Q: What has eighteen legs and four wheels?
A: My family, sharing a rental car on vacation.
Frugality can be taught. It’s a pleasure hanging out with other people who get this, because you can enjoy each other’s company without feeling like you’re going broke. Most people seem to feel that peer pressure only works one way, that there’s this thing called “keeping up with the Joneses” that leads directly to spending. The answer to this is leadership. If you’re feeling broke, step up and become the frugality leader of your group.
The simplest and easiest way to become a frugality leader is to invite people to a gathering with low or zero cost.
The slightly more complicated way is to just be honest and say that you’re worried about money these days, and THEN invite people to do something inexpensive and fun.
When I had my first apartment, I could barely keep a roof over my head, but I was one of the few people in my friends group who had my own place. People would call and invite themselves over all the time. We’d just hang out and talk. Sometimes we’d sit on the floor and play cards for hours while lip-syncing to the radio. In college, I started a weekend card party that expanded to as many as seventeen people and went on for hours.
The difference between those days and now is that we have access to more types of card games and our friends all have dining tables.
We like potlucks. A potluck is a big improvement over a restaurant in many ways.
One night long ago, a large group of friends met at a cafe. There were about fourteen of us. We hung out for two hours, and then the engineer among us got out his calculator and carefully worked through the wad of bills and pile of coins to make sure we got the tip right. It took nearly fifteen minutes of making sure everyone had put in enough. As we were leaving, one of our two waitresses chased after us and yelled at us for stiffing them on the tip! We were pretty darn sure that her colleague had snagged the whole amount for herself, but it was also possible that a random loser had stolen it. This kind of thing does not happen when you stay home and host the party at your own table.
My feeling on “going out” is that it’s better for the economy when we go to higher-end places less often, rather than cheaper places more often.
It’s also true that I can cook for twenty people at home for what I might have spent on dinner for two at a restaurant.
When my husband and I first got married, we’d have an open house once or twice a week. I’d make a giant vat of soup or a couple of pans of lasagna, and we’d have a big bowl of salad and a couple of loaves of French bread. Sometimes we’d have pie and ice cream, or a cake, or a big fruit salad or a watermelon. I’d make a cake if someone brought in straight A’s, and they got to choose the flavor. This wasn’t terribly expensive for us, and it was arguably more fun than going to the movie theater or hanging out in front of the TV. Offering a hot meal meant our friends could “afford” to spend time with us as often as they wanted.
Except that sometimes, they were low on gas money! We had a running list of chores if anyone wanted to come over and earn $20 now and then. Having broke young friends means you always have someone to hire as a house sitter.
There are other ways to be a frugality leader besides hosting a potluck. These days, we couldn’t really do that because we live in a tiny studio apartment. We can, though, demonstrate that we aren’t competing with anyone through conspicuous consumption. We don’t own a car and I’m not a recreational shopper. I don’t color my hair, get manicures, or wear a diamond ring. We socialize with people who share our sense of humor, and that’s pretty much the baseline requirement.
If anything, what’s conspicuous about us is that we choose to highlight our frugality. We’d like our younger friends to know what we didn’t at their age, which is how quickly someone can become financially independent given the knowledge and focus. We’d like friends of our own age bracket to know that it’s not a big deal to dial back, downsize, and find some peace of mind around the concept of impending retirement. “We save 40% of our income” explains a lot about our lifestyle. It can also be really instructive to find out who else is into frugality and what they know that we don’t.
These are some of the things we have done for fun with our fellow frugal friends:
Go to book signings
Movie night with homemade popcorn
Hiking at the bird sanctuary
Teaching someone to use shop tools, the sewing machine, or a stock pot
Honestly, my model of hospitality is my grandma, who said that her friends would often come over and find themselves napping on her couch. Another delightful image is some characters from Anne Lamott’s Crooked Little Heart, who came over just to read quietly together. Friendship is best when it’s about talking, laughing, and hanging out, not silently burying ourselves in debt and social comparison. Those who disagree will take themselves and their big-spender ways elsewhere, and the rest of us can get down to chillaxing.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.