Evaluating the Cost of Extreme Frugality

Earlier this month one of my favorite personal finance bloggers, Bret Frohlich, wrote a terrific piece where he declared war on frugality and explained why frugality doesn’t always pay.

In fact, Bret’s post got me thinking about those who choose to take on a life of extreme frugality. Keep in mind that I’m not referring to people who dutifully cut coupons and grow their own vegetables.

Instead, I am talking about people who bring home roadkill for dinner, read by candlelight, and/or eschew heating regardless of how cold it is outside.

Why would anybody ever choose such a punitive lifestyle?

As I see it, there are three predominant reasons:

1.   After living far beyond their means for too long, they discover themselves to be deeply mired in debt, like this college student who chose to live out of a pick-up truck.

2.   They are committed environmentalists that are determined to try and “save the Earth”, like this lady.

3.   They are fanatical, committed anti-capitalist knuckleheads that are determined to try and “save the Earth” – like the Freegans.

By the way, on their website, the proudly-unemployed Freegans unabashedly proclaim to us uninformed working-class sheep that not only does   “working suck,” but it is “dehumanizing” as well.

Interestingly enough, in the very next sentence the Freegans go on to espouse, without the slightest hint of irony, the joys of dumpster diving.   Go figure.

Just Remember…

Those who practice extreme frugality do not have a monopoly on making life harder than it has to be.

And while it is important to invest in your financial future by doing everything you can to stick to a strict budget and stay out of debt, please don’t go so far overboard that you forget to invest in your quality of life as well.   :-)

Life really is too short to live like a refugee if you don’t have to.

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    Thanks for the link and your comments. This is a great post and I enjoyed some of the articles. I especially enjoyed the article about the college student who lives in his truck. My son also has a Tacoma truck and is attending college. I’m glad he decided to move back home instead of trying to sleep in his truck. I was getting worried for a while there. Luckily, he doesn’t have a shell.

    The bad economy and people’s rising awareness of earth issues are helping to spread a new spirit of frugality. I think this is great, especially for people who are used to over-spending and living in debt. And, I’m very happy people are evaluating their purchases and avoiding items that are devastating to their finances or the environment. But, extreme frugality can have a dark-side, which is why I created my post. Moderation is the key to happiness for me. Money is supposed to be earned, saved, spent and enjoyed.

    BTW, these Freegans have some pretty scary ideals. Can you imagine what America would be like if we all quit our jobs and ate trash? I know capitalism has its flaws, but people who are truly impoverished dream of a life like ours. And, I doubt if any of the 30,000 people who starve to death each day would consider work de-humanizing. Most of the incredible achievements of the past century were invented or created by hard-working Americans. That’s something to be proud of.

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    You’re very welcome for the mention, Bret.

    With respect to the green living, I know every little bit helps. But I don’t think going to extremes, like the lady in my second example, is going to make much more of a difference. It’s kind of like the difference between spitting in the ocean, or pouring a glass of water in the ocean.

    That’s my take on the issue. I am certain others will vehemently disagree with me.

    As for the Freegans – I wonder what their attitude would be if they were living in the stone age. In the absence of a capitalist society, would they still think work was dehumanizing? I suspect most of them would. Would they be productive members of their tribe? I sincerely doubt it. In fact, I suspect they would leach off the hard work of their tribe mates and do the minimum they had to in order to get by.

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    Ann says

    while I also don’t advocate eating roadkill or not heating one’s home, I don’t see a problem with the practices of Freegans. If you have ever read through some of their blogs or articles, you would see that it is not about fanatical anti-capitalism. Rather, it’s about people expressing their disgust at what a nation of spendthrifts we have become. Their anger and disgust is mainly aimed at stores that throw away still edible produce or deli food instead of feeding homeless people with it. And while I also don’t think that work is dehumanizing, I find it worse that we have created a society in which it is possible to live entirely of the waste of others, simply because there is so much wasted.
    Lastly, I find your take on how the Freegans would be faring in the Stone Ages completely missing the mark. Remember, Stoneage was all about hunting and scavenging and not wasting a bit, which is exactly what the Freegans are doing. If you want to translate curent society into Stoneage terms, it’s like the tribe going on a hunt, killing a moose and only taking a few steaks while letting the rest go to rot.
    Frugality is nothing to be ashamed of or something to make fun of, but in this consumerism-driven world it is treated like a four-letter word. Ironically enough, many people will only see the Freegans point when living in your van is not a choice anymore…

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      Great comments, Ann! But I have to respectfully disagree with you. The Freegan’s own website espouses the eventual overthrow of capitalism and calls followers of their movement revolutionaries.

      I do agree with you that there is waste in the world. As somebody who used to work in a grocery store, I can attest to the amount of food that is thrown into the dumpster every day. However, much of that food gets there because it reached the end of its sellable life – usually because it became stale or inedible. Even homeless people passed on much of the stuff that I used to toss when I worked in the industry – even they had their standards.

      I disagree with your assertion that we have created a society in which it is possible to live entirely on the waste of others. To make such a statement, I think we first need to come to some sort of agreement on the definition of “live.” For example, I’ll argue that it takes a special person willing to live their life entirely on the waste of others, like the Freegans do; but they are a tiny minority of people living in civilized industrialized/agrarian countries.

      Sure, I could “live off the waste of others” if I had to, but why should I? Most people desire a much higher standard of living and capitalism makes that possible.

      You make a good point about the Stone Age – I completely agree with you regarding it being about hunting and scavenging and not wasting a bit. My point was that this is NOT the Stone Age – it’s 2010. So why would the Freegans WANT to live like they are in the Stone Age? Is it because work is truly evil, or are they just afraid of work?

      I’ll assert that the Freegans have this romantic Utopian notion of how the world should really be. It’s a beautiful concept in theory, unfortunately it’s also completely untenable.

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