Frugality and Your Sense of Value

Earlier this week, I offered up a post detailing how I wrap Christmas gifts, utilizing brown paper and yarn. The response was mixed – some people didn’t like the aesthetics of the packaging, while others did (obviously, I’m in the latter camp, as I love the aesthetics of brown packages and yarn).

Guess what? We’re both right.

For some people, there’s a lot of value in a certain gift aesthetic. Having a bundle of beautifully-wrapped presents under the tree adds value to their holiday season because of the visual appeal it brings to their home. That’s cool.

Others don’t really care that much about the wrapping and instead focus on the items inside. It doesn’t matter how they’re wrapped, just that there are presents people will be happy to receive under the tree. That’s cool, too.

Each of those groups will seek to maximize their value in a different way. The individuals who love beautifully wrapped gifts will spend more of their Christmas budget on wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and other decorative elements. They’ll also spend more time wrapping gifts so that they look perfect and wonderfully appealing to the receiver. Others (myself included) will spend more time thinking carefully about the item the recipient will want and view wrapping as merely a way to disguise the item from the receiver. Their Christmas budget will minimize wrapping costs in favor of spending a little more on the gifts themselves.

And there’s nothing wrong with either perspective. Frugality is all about your personal value – maximizing the “bang for the buck” for the things you value. For me, it’s not the gift wrap on a present – for others, it’s all about beautiful gifts under the tree.

This pops up time and time again when you talk about frugality. Some people think it’s ludicrous to make your own laundry soap. I think it’s unnecessary to wash sandwich-size resealable baggies. Some people are simply disturbed that we’ve bought second-hand cloth diapers off of eBay to diaper our children with. I won’t dumpster dive or dig through items people set out by the curb for trash. Robert Pagliarini, in his CBS column, actually called me out for talking about brewing my own beer.

Frugality isn’t just about following a list – and then judging a list to be useless because some of the items don’t match your values. It’s about absorbing lots of ideas and utilizing the ones that fit your life. It’s about thinking about the things that work for you, not tossing aside everything because some ideas work better for others.

The next time you come across a tip for saving money, don’t discard it immediately because you don’t think that it applies to your life. Think about it in detail. Perhaps some aspect of it could be of use to you – wrapping small gifts in cut-up brown paper bags, using yarn as a decorative element, or so on, in the example of the gift-wrapping article. Or maybe none of it is – but someone else you know might find it useful, in which case you can pass it on and increase your own social capital a bit.

Frugality is about value and there’s value in almost everything – but that value is different to some people. Good luck.