Striving For Compassion In A World Of Judgement
I am an incredibly fortunate person: my frugality is elective, not a requirement for my survival.
While I enjoy frugality and the tremendous benefits it yields, I’m also aware that part of this enjoyment stems from the fact that it’s an optional lifestyle for me and my family.
Much of what I write about, and reflect on, are the ways in which frugality has simplified and improved our lives–not the least of which is that it frees us from worrying about money. But this, I realize, is an incredibly privileged position. There are plenty of people for whom frugality is not a joyful choice–it’s a mandate for scraping by. I never want to lose sight of that.
It irks me when I hear that people who are poor could solve all their problems through frugality. This blanket admonition ignores the privilege inherent to success through frugality–namely, that you must have money in order to save money. While I’m all for personal responsibility–of which fiscal prudence is an element–I’m also keenly aware of the many factors that conspire against people in poverty or in debt. Of course, it’s equally true that some people are poor because they make bad decisions, but not everyone falls into that camp.
We Never Know The Full Story
It’s easy to judge other people. Like super easy. Probably the easiest thing we’ll do all day. After all, it doesn’t require that we talk to the other person, or learn their story, or even know their name. We can just waltz through the grocery store and judge every person we pass. If we see what’s in their cart, then we can judge them EVEN MORE.
Anyone who saw me at Pricechopper yesterday could’ve been VERY judgy about: 1) my screaming child, 2) the frozen pizza in my cart, 3) the box of wine in my cart, and let’s not forget, 4) the bag of candy corn in my cart… probably I am some terrible mother planning on letting her child scream while she feasts on pizza, wine, and candy corn. All before noon. In fairness, I plan to eat all of those things after she goes to bed (and is not screaming) on Saturday night. Also I will share most* of it with Mr. Frugalwoods.
*not the candy corn
I know how easy it is to lob such judgements because I’m a guilty, silent judgy judger who judges. Thankfully I’ve outgrown my proclivity for saying what I’m thinking out loud because, in almost every single instance of me judging a person, I later learn something that negates or explains their behavior, or otherwise makes me feel like the bad person that I clearly am.
I was huffy about the fact that someone carelessly parked over the line between the two “For Customers With Babies” parking spots at BJ’s last week. Personally outraged in my Prius, I silently fumed, “these spots are for people with babies! Like me! This spot is for ME! And now I can’t use it because you were thoughtless in how you parked.”
I parked a few spots away (as if that was a hardship), got Babywoods settled in the grocery cart, and made my way inside. And who walks on out? The parking spot villain herself… who turned out to be a harried mom with twin babies–AKA someone who 100% deserved two parking spots. And who needed that spot a whole lot more than I did. Whoops. Good thing she didn’t hear me berating her parking job.
I could regale you with similar instances for at least an hour because this kind of stuff happens to me all the time. I’m pretty sure the universe is trying to teach me patience and tolerance, both of which I have considerably less of than I’d like to admit. My point is that we have no idea what’s going on in other people’s lives. Even with our close friends and family, we’re often unaware of their intimate struggles.
It is, unfortunately, rather common in the financial sphere to castigate people who don’t manage their money wisely. We point and say, “How could you spend so much on a car?!”; “You’re beyond dumb to buy coffee out every day!!”; “Why would anyone choose to have such a long commute to work??!!”; “This is why you are poor!” The problem with this dogmatic rigidity–in addition to being insensitive–is that it doesn’t account for the unique experiences, challenges, and journeys of each individual.
It’s easy to say those things or pass judgement in a parking lot. It’s a whole lot harder to bring compassion and empathy to a conversation about money. These knee-jerk outbursts, by the way, are why people avoid talking about their finances in the first place. If we think someone is going to yell at us, we simply won’t engage. We’ll ignore whatever the issue is–money, a toxic relationship, an addiction–and pretend it’s not a problem (or at least, that’s what I do). No one wants to be judged or made to feel stupid. And we financially-minded folks do a great disservice to our friends, colleagues, and family when we berate them for how they’re handling (or not handling) their money.
I’m Right And You’re Wrong! So There!
Levying judgements also makes us feel superior. Creating an “us” vs. “them” scenario is ridiculously tempting. It makes us feel wise and like we’re doing the right thing and that we alone have unlocked this wonderful secret of how to be a fabulous person in the world. We are the best! And they are the worst! There are few, if any, situations where such diametric camps hold fast (maybe with people who like black olives? those things are gross!).
And, hey, maybe we are doing the right thing in one area, but we might be royally screwing up something else. Perfection on all fronts is impossible. It’s also true that what works for us very well might be awful for someone else. I, for example, do not budget. Other people, for example, adore their budgets. And that’s OK. I don’t need to be some ultimate fighting ninja authority on why budgeting is bad for you (it’s not, by the way). Acknowledging that there’s more than one “right” path is painful because it forces us to accept that our chosen lifestyle isn’t the only way. Plus, it just feels so good to be right.
Herein is another revelation: those of us who are happy with our lives and with what we’ve chosen to do are typically able to see others’ points of view without malice. When we’re confident about how we’re living our own lives, we’re much more accepting of divergent paths for other people.
This is spoken by someone (me) who previously did not like her life (childless, living in city, working in office) and now loves her life (parent, working from home, living in woods). I’m a lot less judgmental these days because I’m not scrambling for ways to make myself feel better. I’ve figured out what works for me and I want that for other people too–whether they agree with me or not.
Everyone’s experiences are different; thus, expecting others to hew to a prescribed doctrine is equal parts futile and rude. I’ve discussed before that I don’t judge anyone’s spending, but this concept of compassion extends beyond an absence of levying judgement. Even in writing this post I run the risk of self-aggrandizement as I paint myself as some benevolent, empathetic person who is so loftily non-judgmental (everyone who knows me just laughed out loud). Let me assure you, I write this because it’s an area in which I need to improve, not an area in which I’m a master.
Is Frugality For Everyone?
I did a TV interview the other day and was asked if I think frugality is for everyone and if everyone can achieve financial independence. To the interviewer’s surprise, I said “no.” Just because frugality works for me and facilitates the lifestyle I want doesn’t mean it’ll do that for everyone else. My dream was to live a simpler life less focused on consumption. While to me that’s a good thing, I don’t extend my beliefs to thinking it’s a moral good.
There’s danger when we attach morality to our personal choices and when we categorize other people as less than because they don’t agree with us. It’s a choice I’m making, but it’s not something everyone needs/wants/should do.
As far as financial independence goes, this is another area where privilege comes to bear. It’d be easy (super easy) for me to say “oh yes, Mr. FW and my success is due entirely to our crafty, brilliant decisions!” But that’s not true. That’s a simplified, hackneyed response totally lacking self-awareness and nuance.
Rather, I think our success stems from a combination of good decisions and luck. A lot of luck. And a lot of privilege (for more on privilege, see this post here). No, we didn’t inherit money, nor did our parents buy our houses or cars or any such thing. But, we were both raised by solidly upper middle-class families who prioritized their children, who helped pay for our college educations, and who lovingly supported our growth and development at every turn. Now this isn’t to say that people without our upbringings and our privilege can’t reach financial independence–that’s a causality argument I’m not making. It’s just that for me, the road was a lot easier. And for that, I’m aware and I’m thankful.
Approaching The World With Acceptance
Finding fault in others is a natural human response. We’re self-promoting creatures and I think only the most devout among us are absent this defect. I know I’m not. The key, I’m learning (slowly), is to approach every interaction from a place of acceptance, not a place of judgement and attack. It’s impossible for us to know the inner workings of someone else’s life and we might be intersecting with them in a vulnerable moment. In a moment when they desperately need our compassion, our empathy, and our understanding. More to the point, I dare say no one ever needs our judgement.
How do you consider your frugality?
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I would love to send this out to everyone and replace frugality with (insert political opinion here). Well done, Mrs. FW, Well done!
Haha, yep, I think it works that way too 🙂
I was going to say the EXACT same thing. Life is shades of gray, and the problem with talk about frugality and politics is that most of what you hear is black and white. Most people do not fall into either category.
Politics are driving me batty right now.
Very thoughtful piece, and I especially appreciate your comment: “But this, I realize, is an incredibly privileged position. There are plenty of people for whom frugality is not a joyful choice…” You’re right! We should appreciate our frugality choice every day! We are prepared and preparing for our own and our kids’ futures. Many cannot think beyond tomorrow!
Thanks as always…
Every part of this is why I love your blog. Thanks!
This made me laugh out loud: “I know how easy it is to lob such judgements because I’m a guilty, silent judgy judger who judges.” Thank you for the reminder that no one needs my judgement. Judging people only hurts my own attitude.
greetings, the practice of nonviolent communication as taught by marshall rosenberg in his book Nonviolent Communication has taught me how to change my judgmental thoughts into those of understanding and care. i highly-recommend “NVC” to anyone seeking to change their way of seeing the world – there are lots of youtube videos on the process, including many by marshall – thom bond is another teacher whose videos have been useful to me..
That was lovely. Thank you.
I think it’s just as hard and sometimes more important to not judge others when they’re judging us. I was driving last week and had the right of way*, but another lady clearly thought she did, with the honking, screaming, and hand gestures to prove it. It wasn’t a dangerous situation, and our cars came nowhere close to hitting. So why was she so incredibly upset? I don’t know. Maybe she was having a bad day, or someone just yelled at her. I felt sorry for her anger and frustration over something that wasn’t a big deal at all, so it seems more likely that she was really upset about something else in her life.
*I even looked up the traffic laws when I got home to make sure.
Grandma used to say “If all were known, all would be forgiven.”
Well said, Grandma!
I love this! Thanks for sharing it.
I love this too. Beautiful saying!
Agree, Bob. Grandmas are very wise.
Oh, I like that a lot!
This post hit a chord with me (except for that black olive thing…I find them delightful!). Anyway…
A few years ago I started a personal finance blog called Escaping Dodge; I wanted to share my success with managing my money in hopes of helping others to rid themselves of debt and grow wealth. I felt it was within everyone’s reach to live a life without financial strain and to be able to retire comfortably…even early.
But something strange happened….
My job ended.
I then decided to try to build a physical products business. But in the process of figuring things out and making more wrong turns than right turns, I realized that my haughty beliefs about how everyone should follow my “plan” was so stupid.
I was able to build wealth because, similar to you, I had a good middle-class upbringing that gave me a sold footing and support system. And, while I have no college degree, I worked my butt off at a corporate job and earned a fantastic income. It’s easy to save when you have a nice income to make it happen.
It made me feel like a fraud…spending my emergency fund (and then some) to work on a dream. How can you write about being good with money when you’re not putting into action those skills you wrote so judgmentally about? It’s impossible to grow wealth while saving X% of nothing!
It has been a big wakeup call to me. Perhaps if I can succeed at building a business, I’ll blog about money again but from the point-of-view of a self-employed person. Until then, I’ll just keep being a reader of your blog!
Ree, this is such an honest, open and insightful post. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this, Ree! I’m sure many folks will find your story inspiring!
Thank you for expressing so clearly what is on my heart. We think alike and I am very grateful for your inspiring posts.
lovely, loving post,
would like to add to that it is important to work for social justice, ie, at least vote, for a government that supports lifting people out of poverty,
for most it is not self-imposed
Wonderful, thoughtful post! And here’s another thing people don’t often think about. Being poor can (but not always, of course) make you a little cuckoo. Wondering if you have enough money for a roll of toilet paper sure does take its toll.
Great point. I have been there, and al that stress has a negative impact on your physical health as well, which can lead to more money issues. It can be very hard to break free from that cycle.
This is exactly why yours is the blog I read. All the other financial blogs/vlogs I’ve found preach that everyone can accomplish the things the blogger has accomplished – all you have to do it try harder! Well, some people are already trying as hard as they can.
I love this! Thank you for writing this. I think my frugality is due, in part, to the privilege that I have in my life. I’ve written about this in terms of decluttering and minimizing. The same is true for my spending and saving choices. Also, I am trying hard to speak my mind even if the opinion is the opposite of what people normally say. I wrote about why I’d buy my new car 100x over given the situation that I was in. I expected to be laughed off the Internet. It’s my most commented on post. So many people shared stories that they hadn’t told because it seemed like it wasn’t the “right” thing to say.
“While to me that’s a good thing, I don’t extend my beliefs to thinking it’s a moral good.” Can I get this on a bumper sticker?
I am working hard at not judging others by the surface and trying to teach my daughter the same, that there are hidden sides to everyones life. It is very freeing to change your mindset. When a stranger is short or rude to me, I don’t automatically think I did something or they are an idiot. I tell myself, perhaps they are having a tough time. It frees me from stewing over how I was treated and doesn’t drag me into an argument or push me into a bad mood. It is for selfish reasons I strive to be accepting.
I need that bumper sticker in front of my face at all times :)!!!
I think people’s stories are so powerful. Until we allow ourselves to sit in that spot with them for a minute, it’s hard to see the nuance. A friend recently shared how her van stops working all the time. It just dies at random and inconvenient times. But the worst is in the school pick up line. All the other parents are very judge and mean because it stops the flow of the line. She doesn’t have enough money to fix it. She also shared that her house is a mess. So bad that she never invites anyone over for fear of how they will judge her. How she has lost some friends over this. So she said that sometimes after dropping off the kids (if her van didn’t die) she will go and buy a pumpkin spice latte and head home to fold laundry. It might not be a great money choice. But I get it. Sometimes you don’t have money to fix the van, or the energy to purge and clean the whole house. Sometimes you just have $3 for a latte to get you through the day and provide that one bright spot. It would have been easy to judge that choice, but there is always more to the story.
Sounds like she could use a good laugh. It made me think of this car randomly honking by Brian Reagan:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2vGGm3U6gg&sns=tw via @youtube
So well said! And something I need to hear. I am another silent judger who has been humbled over and over when I learned the story behind the circumstance I was judging.
I came to frugality through bankruptcy. I came to a point where I had to change my entire approach to money — earning and spending it — and your blog has been key in helping me find clarity and more happiness in my life 🙂 There were many aspects to my bankruptcy. However, I would say it was in large part a bankruptcy of my soul. I was grasping and grasping and grasping — spending and spending and spending — to try to prove myself in others’ eyes. But what I needed to do was to prove myself to myself, from the inside out. Getting clarity about my spending, becoming frugal and embracing a more minimalistic and simple lifestyle has been fundamental in helping me heal, helping me know my own worth.
Congrats on pulling through, Annie! That’s wonderful and I wish you all the best 🙂
Wow…so raw and open. I love your story and can relate; you just described me in my 20’s. I’m so glad those days are long gone but reading your comment here, Annie, brought back all those feelings. Once I was able to speak my truth, like you have done here, it no longer held the same power over me that it once did. Am I proud of my behavior back then? No! But I don’t let it define me any longer.
When I grew up, we struggled with money. I often only had two outfits to wear and my winter coat was usually too small to zip up. We were judged at church because we did not have a nice church outfit with dress shoes, but my mother could only afford a single pair of shoes for us each year. I failed gym class in 4th grade one quarter because I would not change into the uniform that was 2 sizes too small (think shorts tighter and shorter than Richard Simmons),and we couldn’t afford the $10 for a new one. The gym teacher called me in front of the class and berated me for being irresponsible and not bringing my uniform,not bothering to find out the real reason.
I now live an upper middle class existence, but I know I had to learn everything on my own, funded my own education,and often worked full time and went to school full time to get there. Even though these things worked for me, I also know I am in a position of privilege due to a high IQ and my ability to get scholarships. Compassion costs exactly nothing, but arrogance could cost you when people who may be ready to learn are repulsed by an uncharitable attitude.
“Compassion costs nothing”–you’ve summed it up perfectly. Thank you for sharing your experience.
“Shorts tighter than Richard Simmons”, lol!
I’m sending a big hug to that little 4th grader inside you.
Like You, I grew up poor, chopping wood in the snow to heat the house, eating government cheese,TVP, and eating a free lunch (one year, it was my only meal of the day). I see posts of people judgy-judging free lunches for kids and think “you don’t know, it’s not the kids’ fault-they may become the surgeon who saves you one day”
And when I was able to repay that kindness, I did through the Backpack Buddy program.
backpack buddy, if it’s the same as we have here is an awesome program.
Great points. You are wise beyond your years. I read this in the NYT and the phrase “lottery of birth” really struck me. No matter what our circumstances, our outcomes involve a combo of luck and choices. Judging others only helps us feel better about our own choices, but as you point out, there is almost always more to the story than what meets the eye, just like you can only see 1/10th of an iceberg..
Thank you for sharing this article! I think “lottery of birth” is a very apt phrase. And one that I remind myself of every day!
I remember in one of my classes we learned how research has found that the biggest predictor of how long an American will live is the zip code in which they were born. Kind of scary.
This post reminded me of a fascinating story I heard on NPR a few months ago. This comment from the story really put things into a new perspective for me with regard to other people’s spending priorities (i.e. you don’t have money, so why are you buying some fancy shoes or phone or whatever): “People don’t want their children to seem poor, they don’t want to seem poor. Clearly, we have so much stigma attached to poverty. Kids get teased. Again as a parent, you can’t get what middle class kids get — the sports camp or the music class, and so wouldn’t you want to try to do something for your kid? And maybe actually that pair of sneakers is the cheapest thing you could do.” Link to the story – https://wamu.org/news/16/06/27/how_traditional_nonprofits_run_into_problems_trying_to_tackle_poverty
Interesting post…earlier this week I went to Target with my friend. I needed to buy hand wipes for the kids’ lunchboxes. She needed to buy socks for her kids. I bought…hand wipes for my kids’ lunchboxes. She bought $130 worth of…???? in the same amount of time. This is a friend who at one time actually asked me for help to stop spending, but yet I feel like I come across as judgemental when I try. It’s not easy to be your frugal self and not be perceived as judgemental at least some of the time I think, even by friends who admire your frugality (in theory, anyways), and who want your help.
I loved this post. I am judgmental about some things, grocery carts being one of the biggies, so good thing I didn’t spot you with your grocery cart of “poor choices!” My biggest issue is judging people for healthy or non-healthy choices in food. I should never do that! You Frugalwoods eat a very good diet — a box of wine and the occasional pizza and candy are not hurting anyone. Yet I bet I would have thought, “Just look at how they eat! For shame!” Then I would feel ashamed of myself later for doing that. 🙂
I appreciated this post as well as the article about having had privilege, so very much. I came from a family which struggled for every penny for many, many years. We had no choice but to live frugally and it wasn’t much fun. Our situation was caused by huge medical bills for my mother, issuing from a lifetime of health issues from an infection she got in a hospital that nearly killed her, back when no one knew about suing a hospital or doctor to recover their losses. My dad hustled with all he had to make ends meet and try to scrape up a little extra when he could. There were no “poor choices”, there was no laziness. There was just an unhappy circumstance that put my parents in a tough financial situation for many years. Having grown up that way, I am much less inclined to judge people for financial issues. Now if I can teach myself not to judge their food choices!
I’m sorry to hear about your family’s struggles. You’ve articulated what so many folks struggle to understand–that sometimes there were no bad choices or laziness at all, just bad luck. And, I am a grocery cart judger myself! But I need look no further than my own cart if I want to judge 😉
Thanks. Of course, when I put that big “Endangered Species” dark chocolate bar in my own cart, I tell myself that dark chocolate is good for me and I’m helping the planet… it sounds good at the time, anyway.
I turn it into a game with myself. I look at my own cart in the checkout line and picture what people must think of me (as a personal joke). In fact yesterday I ran into a church friend in line and I jokingly said “Good thing you caught me with a healthy cart today or I’d be embarrassed!”
Some days it’s sodas, ice cream and frozen pizzas. Some days it’s fresh fruit and quinoa.
It’s interesting-I bet I have people judging my cart of meat, fats and the like.
As one who is insulin resistant, I can’t “do” most fruit and veg-my liver cannot process them properly.
As a vegan, I could not figure out why the weight kept piling on (until seeing a great nutritionist), yet I had a judgey judge cart full of fruit and veg.
Those who are perfect, please cast the first avocado…
I love your blog and appreciate your openness as well as your humor that you inject into your blog. My husband raised six children and I was a stay at home mom. We were comfortable and never wanting for the necessities of life but we did need to keep a tight budget because of all of the costs of raising our children. These days we are in a better picture financially but, basically, continue to live that same lifestyle. Probably like most people I do judge others, including my own kids, but it’s not something I am proud of and continue to work on. However, I keep those opinions to myself, including the ones regarding my children and decisions they have made. Unless they ask me I leave them alone to learn valuable lessons on their own. I appreciate your wisdom at such an early age and I continue to learn lessons from others who have good insight to help me to better my life.
Omigosh, you are hilarious and an awesome writer. However, lousy parking can have no excuse unless it was life-or-death. 🙂
I can’t believe how accurate this is. My best friend sent me a message yesterday telling me he had received some money and would be able to pay off all his credit cards. I felt great for him. A few hours later he sends me a video of himself in a nightclub. I just thought to myself how stupid can you be. I didn’t think what a great relief it was for him to owe no money and to go out and celebrate if that’s what he wants to do.
Less than two years ago I probably would have done the same thing…. it’s funny how quickly we forget.
Compassion, yes. An interesting book on the subject of experiencing poverty: Hand To Mouth by Linda Tirado. Unfortunately, after the book was published there were a number of people purporting that it was not accurate and taking issue with some of the life facts she presented there. While I would not say I was ever at the poverty level she wties about, I would say I was darn close. To the point where, yes, frugality would have been a pretty much unreachable privilege. And I have known people who had and/or have much less than I had at the lowest point and I have personally seen some of the situations, decision making, and mindsets she writes about. I am in a stable financial situation now (as much as one can be in this day and age) and, believe me, I am grateful every day.
Judgement is a big thing I have let go in recent years after coming to the conclusion that people are unknowable. It’s impossible to know how people got people to be where they are and who they are unless you deeply, really know them. To me, people seem to behave irrationally all the time. But there must be something in it thatworks for them, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.
For better and worse, Americans believe whole-heartedly in the self-made man myth. And that trickles down into a belief that “you get what you deserve.” It’s that belief that makes people think that rich people must be rich because they’ve made so many good decisions, and poor people must be poor because they’re lazy. It couldn’t possibly be that there are flaws in this system that limit people’s ability to get ahead of where their parents were, or that there are measures to protect the wealth of the richest. To admit that would be admitting that the self-made man myth has its limits and that not everyone will be able to reach their dreams. Which is uncomfortable, but in reality, a meritocracy this place isn’t.
One of your very best posts (and I think they are all good). Also very timely in our current environment where public compassion is sadly lacking.
I think we’re all guilty of judging other people. I guess the practical reason is so we have a yardstick to compare our lives against. “Oh man, I must be doing pretty well! That woman has a screaming kid and is buying frozen pizza!” Also, I am buying frozen pizza for dinner next week, so I have no room to judge lol!
It’s easy to approach it with a sense of feeling smarter or more superior, but at the end of the day it’s really none of our business how other people spend their money. The best I can do is to say, “You know what? I don’t like the things those people do. I’m going to do something different. ”
I get especially riled up when people say frugality can solve poverty. While I agree that a minute amount of people are blowing their low income on ridiculous things, the majority of people below the poverty level are working hard and just scraping by. My family wasn’t very well off for a portion of my life and we had to rely on government assistance. We didn’t have cable, lived for free in military housing, and ate homecooked meals. The fact was that there just wasn’t enough money to go around between two adults and two kids at the end of the day.
I think frugality works best for people who are blessed to have decent incomes and want to use those incomes to plan for the future. But frugality isn’t a solution for poverty.
Yes! Thank you for sharing your experience. I think it’s easy to assume that people in poverty could solve all their problems through frugality, but as you illustrate, it’s often simply not possible.
LOVE this! We did a training at work where we talked about how we tell ourselves stories about why we think a person may have said or done something but that those stories often turn out to be wrong. Your story about the mom with twins in the parking spot is a great example! I am SO guilty of this myself. Thanks for writing and sharing this reminder.
Excellent post. I’m guilty of wearing the judgy hat too. I’ve read somewhere our first thought is what society has conditioned us to think, and our second thought is who our true selves are. Even if someone makes me angry while driving (which happens often), I try to think a second positive thought about them. Slowly but surely I’m getting better!
This post could not have come at a better time. I am about to spend the weekend with my SIL who struggles with addiction and lately I have been judging her…hard! I don’t know her day-to-day struggles. I don’t know if she feels supported by me or if she knows I’m judging her (writing this makes me feel awful!). So, today, when I see her I will negate a judgey thought with one of compassion and a little patience. Thank you for your beautiful words.
I LOVE this: “those of us who are happy with our lives and with what we’ve chosen to do are typically able to see others’ points of view without malice.” It’s so, so true. I often find that the people I know who are the most judgmental are also the most unhappy at that particularly time (and same goes for me – when I’m being judgmental it’s often because I’m feeling insecure about something else). And I always want to say, “you might disagree with that choice, but that person making it seems pretty happy with their life right now and you’re miserable, so… maybe focus less on the issues you have with decisions made by other people that make them happy? and focus more on the decisions you’re making and how they’re making you unhappy?” but it’s not exactly the sort of thing people want to hear when they’re in that state!
Generally I agree with what is written here but I still don’t understand why the mother of twins couldn’t park in a single space? More abstractly, I think that we are all faced with inconsistent burdens in our lives. It’s not fair. There are people undeserving of the heavy loads and challenges they face on a daily basis. But what are our responsibilities as everyday members of society who engage with this reality? To some degree we support structures to correct unfairness like the redistribution of wealth via taxes and welfare programs or people-with-babies parking spots. But in general I feel like equality is the real goal as it is usually more achievable. It is impossible to even really quantify individual life experiences to promote ultimate fairness, and it often devolves into the “oppression olympics”, but can we manage to treat folks equally? I think so! I feel like the mother of twins, in possession of a vehicle and license (and babies) should have equal access to a people-with-babies parking spot as you, Mrs. Frugalwoods. She faces a greater challenge in that she was blessed with two babies and not just one but that doesn’t eliminate equal access to parking spots. It’s not a big deal, parking spots at the market, but it isn’t hard to extrapolate outwards to bigger issues with bigger stakes. Luckily I am not a policy maker or an activist and forced to engage directly with shaping society so I try to extended grace to others (and myself) through my actions and my words just as default behavior. But I think and I judge and I question and I wonder and really, most days, I’m not sure I believe in humans ability to either care enough for each other to fully promote fairness or to take advantage of equal opportunities.
The mechanics of getting around with twins are often just…different. Unlike with a single baby you might need to pull up the shopping cart or a double stroller alongside the car in order to get them in and out safely. If someone is parked too close on both sides of the car you would have to bring one at a time to their car seats, leaving the other twin unattended in front of or behind the car.
On the parking spot, my husband often has to use 2 spots because I’m in a wheelchair & all the handicapped are taken. I’ve been on both sides of poverty. Husband out of work, me off having kids, on food stamps & believe me it stinks. I always felt judged but I bought my kids a couple bag of cookies anyway because they were kids & I felt they deserved it. If we decided to eat eggs or pancakes for dinner to buy a steak to celebrate a birthday or special grade again my business not anyone else. I’ve leaned to live by the credo ” Walk a Mile in my shoes before you judge me” Lucky for us things did get better & our life is good & frugal by choice not necessary .
A difficult article to write. I agree with your reasoning for not being judgey when trying to teach thriftiness to others – it’s counterproductive and can make the person less receptive. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be judgey in other situations though. For example with the mother taking up two parking spots, she is not “more deserving” because she has two babies. Judging who deserves special treatment and who doesn’t is simply another form of judginess.
And in fact, judgement plays a role in human society – it’s our way of keeping bad actors in check. Social stigma (judgement) is what creates the societal rules that say it’s not okay to steal, litter, take up two parking spots, etc.
I think perhaps the justification for not being judgey on trivialities is simply it’s not worth the stress (to yourself).
I think this is why it’s important to reflect on our own failings whenever we feel the urge to judge. Humility and curiosity are pretty powerful tools for understanding. Yes, it’s easy for the frugal bloggers to preach from the mountaintop, but we are a unique community and we can’t expect everyone to just “get it”, when “it” is something others simply don’t aspire to, or have barriers *we* don’t see. Nice work, Mrs. FW. And as a parent of twins, thanks for giving that mother a bit of parking space grace. 🙂
Thank you for this reminder. I mistakenly believed I was on the very low end of the judgy scale, but this post has helped me realize then when I sit back and sigh over another friend/acquaintance my age with a new house or condo downtown due to help from their parents or due to living rent-free at home until they’re 30, etc, I automatically assume/judge that their life must be smoother sailing than mine, and they must be happier/luckier than I am. After reading this I’ve realized those assumptions are a form of judgment; I’m looking as an outsider into their lives and making a *judgment* that it’s easier or luckier or more privileged than mine. I’m discounting any struggles or hardship they may have had to or are enduring, and that simply isn’t fair. Thank you for the gentle nudge.
It’s easy to make quick judgments about others that are completely off base. We play a fun game while walking around our urban neighborhood called “millionaire or homeless” because you can’t really tell if the somewhat messy dressed guy with some facial scruff and a backpack is someone like me (millionaire taking a leisurely stroll to the grocery store) or a homeless person who lives behind the grocery store. There’s plenty of both and it’s not always easy to tell the difference.
We’ve also had someone at Aldi buy us a pizza. At the time, Mrs. Root of Good was very pregnant with our son and we had about $30 worth of groceries in the cart plus a $6 take and bake pizza. At the checkout, I couldn’t get my ATM card to work so I was scrambling for cash. I only produced $33 so I chose to put the pizza back. The lady behind us said “it’s no big deal I’ll get it for you”. She told us she’s been pregnant before and knows what it’s like to not be able to treat yourself.
After she bought it for us, I told her to hold on and I could grab a handful of quarters and dollar coins from the car to repay her but she wouldn’t take it. I’m sure she assumed we were pretty hard up for money and wanted to be generous (which we appreciated even if we didn’t need it).
Those are perfect anecdotes! I had a few somewhat similar situations while I was pregnant and driving my ancient, rusty car and wearing hand-me-down maternity clothes with holes (I didn’t realize there were giant holes in this one shirt before I left the house 🙂 ). It’s awkward because you don’t want to say, “uh, no, actually, I’m secretly quite wealthy… “. Best to just express gratitude :).
I probably wear clothes with holes in them more often than I should, but hey if it’s comfortable and not that noticeable what’s the big deal? Occasionally it scores you a free pizza 😉
But yeah, we gave up trying to give that lady her $6 back after several attempts and just thanked her. It probably made her day to know she was “helping a struggling family in need to enjoy a little luxury”. I even showed her all the other healthy food in our cart (it’s aldi so the cart was half full of fruits, veggies, canned goods, milk, cheese, meat, etc for the $30) so she would know we weren’t starving but she still insisted on buying the pizza.
I will admit that the sentiment you discuss in this post is one of the main reasons I prefer your blog to many others. Your blog, for me, encourages intentional living and prudent financial decisions without a tone of superiority or judgment – something I appreciate. I have found there are some frugal/intentional living blogs that may have some great ideas, but they can get lost in posts that suggest “you idiot, your life is out of control because of YOU”. Like you, I agree that some of these authors cannot unpack the embedded privilege that makes their frugality/lifestyle work. As a parent raising a very medically complicated child who is also profoundly disabled (and therefore expensive) I often felt alienated by these blog posts that suggested my life was out of control because of ME. No, sometimes annual pharmaceutical costs that exceed $40,000/yr might have something to do with it!
This post exemplifies why your blog is now the only finance blog I read. I’ve not read them all, but the ones I have at some point make blanket statements, claiming at least one solution is applicable for everyone. If you don’t do what they tell you, you’re called lazy (or worse), or deserve to be punched. There’s too little acceptance and love on other blogs, while here it flows in abundance. Thank you for sharing and creating a safe place.
My pleasure! My aim is to have a safe, non-judgmental space here on Frugalwoods (and in my actual home 🙂 ) and it warms my heart to hear that it’s working. Yay!
One of the reasons I love your blog is that you are not trying to sell me anything but free advice. Many financial blogs have turned into nothing more than another place to shop. Thank you for another great article.
I personally love this entry. Last night I was on another blog talking with folks about the competitiveness of corporate America (how top chickens peck other top chickens to death–a study, extrapolated to corporate America) and how it is driving many people to work 50+ hours to keep their jobs & not making any of those top chickens very happy.
Someone chimed in and said “the faster you can realize it’s a dog-eat-dog competitive world, the better off you will be,” i.e., stop whining about working a lot, it’s called competition and makes us all better as well as the world.
I felt a little hot after reading that comment…but then I reflected and thought how amazing it is that we all get to choose the environments that suit us best (Yay, most of us don’t live in caste systems anymore!). Yes, the world can be competitive, but its also expansive and has many opportunities for all. From finance bloggers, I have learned there is another way to live outside the pressure cookers of cubicle colonies.
When we take time to really reflect on what lifestyle is best suited for us, given our uniqueness, background and finances we begin to blaze the most fulfilling trails for us as individuals. Yes, we may be judged…but what you call out and act as a beacon of, Mrs. FW; is that deep contentment with your life, is so much sweeter than the occasional judgement. That said, I believe the more we can all stop ourselves in judgement tracks, the more happy we will all be:)
I love this post.
Being poor is expensive. I have experienced it. Now that I am much more stable (through some hard work and a lot of luck!) I am realizing that there are so many more choices open to me to save money directly or use time to save money. I didn’t have that kind of free time when I struggled – precarious employment, I’m looking at you! I find that many judge young people for making bad decisions that perpetuate a precarious financial situation, but they don’t understand just how much it costs to not have a bank balance.
A few examples:
1. I used to scrape together coins to use for cash fare on public transit, or walk long distances. If I had more cash handy I could have bought a monthly pass (which would save $ per trip) or bought a bike to ride and save on transit costs.
2. I just got a credit card that gives me cashback – something that is linked to a higher spending limit – something i never would have qualified for previously. Free money for people that don’t really need it.
Anyways, thanks so much for sharing this post with us all. I think it is really important in the world of personal finance blogs which can sometimes be so judgmental.
Thank you for sharing this–you are very right that it’s expensive to be poor. I’m glad you brought that up!
This was my first thought in reading this post – it is poor to be expensive. Not only do you not have the safety of saved funds, and the opportunities you mentioned above don’t exists, but you also have the mindset of scarcity and stress and for me, much of it was a scramble to make ends meet and that’s where my mental energy went. When I tried to get out of debt and clear up my credit score, it took so long and I expected myself to be perfect during those years — which gave me no relief valve so when those “mistakes” happened, I was increasingly discouraged. And I had plenty of privilege as well – so I know that is but a taste of what others experience.
This is something I work on moment by moment as well. When I feel a judgement coming on, I gently say to myself (in my head…not out loud; that would be weird!) “you don’t know what you don’t know.” That almost always sets me straight. Being somewhat cynical by nature also helps. After reminding myself I don’t know the whole story, I usually construct a story in my head to justify the situation to anyone who (isn’t as evolved as me? Ha!) may be passing judgement.
“I know how easy it is to lob such judgements because I’m a guilty, silent judgy judger who judges.” – me too, though I’ve learned not to judge unless I know the whole story, and that is a rare situation. Even then, coming down on someone rarely does any good, but you can sometimes find a gentler way to help. By putting your story out there with this blog, you may be able to help someone who is looking for that kind of information, so you may help someone, or many, without ever knowing about it.
However, on the subject of parking spaces – I refuse to back down. The funniest thing about that, is that I would voice my opinions to my husband and daughter (even before she was of age to drive) to the point that she was walking through a parking lot with him one time, and commented on a bad park job – “Mom would have something to say about that one.”. Maybe the bad park job you referred to kept a mother of triplets from being able to park closer!
The only time I’ve actually challenged someone about bad parking was – once I was meeting hubby and daughter for dinner, and I thought I was the one that was late. So I parked my car (straight from work) and went into the building, and found that they weren’t there yet either. I had left my phone in the car, and I went out to get it, only someone had pulled their mammoth SUV into the space on the driver’s side so closely, that I couldn’t even get between the vehicles to open the door. It was early, and there were plenty of spaces available in the lot, besides the one they had taken. This was a place where you ordered at the counter and then found a seat, and clearly this person had come in after me. I went back inside and there was the last person in line and I asked her if that was her white SUV in the lot. She said yes, and I told her that she shouldn’t be allowed to drive, should have her license revoked, that there were plenty of other spaces and that I objected to my vehicle being blocked that way. “Oh, well I was only going to be here for a minute, I’m getting an order to-go.” (Note that a to-go order here could still take more than “a minute”.) I object to other drivers wavering around lane lines the same way, but you’re not often in a position to say anything about it, though these days I find that they’re usually on their @#$%^%$#$@ cell phones. And add cresting hills over the center line on 2-lane roads to the same category, though that is even more blankety-blank dangerous. (We live on a 2-lane road.)
Thank you for this! I feel more judged than I used to now that I’m a “single mom.”
My frugality is necessary to our survival as a family, at least for now–divorce happened fast for me and now I’m a single parent trying to make ends meet on the part-time job that was enough when I was married.
I try not to judge people who are, like me, in straitened circumstances but who don’t practice as much frugality as I do. It’s easy for me. I found out I could get $10/month charity internet, for instance, because I’m a librarian and got the info for our customers! (It’s for households with kids in the school lunch program.) I was raised by frugal middle-class parents who taught me how to do things like sew and save up for a purchase.
I find that life goes smoother when I figure that other people are as well-intentioned but as flawed as I am.
My heart goes out to you as you navigate this new iteration of your life. And, great find on the $10/month internet–that’s fabulous! I hope that things get easier for you as you get more settled into your post-married life. You’re an awesome mom and I am sure you will figure it all out.
Working on not judging others is an important part of my own financial journey. I can’t help but get a little grumpy sometimes when I see people who make good money messing around with debt and refusing to lower their cost of living. At the same time, I don’t know their position. Maybe they are spending their money in ways that are more valuable to them. Maybe they aren’t worried about the dbet. Personal finance is personal. There isn’t one right answer to everything. I try to remind myself that whenever I start getting into my “judgy” state.
It is of course awfully easy to judge others. It is human nature!
I had a “friend” pass me in the grocery aisle one time and she saw the makings for a HUGE amount of brownies (school bake sale – 3 children in elementary school) and she berated me for buying these items before she thought to check and see what exactly my project was! Her gripe? I have Type 1 Diabetes and I should never make baked goods for a sale! Never mind the fact that I have had this for over 50 years and I DO NOT like chocolate.
I find keeping the phrase “Less is More” in mind is a good one for me, it keeps me focused and centered when peeking into others lives! Happy Weekend!!
I truly appreciated this today. So many events in 2016 have made me realize the importance of extending grace to everyone and recognizing the many benefits that my privilege as an educated white women give me. The kindest compliment someone ever gave me was that they thought I tried to see the best in everyone. That’s definitely more of an ambition than a reality, but it’s a goal I try to keep in mind! Thank you for the reminder that others struggle with this too.
On a lighter note, I’m hoping the people who walked by my screaming toddler sitting in the middle of the sidewalk today and hysterically protesting having to wear a coat/leave storytime/go to the market will extend the same lack of judgment to me.
Haha, no judgement allowed about kids! Especially babies and toddlers… good luck, by the way 😉
Your writing here is so true! It is easy to judge, but very important to aim to do less of it.
I agree with you that frugality is not for everyone. However, I do think that everyone has room to improve their personal financial situation through learning, self reflection, and improved discipline (spending in true accordance with their values). The key is that each person has to desire those things for oneself in order for any meaningful change to happen.
You are so right about not knowing other people’s stories. This is precisely why I have entered into the world of financial planning by being a wealth creator coach to others. I desire the very personal connection of learning other people’s stories (keeping that information private and secure of course) and then using that information to assist them in building their wealth and financial security. Each person’s story is so unique and the more I learn the easier it becomes over time to have less and less judgement in my thoughts.
Growing up on a farm with no indoor water till I was 5 (remember those old-timey hand pumps-yep, that was us-in the back yard, tho, not in the house) and outhouses and chamber pots, a coal stove, bedding made from straw, eating what my dad shot or what we raised, hand-me-down clothing, my mom having 2 dresses, one for around the house, one for church, an old singer treadle sewing machine, waking up in the morning, pulling a box of cereal only to find the mice got to it, once-a-week baths in an animal watering trough with a half-inch of water. This was in the 60’s, not the 30’s. The down side was never learning how to navigate life off the farm, so when we moved away from home we lived essentially the same lives, just without chickens. Never earning enough for frugality to improve our circumstances only to secure a few comforts and trying to escape debt by scraping the bottom of the second hand market and buying yellow-tag meat. So because divorce and sickness due to aging squandered our already precarious existence sending us into debt, we lumber on living frugally to try to climb back up to ground level. Thankfully the people we know and have known are better riches than new cars, experiences can be had for free, and faith is a comforter. Poetry, music, leaves that turn and make our mountains flame with brilliancy, passing storms and rainbows. No time for judgement. just life.
My heart goes out to you. Please contact me by email. I would love to learn from you and I have extra items you may want/need. Sbarn2000@hotmail.com
Beautifully written. I would love to hear more of your story. Do you have a blog? Plan on a book?
This would be eye-opening for many.
I never thought about a book. I will do it, though. Thank you for suggesting it.
Mrs Frugalwoods I love your blog. Read every entry with interest but don’t always comment. This blog post hit a chord with me not just for being non-judgmental about financial matters but in other areas too. My comment is short, but your words will stay with me.
There, but for the Grace of God, go I.
My philosophy has always been that I have my vices and make plenty of mistakes and others are allowed theirs as well.
However I have to say that I feel the need to rally a defense of judgment. While it is important to allow that we rarely know the story, it’s also true that in the absence of judgment some people don’t change. Judgment can be wielded in a loving way to help people make better decisions. I know too many people who take the “you do you” approach to an extreme that means they let people get away with self destructive or harmful behavior in the spirit of not judging. My point is less about judging someone’s personal decisions and more about objective judgment. There is a difference between “she didn’t need a new car” and “she [objectively] can’t afford a new car”. The first is projecting your values onto someone else. The second is objectively potentially bad for an individual, her family, and even beyond.
I agree completely. Sometimes it’s necessary to open someone’s eyes and help them if they are doing things that are self-destructive or harmful. However, it should always be done in a loving and compassionate manner, and if necessary find them professional help.
So true!!! I’m guilty of judging at times, and I shouldn’t. Can we say glass house! I love reading your articles. You have a beautiful and fun way with words!
Beautifully crafted and well thought out. One of your best entries! The unexamined life is not worth living…and you are certainly examining both the world at large and yourself. Must be the woods. 🙂
Regarding the question “Is frugality for everyone?” I appreciate your knowledge that frugality isn’t for everyone. This is something I came to understand specifically with regard to MMM who advocates some very specific behaviors that I kept thinking “but what if people really hate doing that?” A lot of frugal people LIKE BEING FRUGAL. For many people it isn’t that they have aligned their desires to frugality, but that frugality aligns with their desires. The people I know who bike to work like to talk about the gas they save, but ultimately they bike to work because they enjoy biking. The people that cook at home really like cooking. The people who sew enjoy sewing. The people who do home improvement projects typically enjoy those projects. I remember my grandmother refused to do any canning even though she was the most frugal person I knew because she had to do a lot of it when she was younger growing up on a farm during the depression.
With that being said: respecting your resources and financial limitations, no matter your personal inclination, is a different issue. Choosing to spend your $5000 savings on a vacation for your family because that is your priority is different from going into debt for the same vacation, especially if you are financially unstable. I understand not wanting to be frugal, and I’m totally forgiving of the occasional bad choice as long as they are making mostly good choices (eg a $3 latte every week is understandable and not going to be the decision that breaks you. A $3 latte every DAY can be ruinous).
Unfortunately almost all of the poor people I have known have been so because they make more bad decisions than good while every poor person I have known that has made more good decisions than bad has scraped it together until they aren’t poor any more. And my experience is that if you give the former too much sympathy it justifies those decisions rather than spurs them to make different ones.
Ultimately you can tell the difference in your own heart. Bad judging makes you feel good about the better choices you make. Good judging makes you worried for the other person and the consequences they will face.
I must agree with the comment re: MMM. His was the blog I was thinking of when I wrote my earlier post. It is unfortunate. MMM has many excellent ideas in his blog, and fundamentally I agree with much of what he says, but I ultimately found the overall tone of his blog sufficiently off-putting that I stopped reading it altogether. Frugalwoods is a refreshing alternative.
I figure MMM is great for a lot of people that aren’t me, lol. Some people need a guru who isn’t going to accept excuses. For people who need to totally change how they think about money an “it depends” approach won’t work.
But I too had to stop reading. Not just his tone (though I agree with your assessment) but he drove me crazy when he would put his absolutes out there when they really are situational. His opinion on 4WD for example. He openly states in his moderating philosophy at the bottom that he isn’t interested in opinions like mine, so I respect that and had to stop reading as well.
Long time MMM follower here. I recommend following the link in the header of the home page to the MMM Forum. It’s a better place to find and interact with like-minded people. That’s how I found this site, for example. I also like The Frugal Girl, because Kristen is splendidly non-judgemental and extremely kind.
I was also referring to MMM in my above post without calling him out by name. 🙂
P.S. I am definitely one of those people who cooks at home because I love to cook, not because it saves money. In fact it probably doesn’t save me any money because I buy expensive groceries…
The thing on biking as the only viable means of transportation always made me so mad. Because if you have a physical disability or your environment is indisputably unsafe for biking or walking, NO EXCUSES!
We are also a family who insources no home improvement, because experience has shown that that ends in the emergency room. Hospital stays are not conducive to saving money.
I love your blog and where you live. I find it touching that you are living your dream. I love photos of your house and of Frugal Hound. I don’t want to be frugal though.
I do aspire to make $300,000/year in my business and live on $100,000. I desire to own a BMW, shop at Whole Foods each week, a nice $300,000 paid off home, and to travel to Hawaii each year and still have a luxury retirement. I am working on having 7 streams of income.
You have outdone yourself with this post Mrs Frugalwoods! I am also guilty of this, but the important thing is to try and think again when you catch yourself doing this. I sometimes inadvertently judge people who seem to be only buying junk food, before realising that sometimes I am the one who had a horrible, horrible day with bad anxiety and just want comfort food. Of course most of the people that follow this blog are inspired by frugality, but I much appreciate that you don’t preach this as the one and only solution to be happy. It encourages people to think hard about what makes them happy, but if you realise that the shiny new car, the daily starbucks etc. do indeed make you happy with your life that is the way for you
Great post. I too have been guilty of judging others, mostly when their situation seems to be willful and infringe upon others. But I’m not living their lives, I don’t know how willful it actually is, and sometimes the only way we can get by is with the help of others. I would rather err on the side of kindness. Thanks for a wonderful reminder.
One of my favourites ……we forget how truly draining forced frugality is, I remember my mum taking a calculator to the supermarket so she didnt have to put things back at the checkout if she went over her budget, puts huge pressure on families.
You are so right , its a privilege to choose to be frugal
I agree frugality may not be for everyone, but I dare say it would not hurt to put a challenge out for any to try and see if it works for them and to better understand the concept. Whether it be for saving money, less consumerism, reducing the carbon footprint we leave, inner peace, learning about oneself’s potential or whatever it leads. You really can’t rely on approvals from other people if you start this journey; you have to make the choice yourself and if you benefit even though others make comments….time allows for the final conclusion in how you will end. I make it a habit to see past the immediate situation as we live in a hyper sensitive world…we all have personal day to day issues; some good and some bad and unfortunately it affects on how others see us. So, I think it’s better to smile at anyone that reciprocates back…often that melts away prejudice and judgments. It’s amazing how a small chit chat is followed and the situation is clearly revealed why we may have felt the way we did at first…or look the way we are…or previously thought the person is. I have a friend who revealed to me that what we see on the outside is not the whole picture. After a night laying tiles with his workmates, he went on home in the early hours of morning looking pretty rough for wear…some vagabond guy asked for money only to be reminded by his fellow friend to”hey leave him alone, he’s one of us…) Clearly my friend is a tiler and works hard…but first impressions are often how we look at people and then perceive in our mind their situation…which we have no clue about…
I think it’s good we try to be civil with each other when the situation lends itself…then the person can reveal how they want us to view and treat them…respect goes a long way…and kindness even further…
Thanks Liz for such a balance & articulate article. You are so right. I’m realizing that the people who irk me the most, whether I know them or just know of them, are coping with their insecurities and strengths the best way they know how in the system they live in, their belief systems & cultural systems, etc. Spreading compassion can only take the pressure off and open possibilities for learning & growth for all of us. Lack of judgment doesn’t mean lack of discernment – we can still draw boundaries, have preferences, transform and heal situations that are intolerable. But we’re not condemning the people involved in our minds and hearts. We’re all in this together, all beautiful, glorious, Divine beings and all imperfect humans as well. Cheers!
Besides with frugality, I am trying not to be a judgypants in general. I guess I would consider myself more judgmental than the average person, since I make a few judgements a day. It’s something I am constantly working on along with jealousy and being competitive against others. It’s hard to know that when I give out advice, it is always ignored because of my age and living position probably. Like, I try to be helpful and it just goes over a person’s shoulder. : ( But I’m used to it though and just continue my way of living (and I guess, my way of frugality) and ignore others way of living and how they spend their money. It’s hard to accept at times, but that is just the way the world is. : / I’ve come to accept that hard truth. : /
Thank you for touching on this important subject. Always trying to work on it. : )
What a beautifully written and sensitive article. It would be wonderful if more people–including me–were like you, Mrs. Frugalwoods!
The following post is long but I’d like to tell you my story.
My husband and I were very poor for the first 12+ years of our marriage when my husband was out of work and scrambling for whatever odd jobs he could find–such as digging holes for fence posts by hand–or earning low wages when he did have a job. (We went through the awful 1980s recession when he was lucky to get any kind of work.) Wanting to help out with the situation I offered to work for free at a local income tax preparation business with the hope I’d be hired. After several weeks I was but, unfortunately, the job only lasted a few months. I did regularly clean my former boss’s house after losing the job which helped us out financially.
We were very frugal out of necessity which I greatly resented and was quite bitter and angry about it at the time.
The tiny bit left over after paying our bills went to groceries but we didn’t starve because we bartered or gleaned for food and had a garden. (It’s amazing how much food is wasted by farmers and homeowners and they’re usually glad to give it away. ) I canned a lot of food. We ate a lot of oatmeal and were actually hungry at times because we were too proud to take help from our church or the government.. It took me 2 or 3 years after we were on our feet financially to eat a bowl of oatmeal because the thought of it almost made me gag.
At our poorest a Baby Ruth candy bar was a huge treat. They cost .35 at the time.
When he was about a year old my son got sick and we had to take him to the emergency room. Our dog at the time temporarily had some fleas she’d gotten somewhere (she’d never had them before) and when the doctor examined my son a flea jumped off of my coat, which was old and held together with a safety pin. (Why didn’t I sew on another button?–just lazy, I guess.). The nurse gave me a very disgusted look but the doctor was a gem and said something to the effect that it was no big deal (I guess he had a dog). I was so humiliated because I knew what I looked like with my old, ratty coat and hair I’d cut myself–and very poorly–and that flea! (I later bought a book on how to cut hair and did a great job on my son’s–better than a barber’s!)
What was so humiliating is that I’m a very neat and clean person and keep a well-ordered home. I always kept my son very neat and clean, too. He never had a nose crusted with dried mucous or wore filthy clothes saturated in saliva like some babies I’ve seen. I still feel a sting of mortification whenever I remember that nurse’s look of disdain and disgust.
Even at our poorest I made it a priority to have health and life insurance. (Health insurance was pretty reasonable back then.) A million dollars worth of life insurance for my husband at that time was only about $10 a month. I didn’t want to be a permanently poor widow like my mother-in-law was and did everything I could to make sure that didn’t happen.
My husband finally got a good job but when he went to work one morning the sheriff had padlocked the gates to the warehouse because the boss had defrauded clients–or had committed some other sort of crime. His ex-boss owed my husband $3500 in back pay which was a really huge amount–the equivalent of about 3 1/2 months of a decently paying job at that time. We never got that money, either.
After this last trauma I told my husband that if we were going to be poor we might as well be poor students. After 2 1/2 years of hard work–and with the help of Pell Grants and small student loans which we quickly paid off–my husband graduated from college in accounting and got a secure job with great benefits. He’s still working at the same company 30 years later.
I went to school for 2 semesters at the same time my husband did but dropped out to support the three of us. I had secretarial jobs I really hated but at least I had good skills and got jobs easily. I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was 50 years old–18 years later–but ended up being glad for the delay because I had the luxury of graduating with a degree in art. My paintings are now in 2 museums and I’ve gotten major awards. Scholarships, talent awards and gallery sales paid for my education. If I’d finished my degree earlier it probably would have been in something “practical” and boring.
One good thing that came out of our lean years is that my son, now 40, is a very frugal and non-materialistic person. When he was little he didn’t know he was “deprived.” We went on lots of walks together, played in the park a few blocks away, and visited the library frequently. We brought home stacks of books for entertainment (we didn’t have a t.v.). As an adult, he carries a book with him wherever he goes because we gave him the priceless gift of loving to read. (He even lugged around that tome, Moby Dick, to read for fun!) Buying clothing at thrift stores is still normal for him.
There is a positive side to every situation, but a person usually can’t see it when he or she is in the middle of what seems to be a hopeless situation full of deprivation and fear. I just want to tell your readers to have faith that things really can be better. Just don’t give up on yourself.
Wow, Barbara. Wow. Thank you SO much for sharing this. You have me nearly in tears! And, congratulations on raising your son so well–there’s no price to put on that accomplishment.
Thanks so much for your kind reply. It’s helped ameliorate the remnant of humiliation I still feel at times when I think about that nurse.
I didn’t realize just how long my comment was until it posted. Thanks for your patience in reading it.
well said, Liz.
Thank you, Kim! That means a lot coming from you!
Frugality by choice has enable us to do many things we never thought possible, but for us it is a “choice”. It is a practice run for the unknown; it is a practice run that will help us through in the years to come. I’m okay with that!
Love this post. I’m a member of a free/trade group for moms in my county and I see things all the time where someone asks for something necessary for free, saying she’s on hard times (like needs diapers before next paycheck) and at first I would try to be nosy and see why they were poor, and perhaps I’d see some tattoos in their profile pic and tell myself, well that’s why they’re poor (although I have a tattoo myself). But that’s probably not why they are on hard times, and to be honest, I didn’t need to know why the mom needed diapers to last her until Friday. All that matters was if I could help her or I could not. Humans have a tendency to need to compare ourselves in order to feel better and we need to rise above that. Sometimes it takes realizing we’re in a bad place before we do that (like you realizing parent-less city life was not for you). Part of my unhappiness at times results from not having enough free time (I’d love a 4 day work week) but I’m also working at frugality so our family can be fully free from debt and be able to take a pay cut in the future so I can achievethat better work life balance.
Also, being a mom has taught me so much compassion towards moms with screaming kids. We’ve all been there. Hope the candy corrn, wine and pizza filled night was appreciated.
Well said. You are SO right about having compassion towards other parents! Being a mom has completely changed my perspective on… so many things, but screaming kids among them :).
I agree that generally we tend to judge people too quickly without knowing much context and that’s not so good. At the same time, i think we should be judgemental about some things but in an educated way. Should we accept and ignore the fact that millions of people are buying a massive SUV just to commute alone to work? Should we ignore that so much food is getting waisted every day? When millions of people make the wrong decision of taking huge loans for their college education they’re not sure about and run into financial problems? When millions spend well more they could afford? Is empathy the right answer in all cases?
I think being rational I’m an educated way, and pointing out things, trying to change obviously wrong behaviour could be a start for changing many lives for he better and changing the society for the better.
It’s relevant though HOW we do this…
For me, non-judgement isn’t a question of ignoring things, it’s a question of broaching these topics in thoughtful, empathetic ways. I find that people are much more receptive to a discussion on any of the challenges you listed when it’s brought up in a compassionate, rather than judgmental, manner. But it is a tough balance to strike! (at least it is for me 🙂 )!
Great post! And it’s so true that once you are happy with yourself and your life your judgemental attitude start to disappear. Live and let live – as long as someone is not hurting someone else they should be free to live however they want!
Your post really touched a chord. For 10 years I hid the fact that I was in debt from everyone for fear of being judged. I finally got out of it but, because of that, it was a long, lonely, and hard journey. Strangely, it has made both more AND less judgmental of others. On the one hand, I understand the feeling of despair, the fear and hopelessness because I have been there; but, on the other hand, I can’t help feeling that a little self discipline is some times lacking. I wrote a post last week about it because it does annoy me when someone who earns the same hourly wage I do always moans about how broke she is and tries to pinch hours from me but still goes out several times a week.
Beautifully written, as usual, and so very true. I am too quick to surmise what is going on in people’s lives just by how they dress or talk. I live in a lovely suburb that is known for being a lower socio-economic area. I work in the local hospital and get to see the very best and the very worst of people’s circumstances. I see people that don’t have 2 pennies to rub together and have a wonderful outlook on life and I also get to see the exact opposite. There is a saying that my nan used to say “money just accentuates who you are”, and I think that is so true. I have never had big money, just enough to pay the bills and a little in the bank, I don’t live a big life, preferring to stay at home and live simply. I love reading your posts and look froward to them, there is always pearls of wisdom to tuck away. Thankyou
Well done. Very insightful. And there’s so many wonderful stories throughout the comments. People can be so judgemental about your financial decisions when you’re writing about it online. I write from a place of “please learn from my mistakes” but instead get berated for it. I’ve had many hurtful comments thrown my way and it’s hard not to step back and withdraw from the online space a bit. Who wants to be judged that harshly when you’re sharing out of compassion for others that may be in a similar situation and need help too. But such is life – we judge what we do not understand. It’s unfortunate but as far as humanity has come, ignorance is still our worst enemy.
On another note, there were a few comments that hit home with me (in a positive way), Ree’s especially. I also have lost my job and although I have the privilege of being able to live with family, frugality and simplicity is no longer a privilege, it’s a way of life. I don’t mooch off my family and pay all my bills. If I can’t pay them because I can no longer afford it, I go without. Simple as that. I’m also trying to create my own career outside of the regular 9 to 5 and without the upbringing I had, I don’t think I’d be able to do it. What did you say? Oh yes, “I think our success stems from a combination of good decisions and luck.” That’s so true. Although I’ve made some bad decisions, I’ve also made a lot of good ones. I had a well paying career and worked hard for it. I have money saved. Without any of this, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing.
In a sea of privilege posts that have come out lately, this one is my favorite. You’ve said it well and with compassion.
I appreciate your words! Some times we judge others because we want to remove ourselves from their suffering and convince ourselves that it wouldn’t happen to us because we are smarter. We would never be stupid enough to go to a convienence store so late at night and get mugged! Then we find out the single mom worked second shift and had nothing for her kids’ breakfast. We never know just how hard it is to be that other person!
Very well said. I fully admit to being judge-y (silently, as if that’s any better) but at least I have awareness about it now. I think that’s why I turn away from posts that claim victory on some area on their life in the title and conclude with “and why you should too!” It’s hard, but we all have to respect the path we are on, and maybe glean nuggets from other bloggers as a way to keep motivated, but that’s about it. 🙂 Great post!
It IS better if you keep silent. The effect might be the same to you, but at least you didn’t ruin someone else’s day.
geez you think?
You said “silently, as if that’s any better”. I thought you meant it and was offering perspective. Some people get so caught up in their own perspective that they truly do forget that it’s different if you keep it in your own head.
I’ve been reading your blog for at least a year now and this post compelled me to reach out and thank you for being a voice of compassion and tolerance in the otherwise judgmental world of personal finance bloggers. I started financial independence focused websites because they made me feel like there was a light at the end of the tunnel in my corporate job that I am totally overpaid to do but so much of what’s out there is so dripping with oblivious tech-bro privilege that it’s difficult to stomach. I love the reinforcement I get from reading your posts that there’s more to do with money than buy stuff I don’t want or need without having to wade through piles of “people with debt deserve to be punched in the face” and “poor people are poor because they’re too dumb to be rich.”
Thanks again for all your posts and I’m going to bookmark this one to share with the next (many) person(s) who insist that getting out of poverty is just a matter of resisting consumer temptations and having enough “hustle.”
Thank you, Ethan, I appreciate that.
I love this post so much. My husband and I have been immensely fortunate to be able to choose the way we live (and we didn’t get to where we are now without quite a few mistakes along the way!).
When I read the judgmental advice on some personal finance blogs (whose opinions I often otherwise agree with), I immediately think of my brother. We were both raised in the same, steady, upper middle class home and went to college, but my brother has mental illnesses that have taken a huge toll on his life since his early 20s. Outsiders see a careless almost 30 year old who lives at mom’s and has been fired from a string of low wage jobs, but the reality is much less simple. There’s much more than meets the eye.
Thank you for a great read and your honesty 🙂
Very well stated and I agree with the sentiment. Unless I know the whole story I don’t tend to judge. My issue is with relatives where I do know the story, then I really struggle. I have to force myself to remember I’m not perfect and I’m sure there is something I do that they could easily judge me about. Being self aware of your tendency to judge though sure helps in ignoring others who openly judge you, as then u realize it’s without basis.
This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it!
LOve your post. I was raised in opposite circumstances and embrace frugality as a way to ensure I will never live with the kind of anxiety I had growing up with so little. We had love and a roof over our heads and a belief that we could do better. I take nothing for granted and value all that I have earned, and learned on this journey. Thanks. Karen
Mrs. Frugalwoods, you have certainly done an excellent job of keeping judginess out of your blog. I’m not frugal (yet?), but I’ve never felt judged when reading your blog. Lead by example, and those that are ready and in the position to do so will follow.
Brilliant. Funny. Deeply reflective. Human. And the comments from your readers are *amazing.* I haven’t read your blog before, but I will now!
I got a good tip from David Cain’s Raptitude blog that has helped me find compassion for lousy parkers and other irritating strangers, namely to say to oneself that if that person asks for your help, you would give it… If the lady with the twins was struggling and about to lose one baby over the edge of the cart as she put the other one in a car seat and called to you to keep a baby from falling….of course you would. Thankfully, This sense of compassion pretty much drives out snarky resentment and judging.
Thanks to you all! (But I also must disagree about black olives, the inexpensive canned ones are actually the most delicious.)
Thank you so much for this post! The compassionate, positive and self-aware tone of your blog is why I keep coming back (and the dog pictures, of course). It’s great to read someone who “gets” that everyone’s circumstances and needs are different. And even if we were truly 100% a product of our personal choices, as opposed to environment and privilege, surely it would be more efficient to “show us the light” in positive ways than to disparage us!
Other commenters have already expanded on that point so I also wanted to touch on something else: the other reason I relate to your blog more is how you acknowledge gender dynamics in consumerism and offer a liberating alternative to sexist double standards and media-fuelled low self-esteem. It can feel disheartening as a woman to hear from guys who live on the same 2 checkered shirts and deem women who buy clothes and beauty products “consumer suckers”. Suckers we may be, but I found your approach of dissecting media messages and explaining how empowering self-acceptance can be to be much more efficient. After reading your beauty manifesto, I managed to pare down my cosmetics needs down to shower gel/shampoo, face wash, disposable razors in the summer, and my personal indulgence – a face cream to help with my acne. Not only am I saving money, but your outlook on life (see also the posts on clothes, not having the “perfect” home etc.) have really helped me navigate a world where women are constantly told they are not good enough. I think the fact that you acknowledge these difficulties is really helpful to women readers since the guys who blog about personal finance sometimes don’t factor in in what ways our experiences of the world can be different.
Thanks for sharing!
Oh wow, Lucie, thank you so much for your kind words! That means a lot to me and I’m so happy to hear about your journey!
I was so happy when I started my new job two years ago when I noticed that I was 1. working with almost all men 2. who were engineers 3. many of whom were young enough to be my sons.
I realized that as a married woman of a certain age working in such an environment, nobody cared what I wore to work. I thought, “I bet I can go an entire year without buying new work clothes.”
I did. And I have bought very few new things in the second year. I wear the same clothes to work each week. Nobody notices. Nobody cares. Life is so, so much easier!
Thank you thank you thank you! I’ve noticed that many minimalism (and/or frugal finance) blogs never mention the privilege and choices they have. Saving a little extra each month for the first class tickets to Europe is very different from cutting the kids’ extra curriculars in order to ensure there is gas in the car and the heat turned on this winter.
I need to always remind myself that I have it pretty good. I have the reassurance that while I choose not to buy any clothes (what I have will last at least until next summer before they wear out) I COULD if I needed to. I may soon get rid of my dying car because I have the privilege of public transportation (and being able to pay for it). Not everyone is so lucky.
So for me, my frugality is a reminder to pay it forward.
Thank you so much for this. We have just started our FIRE journey and I have found it rather disheartening to see that many otherwise well-intentioned folks in the FIRE community are so blind to the privilege it is to pursue this lifestyle. Yes, there are many more people who could follow the FIRE dream if they put their minds to it, but there are also many, many more people who don’t have this privilege (the vast majority of the world, in fact). Success really is made up of both hard work and luck, and we would all do well to remember they are equally important components. Glad you are reminding everyone of this! 🙂
Thank you so much for this post! It resonated with me and I am not sure why I feel compelled to respond. Thank you!
Next, moving from judgment to curiosity & appreciation…. Everyone has a story, a skill, a view.
Your posts, as always, speak with a calm and compassionate voice. This is such a useful post to remind those of us who’ve chosen this frugal pathway to accept it and accept others in their own journey. Well said, thank you.
I so agree with all of this. I find it extends to parenting as well. If I can approach my kids in a non-judgemental way my connection with them is so much deeper. I was raised with a lot of shame and trying to keep it out of my relationship with my kids. I’m so much happier when I’m not judging anybody! When I feel a judgement coming on I try to remember that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have in that moment. Now, if I can just get a little better at offering *myself* that kind of grace.
I agree wholeheartedly. For many people, frugality is a survival mechanism. No choice is involved: It’s do or die.
As for judgment, the older I get the more I realize that the world isn’t black and white. Sometimes it’s not even gray. It’s just…fog. People get by the best they can depending on the day. We don’t know what those people are going through.
Just moved back to the states after living over seas. My grocery cart would make anyone wonder! Yes I did plan on a large grocery shop as part of my moving home plan, but everyone else in the grocery did not know that. Sorry passed on the candy corn and bought marshmallows instead. We all need to let people make the choices they need in their lives and realize our road to walk down is not the same for everyone else. Thanks for the great writing!
This was a timely article. I love the FIRE community but there’s a lot of “this is the only way and everyone else is dumb for doing __” bravado. I think maybe it is unintentional because we are all trying to put a positive spin on our actions, but this is a reminder that we shouldn’t be creating the kind of negative “shoulds” that we formed this community to avoid from more mainstream paths.
PS those fall pictures of the homestead are gorgeous.
I appreciate your honesty about judging others because we can agree wholeheartedly that judging others stymies compassion, but at the end of the day the human heart is judgmental! Of course, this means that we should fight this tendency with empathy and gratitude. But I’m skeptical of anyone who claims not to judge. I think they’re judging how judgmental I am 🙂 I realize it’s a goal to strive for, though.
And yes, it’d be ludicrous not to acknowledge the advantages I’ve received. Living on less than one makes is certainly a privilege, made possible through many previous privileges, as well as some decent choices. It’s interesting to contemplate how what we today term “frugality” could only be considered lavish living in a historical and global sense.
It’s actually almost comical how I try to “piece” people together. There’s an older gentleman at my discount Italian bakery I assumed was Italian. Sometimes he can be a bit short with people. I had travelled to Italy, and upon my return and subsequent visit to my bakery I asked my friend where he was from in Italy. To which he responded he indeed was not Italian but Albanian and he went into a very long discourse describing his escape from the communists on foot over mountains and nearly got his group killed because he was young and didn’t listen, causing barking dogs to alert the enemies to their location. He eventually found his was to America. Now, to look at this man working in the bakery, I imagined him sipping espresso overlooking the Mediterranean among other luxuries…clearly I was mistaken.
I love this. Partly because I am a judgey mcjudgerson myself, but also because you’re absolutely right. Frugality is a middle-class privilege. People who live in poverty–real poverty, not the kind where just you don’t have cable–can’t dig their way out just by saving more money and buying fewer coffees. I hope one day we solve this problem, but until then, a little empathy can’t hurt.
“Now replacing Judge Judy…”
Thank you for this. I enjoy reading other financial independence-type blogs (including MMM and his British equivalent the Escape Artist) and they have some good ideas and incredible energy- but I do find them a bit judgey. If I were to meet either of them I’m sure they (or their public persona, at least) would have some things to say about how I save and spend money (particularly my ballroom dancing habit- not cheap). Your lack of judgement is one of the things I love about your blog (and Frugal Hound, obviously).
I find a number of the FI bloggers have held highly-paid jobs in the City. Now I know that your earnings are only one factor in financial stability, but high earnings mean that you can afford to tie up money for long periods of time in higher-risk investments or in overpaying debt (when I was first living on my own, my savings were also my slush fund so they were in low-interest easy-access accounts. I’m slowly becoming more able to lock money away but I remember what it was like). It also means that these bloggers understand investment in a way that non-City person doesn’t. One of my projects at the moment is to try to understand tax-efficient investments (which seem to be more accessible the more you have to tuck away. Money begets more money). I’m pretty well-educated, literate and numerate, but to work out this stuff at a toe-dipping level is not simple (and my family (although always careful with money and solvent) have never done this (to the point of warning me off it), so I’m having to work this out for myself).
I’m speaking from a position of privilege though. If you’re really poor, life is more expensive (from not being able to buy in bulk to having to top up the gas or electric meter rather than having monthly billing). I consider myself hugely fortunate that I’ve never been there so far.
Thank you for your blog!
This is a great post. As someone who does not have a degree, came from a working class/lower middle class background and lives in an place were wages are typically low some of the FI blogs can be really disheartening. When you read how ‘anyone’ can do it and then see that the blogger had an annual salary of over £80k as if (for everyone) that’s normal…it does make it hard to continue.
Personally yours is the only FI blog that I didn’t feel did that. It’s the one that totally got me and my partner into the mindset and we have managed to make some big changes. It is inspiring and very open, while I know your lifestyle pretty homestead was still different to ours it never felt like it detracted from the relatablility of your blog.
Thanks for sharing this blog with us.
I really **really**enjoyed this post. My husband and I switched to a similar lifestyle to the FW’s 2 years ago. I am hyper-conscious that we were able to do this only due to a combination of a) our own choices, b) Providence and luck, and c) our starting point from which to launch – as in great educations/training, great childhood health and dental care, and a lot of varied experiences (courtesy of upbringing).
It’s great, too, to read so many thoughtful posts by others. If you’re secure yourself, you’re more able to help others!
I loved this. It was brilliant. I wish more people would understand the difference between real poverty and choosing frugality, then maybe less of us would be so smug. Thank you for writing this. I love your place – especially in the Autumn!
Coming from someone who doesn’t like black olives and does like candy corn, is hard to hear. Judging is all I know.
Totally unrelated. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow morning on WCVB!!!
I enjoy your blog, but in my own situation, I sit in judgment of your headline. Blame it on the college professor who harangued my class for the use of “judgement” in our papers on Dante’s Inferno. He didn’t buy arguments for “judgement” appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary, since that is a record of British English, not American. Seeing the headline, I was 19 again and back in class. I’m frequently reminded of that day thanks, in part, to the many Planet Fitness billboards I see.
Will your next column describe the fabulous colours of the homestead? That would be my favourite thing! I could read it while drinking tea and eating biscuits (cookies in the US).
It’s amazing that no one is perfect, eh? 😉 Blame it on me studying abroad in England…
I know I could be more frugal. I think in some way those of us who live frugally sometimes try to outfrugal each other lol. When I see someone else making their bread from scratch, a part of me is saying but if I did that I could be saving money too. It’s hard to focus on ourselves and our goals when the temptation to compare ourselves to others is so tempting
I am so thankful that I stumbled on this. I wish others had the same spirit that you do. I have recently stopped following two other blog writers – two that I always looked forward to reading updates from – because of the very thing you are talking about: “It is, unfortunately, rather common in the financial sphere to castigate people who don’t manage their money wisely. ”
Both of these writers tell the story of how they were once in debt, got serious about addressing it, and got out of debt, but once they did their whole tone shifted into a castigation mode. It really made me sad, because like wanting to catch up with a good friend face-to-face I used to look forward to reading their latest updates. It just became too much finger-wagging to me, but I do miss them.
I never comment, but this one hits home. As someone who has been frugal by choice and by necessity, at different times, it is good to be reminded. At this time I’m living paycheck to paycheck, but have a home, and have a rental. My husband and I made a choice to cut down to one paycheck with the birth of our second child, and are living very frugally to do so. Recently my friend who also is having a second child has made some choices that where bewildering to me, “why would she do that? why would she have a child without the income?!” I was so frustrated with her! Then I remembered where I was a few years ago. How much money I did not have to budget. I saved a lot, because I had nothing. You spend very little if you do not have any money. I ate beans and rice to survive, not to save. Thanks for your post, it is good to remember we are all struggling in our own ways, economic or other.
Thank you so much for posting this! I am reading this the day after Election Day and never has there been a more appropriate time for this important message. Your positivity is contagious. 🙂
Thank you, Jackie, I appreciate hearing that :).
Beautiful article that makes me have even more respect for this blog. I’ve often found it hard to connect with finance or minimalism blogs when you find out the couple each makes well over $200k a year. Uhh…But I do need to remind myself that someone could be looking @ me with my 2 jobs bringing in around $47k a year and wondering why I’m not saving better or lamenting over the fact that I don’t “truly” have to live paycheck to paycheck at this time in my life.
It’s always nice to see when someone ISN’T saying, “Everyone should live as I do.” As much as looking at rampant consumerism feels kind of gross to me personally, there’s no reason frugality has to be for everyone. Most people are just trying to get through their lives, doing the best they can, and it’s hard.
I wonder what you think of this, as someone who has been living a frugal life for much longer than I have? Maybe it’s not just that frugality isn’t for everyone, but that it CAN’T be for everyone if some of us are to succeed at it. For example, people achieve greater financial independence through investing and parking their money in an index fund instead of spending it on a bunch of stuff. The existence of that opportunity requires the whole capitalist system–the Wall Street types who don’t look like you and me, all the companies that are publicly traded and trying to make a profit, people who are excited to purchase every new Apple product, etc.
Not that I think everything in our capitalist system is just peachy, but recognizing that we are interdependent and that people can contribute something even if they’re “not like us” isn’t a bad thing to think about.
Such a great post! Really on-point and humorous! Frugality sometimes isn’t a choice, like you said. And it’s important to know the full story before you allow yourself to judge anyone. Excellent read!
First of all, black olives are fabulous and I don’t think you understand how delightful they are. This is concerning.
But other than that, you’re right on track. I try to remember that our life right now is partially based on an 18 year marriage dedicated to frugal living and excellent choices. But I also have to acknowledge that God has blessed us with an excellent income for most of those years. I doubt I’d feel so smug and smart if we’d been scraping along on $20,000 a year. I think I’d feel poor and crabby.
Thanks for the reminder to get off my high horse. The holidays are coming and I’ll need that reminder!
Thank you for the reminder to choose compassion in everyday encounters where our responses to situations and to others creates the emotional space we share. Allowing frustration, impatience, irritation to become habitual makes everything feel harder, no matter how much we soothe ourselves with justifications. I struggle with this in family relationships more than anywhere right now. When my husband and I were younger, putting ourselves through school and trying to save toward a house, we were the object of good-natured but pointed comments from his large family on our choices about where we lived, driving old cars, wearing thrift shop clothes, furnishing our apartment with finds and cast offs. As the decades passed we attained our financial goals and have been fortunate to have interesting and well paid work. This is not something we take for granted. The time and place we have lived is unusual in human history–a period of relative peace and plenty for many–and we have been beneficiaries in so many ways. Now that the siblings-in-law are on the verge of retirement it is clear that several will not be able to support themselves. Here comes the judgement. We have seen this developing for a long time and encouraged them to be more frugal in order to secure their old age. Some conversations went into detail about tactics that we found (and still find) helpful. All suggestions met with objections or were ignored–including innocuous, mainstream advice about taking lunches to work and carrying a reuseable water bottle. Not really hardcore! These are not people who have had bare survival incomes or health problems (although some are now developing) or any of the other issues that some of your readers describe so feelingly. As single people they had incomes above the median family income and spent them, going into debt rather than change their habits. Now that the consequences are becoming clear we hear comments about how family resources should be shared, and how could anyone contemplate letting a family member go live with strangers. By the way, we have been happily supporting an elderly parent for over a decade because we do feel love and gratitude for her and for all she did to raise a large family. But that judgement thing…It feels like self-defense to say no to being responsible for those our own age who made unforced choices and who are now facing the very things they were warned about. I agree that certain levels of frugality are not for everyone, but being financially responsible does not seem like too much to expect of those with means. I vacillate between helpfulness and generosity, and real frustration that things have come to such a pass. Supporting these people would imperil our security and our ability to help our child get a start in life, and it would drive me crazy. What is the difference between a fair assessment, or judgement in such cases, and being judgmental? Perhaps other readers facing this kind of situation would appreciate some thoughts in a column if a suitable moment arises. Thanks, as always, for your open heart, lucid prose and thoughtful comments.
THANK YOU. This is a fantastic breath of fresh air in the uber-judgy world of frugality blogging and financial independence.
This post totally vocalizes all my feelings. In the fast-paced world of today, there is no scope for having a soft corner for anything. Because that can be used against us. But I am glad to know that there are many like you who do not think like the majority. You know that sometimes compassion matters more than practicality. So thank you for sharing this post as it totally tugged at my heartstrings and touched a soft chord.
I wonder how much a lot of this perspective arises from the Just World Fallacy – the natural inclinations of humans to cling to logic that suggests that the world is just. “That person is struggling because they made bad decisions, they should have done XYZ instead” and “That person’s bad decision is going to hurt them” both fall in that category.
But anyone who cares to pay attention will see that those things are simply not true. Who of us hasn’t made stupid decisions or expensive mistakes? I have and I do – all the time – from forgetting things that incur a cost to buying things I end up using less than I thought to failing to find a cheaper, more creative solution to some random roadblock. But because I’m financially able and relatively secure – a position I mostly achieved by the expensive education and other privileges my financially able and extremely secure parents gave me – those costs haven’t hurt my long term goals much, and they have never set off a chain reaction of other expensive consequences. It’s not just, and it’s not fair…it’s privilege. It’s really tempting to think I earned my circumstances – and lord knows I did work hard to make the most of those circumstances, it’s not like things were literally handed to me – but the truth is I’ve been advantaged and supported from day 1 and those advantages only compounded with time (for instance, my ”elite” college had a great mentoring program that even today provides a safety net for me when I’m questioning decisions I’m making early in my career – one support leading to another).
It’s tempting to believe that most things, good and bad, are earned. Even when we intellectually know that the world isn’t fundamentally fair, it’s a bias most of us hold to some degree or another…it’s literally been proven by psychology!
I am trying to find a way to email you with my thanks and thoughts about your book but I can’t seem to find an address, so let me write a condensed version here: YES to all this. People who expect their to be a “magic pill” to solve all the problems and issues in every slice of life are in for sore disappointment. We all have to find the way that works for us. Sometimes another person’s story helps us, sometimes it doesn’t. Guess what? That’s why there are other books and blogs and articles out there!
Elizabeth, many of the thoughts and feelings that you described in your book went straight to my heart — I could immediately and completely relate to what you were describing. As your story progressed, I could tell that it couldn’t directly translate to my life because I am a single woman in an entirely different field. I also choose to live in California, which has a high cost of living. But guess what? The *spirit* of your actions still rang true and could still be followed. My path will be longer. But that’s okay! We are all different.
Sorry for the length — would love to exchange emails and chat if you’re ever interested. Happy Wednesday!
Thank you so much for writing and for your kind and insightful words, Calee! You can feel free to email me at email@example.com. And, if you’d be willing to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be very grateful :). Many thanks!
Frugality and simple living has been rewarding for us as special needs parents. I have found it difficult to work due to time / commitments but living a simpler life (moving out of the city and reducing our mortgage primarily) has completely changed the stress level of money in our lives. I personally would love to move rural but my husband isn’t keen at this stage. So we have simple suburban living which is still something. I still struggle from time to time, with too much stuff, spending too much on things, and feeling isolated and alone but overall it has been a positive and rewarding experience