Not Cheap, Frugal

I thought I could just pass this by and stay out of Shelley Power’s, Dave Winer’s, Clay Shirkey’s and whoever else’s fight this is because I really couldn’t care less what Six Apart charges for their product. In the end, if I don’t like the cost, I’ll just walk away without much of a fuss. I find money for what’s really important to me, and I don’t think too much about what I can’t afford. Unfortunately, some of the statements tossed into the argument pissed me off too much to simply walk away and ignore it. Rather than sitting around stewing about it , though, I thought I’d just blow off steam here in my little corner of anonymity.

At times I’m almost arrogantly proud of what I can’t afford. I long ago chose a simpler life, not because I couldn’t attain a higher standard of living but because I didn’t want to attain it. I’ve always felt that there are more important things in life than chasing money I don’t need to be happy.

Not that I desire to live in poverty. Having spent the first ten years of my life living in what might well pass for poverty, I have no desire to live that way again and still feel a deep sympathy for those working hard and still living on the edge of despair.

The fact is that when I chose to become a teacher I realized that I would never attain the income I could have earned if I had gone to work at Dun and Bradstreet or Bank of America or even Cocoa Cola when offered those jobs after getting out of the Army.

I could even have earned more money if I had been willing to work summers, but I was too busy hiking in the mountains or camping with my kids to consider a summer job. At the end of my career, I earned $50,000 a year, the top of the teacher salary schedule here in Washington, and, by working together, we managed to get two kids through college without ever having to take out loans.

When I told my older brother that I was taking early retirement, he was surprised, saying that, despite owning his own business, he didn’t think he could afford to retire. In fact, he said that he didn’t think he could retire unless he could come up with a yearly income that I had never attained in my best years of teaching. Since I was taking a 50% cut to retire early, I just laughed and said I’d learn to manage. After all, how much can it cost to spend the day walking through the park and playing on the computer the rest of the day?

Of course, being willing to live on this salary has required that I live modestly, if not frugally. I learned how to turn my time off as a teacher into money. Old-fashioned gardening and canning helped save on the food bill, and I learned to make better furniture than most rich people could afford after my daughter said that she wasn’t going to stay for the summer again if she had to sleep on the floor on a futon.

I discovered you really don’t need to go out to restaurants if you buy some Sunset cookbooks and learn how to cook for yourself. I’ll assure you that I’ve never in my lifetime eaten a $100 dinner or stayed in a $150 hotel. When I have to fly, someone picks me up at the airport. I don’t take a $60 cab. If they don’t pick me up, I’m not going to baby sit the grandchild for a week and a half so that they can work.

Since statistically I’m still relatively high on the income scale, I assume that most people I read on the web don’t spend this kind of money, either, though a few may. The fact is, though, if you limit web-publishing to just those who can afford such luxuries, you’re not really talking about promoting democracy on the web. You’re talking about more of the usual, where the rich continue to dominate the political discussion, and things continue to get worse rather than better.

5 thoughts on “Not Cheap, Frugal”

  1. “I find money for what’s really important to me, and I don’t think too much about what I can’t afford.”

    This is also the balance I strive to maintain, Loren, and it’s good to see that ideal expressed so succinctly. I’m inclined to count myself fortunate that I can find money for those things I deem important but it’s also important to acknowledge — as you have here — that on a certain level one can afford X because one chooses to forgo Y.

    It is an act of rebellion to live frugally within a society where conspicuous consumption is almost regarded as the primary purpose of existence. It doesn’t help that the tools we use to communicate — computer hardware and software — are constantly being “improved” when what we already have is more than adequate and many of the improvements turn out to be illusory or leave us worse off than we were.

    I occasionally wonder what would happen to “the economy” if we all made do with less and made those fewer things last longer. Would the world collapse around us? I doubt it, and prefer to believe we’d all be infinitely better off.

  2. If I didn’t like you immensely already, this post would have made me your friend and admirer! Ironically, I had lately been thinking of you as rather well off when you listed the modest “improvements” you have made over time and the costs you’d thus added due to your blogging requirements. Other than having a phone, without which there is no life, my only additional cost is the $10 a month for IP service. Of course, it’s not that I wouldn’t spend more, I just can’t. But I therefore rather thought you were The Rich Guy in the equation. What a delight (sad, sad Loren) to find you are self-determinedly Poor! But, as you suggest, neither you nor I are the last guy on the totem pole.

  3. I certainly don’t consider myself “poor,” Ron. By pinching pennies most of my life I actually live quite well.

    Except for the interest on my house, I’ve paid virtually no interest for the last twenty years of my life. Waiting ten years to buy a new car makes driving if not “cheap,” relatively so, especially when you only fill up the gas tank once a month.

    By not buying anything until I can pay cash for it, I’ve discovered that I often forget what I wanted a few months before. In fact, I can’t think of anything I’ve bought recently that I haven’t wanted for at least a year.

    Amazingly, though I consider myself rather rebelious by nature, Jonathon, I never reallly considered living frugally “rebellious.” I’ve always thought of it as merely having common sense, but it may also explain why I spend so much of my little TV watching time mumbling profanities under my breath at the inane ads.

  4. Loren

    I can’t aspire to your eloquence, but I will try, in my way, to say YAY !
    Totally agree with all aspects of your post. I live, work and play my life based on very similar ideals.

    Cheers – Hairy

  5. Agreed.

    Once I learned of their new pricing structure, which unfortunately will exclude and exile some excellenet but frugal bloggers from Moveable Type, I stopped the blogging.

    It seems to be a symptom of the commercialization of that which brought me to the web in the first place – democratizing the human voice – freeing it from barriers.

    I’m slowly removing myself from that which the monster is consuming.


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