When I was young, I was surrounded by frugality. My parents did everything they could to shave a few dollars off of their monthly budget, from growing a large garden and wearing clothes until they were almost falling apart to driving used cars and hitting yard sales for many of our purchases.
One would expect, coming from such an environment, that frugality would come naturally to me and I would simply adopt such behaviors almost automatically in my early adult life. Unfortunately (for me), that wasn’t the case – I spent most of my twenties spending money as fast as I could earn it (and sometimes faster – I built up some serious credit card debt along the way).
Fortunately, I figured things out before the wheels completely fell off. I took serious action to right my financial ship, selling off a lot of my frivolous purchases and focusing hard on eliminating debts.
But, perhaps most of all, I began to slowly adopt most of those frugal practices I learned in my childhood.
Three years ago, my wife and I ate out almost every meal. Now, we eat at home almost every meal.
Three years ago, I’d not even bother looking for a used solution to fill my needs – I’d just buy new without thinking about it. Now, I check for used versions of almost everything I buy for myself, using services like PaperBackSwap and hitting things like yard sales and consignment shops as a natural matter of course.
Three years ago, I was already window shopping for a brand new vehicle. Now, I’m pretty happy driving my twelve year old truck until it gives up the ghost – and then I’ll start shopping for a late model used replacement (probably a minivan).
Three years ago, I dabbled in gardening, viewing it only as an amusing hobby. Now, I’m already planning ahead for the most productive vegetable garden that I can possibly plant.
Obviously, something changed. I went from being a complete spendthrift to being a fairly frugal person (I’m far from a frugal zealot, though). I now find myself regularly doing things that I would have considered ludicrous three years ago. Making my own laundry detergent? Swapping used books? Fixing a cheap dinner at home when a nice restaurant is open?
Those weren’t things that I did. Those were things that my parents did.
Over the last few years, though, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the way my parents did things – and still do things. My perception of their frugal ways has changed drastically. When I was younger, I viewed their frugality as somehow trapped in the past – it wasn’t something that I would be doing today. I also viewed it as parochial, as though their choices somehow represented the way people lived in small towns, not in larger towns and cities.
What I’ve come to realize, though, is that frugality is not just a way to save money – it’s also a way that I can connect my own life to the traditions of my family. Today, my father and I have conversations about vegetable gardening – and I’m gradually learning many of his secrets for getting huge production from tomato plants. My mother and I actually swap coupons – if we see really good ones that we’re quite sure the other will use, we’ll simply swap them.
Not only do these things save me money, they provide a vital connection to my roots. It’s opened new avenues of communication with my parents and given us several things in common that we simply didn’t have a few years ago. That’s not only been a personal reward for me, but my wife and my children have been rewarded with a stronger family connection as well.
For me, going back to my hometown isn’t just an opportunity to visit people and reconnect. It’s also an opportunity to learn and grow as a person – and take away some things that I can use in my own life.