts come back to my children when I’m thinking about this. They’re growing up in such a way that the library is normal and a made-from-scratch meal at home is normal, too. Going to the movies is an extremely rare treat and a babysitter is just a family friend that you stay with once in a while – and their kids stay with you sometimes.
We’re a frugal example to our kids. Maybe it won’t cause them to be frugal people, but we can at least be sure that they know the tactics they need to minimize their spending while still having a very happy life.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.