By: Revanche

The Empowerment of Thrift

March 22, 2010

“Finite means, and deciding how to spend them, has a delicious tension that infinite means can’t supply.”
     – From Carla Power’s The Pleasure of Pinching Pennies on (thanks to Moneyapolis for the link!)

I can’t tell you know much I love that sentiment. The paragraph continues …

“If the lamp’s genie had granted Aladdin limitless wishes instead of just three, where would the fun be in that? The link between thrift and being fully engaged with life’s possibilities was recently noted by Barbra Streisand, of all people. Back before she got famous, she had to stretch her $45 clerk’s salary all week. “Those were amazing times,” she told a talk-show host, “when you have your future ahead of you, and the challenges of making that $45 last, and appreciating every penny.

Spoken like a true multimillionairess, you may scoff. The glamour of making ends meet frays pretty fast when you’re worried about losing your house or going without health benefits. There’s thrift, and then there’s fear, and nobody should confuse the two. But for those fortunate enough not to want for basics, there is a glorious discipline in trying to stretch your money to fit your vision of the world. Like a good workout, or great sex, weighing up how you spend your money recenters you, allowing you to feel the reach and heft of yourself moving through the world.”

The distinction made here between thrift and penury is critical — there was absolutely nothing fun about working 80 hours a week, trying to make decent grades in college, all the while wondering if I was going to bring home enough to pay both the rent and utility bills.  There was nothing glamorous about dropping silent tears over my checkbook, willing the numbers to match up and stay in the black.

But years after that was over, when I graduated and started making a little more money, I made choices for myself.  I started to appreciate what was truly important and why they meant more to me than eating out or buying Stuff. My parents’ choices made more sense: buying used clothes; handing clothes down through four cousins; only allowing me to borrow, not buy, books; and helping displaced family with comparative luxuries like take-out food, money and shelter. It took some years before I realized that they were making perfectly acceptable sacrifices for their kids to provide basic necessities to our extended family.

When you have just enough to get by, your choices are your values. Your lifestyle brings out the grit and creativity that usually hides deep in your bones.


My post on buying a car (should I or shun’t I?) was included in this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance!  ’twas rough times out there, the Carnival is overrun by the classic ninja vs. pirates vs. nuns vs. fighting robots vs. real estate agents vs. zombies!

Wait, what?  Yeah… check it out for yourself!

7 Responses to “The Empowerment of Thrift”

  1. Abigail says:

    Perhaps it’s just because I know we’ll always have to be careful, I wouldn’t mind a *little* time without having to think about money all the time.

    But, by and large, I think you’re right. It’s better to live life consciously, and part of that is being aware of your consumption and your finances. If you buy without thinking, things lose their flavor almost instantly. What’s the point?

  2. Ruth says:

    I sometimes resented my parents for not having bought me new clothes until I was 12-years-old. Everything came from hand-me-downs. At 12ish, I was too big for them so I started going to the local thrift store and occasionally getting something new.

    But now thrifting feels empowering, knowing that I made my money last far longer than it would if I were buying new clothes.

  3. This is a great post.

    If I have everything I ever want right now, I think I might be bored. Sometimes the process of getting there is more fun than when you actually reach the goal. Just like reading and savoring a wonderful book is better than reaching the end and being done with it.

  4. Ciawy says:

    This really hit me spot on. I used to be in the mortgage/real estate business when it was at it’s peak. All of us in the business never thought it’s ever gonna end – and money will just keep flowing like water. Spent here, spent there, nobody saved. Then in a poof, the real estate crashed.

    Now, I value each penny that I earn, save as much as I can, and spend only on things that I really need.

    I definitely agree on this statement – there is a glorious discipline in trying to stretch your money to fit your vision of the world!

  5. Carolyn says:

    … I’m so spoiled.

  6. Revanche says:

    @Abigail: Certainly, I hope I made it clear that I don’t think the conscious living quite has the same feel if you’re in a position where you *absolutely must* in order to get by. I remember that and it was the pits.

    @Ruth: I bet I would have been in hand-me-downs far past 12 if my cousins hadn’t moved out of state. And being as tomboyish as I was, I resented having to make clothing choices that early. I just wanted my pants with pockets and t-shirts.

    Guess I haven’t changed *too* much since then. 🙂

    @Jersey Mom: Thank you! I always wonder what satisfaction there is in consistent instant gratification in the long run. Not that I’m averse to trying it out were someone to bankroll the experiment!

    @Ciawy: I had friends in the RE business too and they’ve had the same experience as you.

    @Carolyn: 🙂 S’alright darlin. Nothing wrong with thinking about alternative lifestyles, right?

  7. Love these quotes. Thanks for posting. Reminds me of the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’

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