Okay. So, the shopping spree may be over. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or listen to a TV station that doesn’t have a story about it. Meanwhile, advertisers keep putting things on sale to get us spending again. However, millions of Americans are waking up with a debt-hangover and have adopted a new mantra: living within our means. For the sustainability of our planet, let’s hope it lasts.
Whether its because of the recession, high energy prices, an awareness of the trash building up in our landfills or oceans, or because we’re without a job or forced to go on regular “furcations” (furlow based, unpaid vacations) — the equivalent of a pay demotion — many Americans are adopting a Fruglity is Freedom lifestyle that remarkably similar to a sustainable lifestyle. It’s beginning to change what we value and how we place value on values.
Here’s a few of the Frugality Rules:
• Paying off credit debt and possibly cutting up credit cards (after paying them off)
Once upon a time, most Americans never had credit cards — even one. Those who did, had a fixed interest rate. But a lot has changed, with plastic being the method of preference for millions of Americans, most of whom have more than one credit card. All the cards these days have variable rates and all sorts of fees, too. So, when the Fed comes around to raise interest rates to head off inflation, get ready to pay more for what you bought on credit.
Managing your personal finances sustainably means dumping debt, especially credit card debt. According to the Federal Reserve’s July 2009 G.19 report on consumer credit, credit card balances (revolving credit) dropped 11.1 percent in April, 2009, the largest since 1978. Closer to home, I’ve been amazed by the number of our Inn Serendipity B&B guests who now pay only by check (or cash) since they cut up their credit card several years ago.
Getting rid of credit card debt is one wise financial move to regain control over your life. The same also holds true for mortgage debt and vehicle loans. Once out of debt, you’re on the fast-track for a more sane and sustainable life.
• Growing at least some of our food
Our seed supplier located in Maine, Fedco, just set a new record in sales for the 2008/2009 winter season. And last week, my wife and I just harvested about $60 worth of basil for our home-made pesto (which we freeze for winter use); the seeds cost less than $1 and we were able to grow the transplants ourselves.
Seed sales are booming as more Americans grow more of their own food on rooftops, in backyards and in containers on the patio. According to the National Gardening Association’s most resent survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 43 million households in the U.S. plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, berries or herbs in 2009, a 19 percent increase from 2008. Another bonus: healthier, tastier, more nutritious and safer food, since you’re your own grower and processor.
• It’s a free for all: “Shopping” the re-use economy, or opting-in to the freecycle movement
Over the past year, garage sale listings on Craigslist are up over sixty percent. In our town, bi-annual garage sale weekends have become weekly events. Well built antiques and artisan-crafted products — not the mass manufactured items today — tend to last longer and perform better over the long haul, a large part due to the fact that better quality materials we’re used. Workmanship and engineering based on durability, not obsolescence, resulted in these products finding their way into re-use shops and the like. We’ll take an old Oster blender (made in the USA) over some Made-in-China knock-off any day.
We love freecycle (freecycle.org), the locally managed Internet-based exchange listing of items you either need or want to get rid of for free. From transferring our flock of chickens to a new home and sharing the abundance of our garlic scapes to picking up a replacement microwave oven, we’ve used freecycle for just about anything. We’re also building greater community connections. Our Monroe area community is one of over 4,000 Freecycle Communities in the Freecycle Network. As Freecycle explains on their website: “It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them’s good people). Membership is free.”
• Mindful purchases in the restorative economy
Spontaneous consumption, at the checkout counter or on-line, is replaced by a non-emotional and mindful approach to meeting needs as they arise. Products or services that various ways support a restoration economy and help make the world a better place play a central role in the purchase decision. Not coincidental, the ecopreneurial companies who offer these products usually provide customer service and echo a commitment to a durable economy that minimizes waste and planned obsolescence.
• From citizen-consumer to citizen-conservationist
While the US Congress and Obama Administration keep coming up with new ways to incentivize citizen-consumption, the most recent being a cash payment for trashing your junker vehicle (and adding it to a landfill), a grassroots movement is also afoot to become a nation of citizen-conservationists, committed to cutting back and conserving resources. After all, the less we need, the less we spend and — at least until our products are designed differently — the less we waste. As I write about in ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance, less is the new more.
Here’s the upside of the down economy for those American to practice frugality rules: we’ve come to realize more of the good life. Despite the advertisements that tout that the good life can be found at the shopping mall, true happiness, satisfaction, joy, and even spiritual fulfillment can be found within ourselves if we can only be content with what we have — if we let go of the want. Savor the sunsets, great conversations, our good health, a meaningful and purpose-filled livelihood — and let go of the rest.
For those who proclaim that the economy will crash if we all stop spending and consuming, I suggest that perhaps what’s been called the “great unraveling” has already begun as we transform our destruction and exploitation economy into one that restores and heals our planet in peril. Many people have already pointed out that our so-called Great Recession pales in comparison to the potential upheaval that climate change will bring unless we change course, and soon. That’s why the meetings among world leaders in Copenhagen this December are so important. We need policies and an organized worldwide initiative to address climate change (and a host of other issues, too).
Likewise, we also need citizen-conservationists who practice Frugality Rules, since these, too, will influence how the marketplace evolves and adapts (assuming, of course, that we all don’t get a job in government-related offices or enterprises).
So what Frugality Rules do you use to guide your sustainable life?
Photography: Photograph of newspaper product advertisement, John D. Ivanko/www.innserendipity.com