Frugality and Privilege

I plan to write a lot about frugal living, and after reading a great piece at This Tiny Blue House, I feel inspired, maybe obligated. to write a sort of disclaimer to attach to my frugality posts in perpetuity.

I think many people are kind of tired of hearing about privilege (probably mostly people in positions of privilege). No one wants to be told they’ve lived a life where things were handed to them on a silver platter, especially when they don’t see it that way themselves. You can feel a little attacked when someone calls you privileged, because you may feel you never acted in a snooty way, or looked down on others less fortunate than you. It’s uncomfortable, and then you may start to feel guilty when you try to defend yourself, because your retort will inevitably start to sound, well, privileged.

The truth is, privilege is real, but it exists to varying degrees. So while most of us didn’t have that literal silver spoon in our mouths, we can and should still acknowledge if we were privileged in other ways: by being a man vs. a woman, straight vs. LGBTQ, white vs. black. Further, being in a position of privilege doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person just like being in a position of poverty doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. There’s a lot wrong with privilege (like when it’s used to further the privilege of only people like you), but there’s also a lot about privilege that shouldn’t make you feel like a shitty person. If you’re aware of it, and are actively trying to live your life fairly, there’s no sense in fretting guiltily over where you came from, just focus on where you’re going and how you’ll treat others along the way.

If you asked me in high school, I would have said “Hell no I’m not privileged- pshh.” I drove a beat-up, hand-me-down station wagon, my parents never gave me an allowance, and I had to buy my own first (used) car when that station wagon finally died. I rarely bought new clothes, I didn’t splurge on electronics, I worked or babysat to save money to buy things I wanted; nothing was handed to me outright. But looking back on those years, I also see that I lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with good schools, we took a family road trip vacation every couple years, and my parents COULD have given us an allowance if it weren’t for their desire to teach us how to live frugally, which is how they were raised. For some of us, it takes time and maturity and exposure to other people’s experiences to realize that what felt like “getting by” for you might feel like a godsend to someone else.

Now, in my mid-thirties, I’m not wealthy, I don’t live luxuriously, and I consider myself middle class, but I know I’ve had a privileged life in many ways. I’m a white woman with no student loans and no credit card debt. I have a good job, and so does my husband, and we enjoy good medical and dental benefits. We are putting away money for retirement, we have no credit card debt, I have a mortgage (though our home value has dropped since I purchased it), and we have a small safety net that we’re trying to grow. We can afford a good daycare, we just bought a certified pre-owned car to replace my husband’s dying car, and we’ll likely be able to buy a slightly larger house in a better school district when our family grows. We have mobility, we have options. Putting that all down on paper? Yeah I’m pretty fucking privileged.

With all that said, there’s inevitably going to be a certain funny flavor to anything I write about frugal living. I live frugally because I like the idea of not spending more than I have to, I like reusing and re-purposing instead of trashing and buying new, I like the thrill of finding deals and saving money to add to our vacation or savings or college funds. But at the end of the day, this is all by choice. I am not worried about how I’m going to pay the bills, or having to send my daughter to a daycare I’m not totally in love with because it’s all I can afford, or what I would do if the furnace broke, and so on.

For me, frugality is a choice, and I will never pretend that I’m in the same position as someone living frugally by necessity.

But at the same time, I am living my life. I want to write, and I want to share my ideas, so I’m not going to wallow in guilt and flagellate myself for what I have. Most of my posts won’t have a serious undertone, an examination of how people live in poverty, or selfless ideas on how to lift others up. I’m not a saint. I’m going to write fluff and humor and things I like. Off the page, I’ll volunteer my time to causes I believe in, I’ll educate myself and advocate where I can, and I’ll always stay aware of my position.

 

 

 

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