Frugality for happiness, contentment and liberty

“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”

Elise Boulding

from I’m a Frugal Girl

One of my favorite words is frugality – a psychological trait shaping how resources are allocated between consumption, savings and investment over time. As it is pointed out in the ‘Essays on Management’, frugality lies at the heart of good household, business and organisational management. Frugality however should not to be confused with selfishness or “meanness.” Frugality requires a mind-set limiting small pleasures today with a focus on a better future. It implies an eye for micro-detail where decisions to save, conserve or consume matter. It implies observations of both social complexity and ecological systems and how components work together. It suggests searching for the simplest way of doing things.

In personal life, frugality brings simplicity, happiness, contentment and freedom from following the trends of the consumption society. As best-selling travel writer Bill Bryson demonstrates in his memoir “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt kid”, frugality also stimulates creativity and sense of humour. Check out the following excerpt from his memoir as an example:

“All our meals consisted of leftovers. My mother had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of foods that had already been to the table, sometimes repeatedly. Apart from a few perishable dairy products, everything in the fridge was older than I was, sometimes by many years. Her oldest food possession of all, it more or less goes without saying, was a fruit cake that was kept in a metal tin and dated from the colonial period. I can only assume that my mother did all her cooking in the 1940s so that she could spend the rest of her life surprising herself with what she could find under cover at the back of the fridge. I never knew here to reject food. The rule of thumb seemed to be that if you opened a lid and the stuff inside didn’t make you actually recoil and take at least one staggered step backwards, it was deemed OK to eat…

Both my parents had grown up in the Great Depression and neither of them ever threw anything away if they could possibly avoid it. My mother routinely washed and dried paper plates, and smoothed out for reuse spare aluminium foil. If you left a pea on your plate, it became part of a future meal. All your sugar cam in little packets spirited out of restaurants in deep coat pockets, as did our jams, jellies, crackers, tartar sauces, some of our ketchup and butter, all of our napkins, and a very occasional ashtray; anything that came with a restaurant table really. One of the happiest moments in my parents’ life was when maple syrup started to be served in small disposable packets and they could add those to the household hoard.”

I grew up in a frugal household. Even after having worked his way up to a high level managerial position, my dad continued bringing home various ‘treasures’ spotted in the rubbish container conveniently located nearby our apartment block. With regard to frugal cooking, only Bear Grylls‘ mum (whom he thanked profoundly for developing his unique  ability to eat anything on earth) could outdo my grandma. My grandma’s cooking motto was the famous saying of Jerome K Jerome “What the eye does not see, the stomach does not get upset over”. That kept me well away from the kitchen with all grandma’s behind-the-scene wizardry,  though it did not put me off the frugal lifestyle.

Let’s not be those who do not economize. Then we won’t need to agonize and waste our life on things we do not need to impress people we do not like.

I am


13 thoughts on “Frugality for happiness, contentment and liberty

  1. I think the magic to happy living is that very last line of yours, which is a declaration unto itself: WE DO NOT NEED TO IMPRESS PEOPLE WE DO NOT LIKE.

  2. My dad was of the era mentioned above. I remember cleaning out the shed and finding objects I had no idea about and saying what is this and why do you have twelve of them. He say something like he was on ajob once and they were lying about so he brought them home as you never know when you might have a use for something you didn’t really know the identity of. He was a man who never threw anything out. As I grew up my mother discovered that used plastic margarine containers were good for food storage and so our fridge would be littered with them containing all sorts of left overs. People of my dad’s generation were naturally frugal, for them it made good sense to keep everything as it might have a use some day. Great post O.

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Loved your story. The same with my family – everything was kept just in case 🙂

      • It meant huge amounts of junk, even now in my laundry there is still by dad’s bottle collection, I can’t get rid of it as I fear it’s worth something and I’d kick Myself if I threw it away. So it sit there and I keep telling it “one day I will move you” but I don’t. I feel like I have just written a Dorathy Dix letter…lol

      • Otrazhenie says:

        One of my friends was cleaning the backyard of her old family home and came across a collection of very old bottles. Guess what – she managed to sell them on for a very nice price. May be one day you’ll be able to make a little fortune with those bottles 😉

      • There’s a couple I will keep like the very old marble in the neck one, don’t see many of them now days. Though why he needed to bring about twenty tiny blue medicine bottles has always baffled me. I think he thought they may be useful someday. Someday of course has not yet arrived.

  3. “Apart from a few perishable dairy products, everything in the fridge was older than I was, sometimes by many years.”
    She may be a long lost aunt of mine. 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Teacher as Transformer and commented:
    This is an excellent post about what being frugal means. I am reading Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder and they echo the sentiments in this post. A household economy is based on the wealth of love and is frugal when it comes to consumption of material things. The focus is on the question: “What do I need to lead a full and fulfilling life?”

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