The Backlash Against Frugality

Recently, I read through Staying Frugal in the Age of the iPhone, an article on Yahoo! Finance by Anya Kamenetz (whose book, Generation Debt, I reviewed positively a while back). The article basically extols the virtues of frugality and spending less on items – none of the suggestions are particularly unusual and they match up well with the frugal topics I’ve talked about on here before.

What shocked me were many of the comments. Here are a few choice ones (out of the many, many negative ones):

Whatever…..get a clue. You are only young once.

It’s not marketing. It’s fact. You need to get an iPhone.

Used clothes? Are you kidding me? Maybe if you are living below the poverty belt.

I highly doubt she lives this way, which is why her articles are so bad. I can’t believe Yahoo! still keeps her on. She’s misinforming thousands of young people who think shes right. Please young professionals, listen to your parents, dont listen to Anya.

I love reading the crap that this misguided 26 year old girl writes. She preaches this garbage as if it’s actually a healthy way to live.

What’s the point in making money if you’re going to live your life like a miserable miser. All this money that you’re “saving”, what do you do with it? Take it to the grave?

It goes on and on and on like this.

So, why is there such an intense backlash against frugality? I have some guesses.

First, people see only the pieces that they’re uncomfortable with. Anya wrote about things like

buying clothes at a second hand shop and getting rid of your television. These are rather strong steps that will save a lot of money, but they’re beyond the comfort level of a lot of people and thus when they read such advice, they throw the baby out with the bath water.

Second, consumerism plays a more powerful role in their lives than they think. Many, many people equate material goods with happiness. Why? My primary blame is marketing – it is extremely effective at tweaking our emotions, quite often making us feel inadequate in some way if we do not have the product. For example, the iPhone and other objects of technolust – a big part of the appeal of owning one is the idea that it makes you appear “cool” or part of some group that is a “cut above” for owning it. If it was truly about features and aesthetics, there are better choices than the iPhone out there – but none are marketed as well. Yet I’ve constantly witnessed people being quite happy with their iPhone, even though the only features they actually use are found on many far less expensive phones.

In particular, many people equate youth with spending money – they think that frugality is something that older people do. In actuality, this is just marketing, too – marketing directly targets younger people and shows them spending money and owning all sorts of material goods, specifically targeting those people who have discretionary income but haven’t really figured out a plan for their life yet.

Third, people who openly reject consumerism are seen as outcasts. It’s easy to look down upon someone for making choices outside of the norm, and it’s something that many people fall into. Most people have a deep internal need for acceptance, and by rejecting someone whose behaviors don’t match what is normal to them, it’s easy to feel accepted by a larger group.

Finally, most people don’t see frugality as a path to being rich. Being rich, to most people, means having a huge income, but as I’ve mentioned before,

there are two guaranteed ways to improve your financial situation, and one of them is directly through frugality. I like to call this The Millionaire Next Door phenomenon – the average person thinks of a millionaire as being someone with a high income that spends a lot of money, when that’s actually just a myth perpetuated by pop culture.

What do these statements add up to? A person who preaches frugality is going to receive some backlash, for better or worse.

As for me, I’ve seen frugal living work incredible wonders in my personal financial life. Thanks to frugal choices and a big slowdown on consumerism, I now have money in the bank, no high interest outstanding debts, and I have a lot of plans for the future that I actually have a clear path toward. Frugality works, and I don’t really mind the backlash – I’ll keep talking about it.

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Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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