Thrift is bad? So it would seem …

I hate stories like this.

The ones that say “Oh woe is us, shoppers this year are going to be oh so careful with their money! They’re not going to go into debt! They’re going to be responsible and frugal and reasonable and careful! Oh woe!!!”


Latest offender: (click here) which says people will actually, to avoid going into debt, be paying with cash. The horror!

Actually, it is, because not only won’t they be going into debt more to the banks, but they won’t be paying exchange fees to the banks for using their credit cards — that’s that tax that banks hit us with, one-to-five percent, for every purchase we make using a credit card.¬†

See, this is what’s wrong with America: Our whole economy is geared to Americans being foolish with money, throwing the stuff around like potato chips as the Super Bowl, not caring a whit if we go into debt because it’s all about spending and consuming, so any switch to something different must be bad, right?

Banks and other financial institutions have business plans, and future economic plans, that are based on you and me managing our own personal finances like drunk teenagers with car keys. This makes their bottom lines look good and they don’t care how we end up.

So ignore. Pay cash. Be careful with your money. If you have to hand make your kids Christmas presents this year, I guarantee the kids will treasure them a lot longer than an iPod.

Yes, this does mean the economy will be slower coming back. It has to be. The past boom was built on false money, money that didn’t exist in the form of grossly inflated home values. That money will never come back, so the booming levels of the economy that it supported won’t be back either.

Get used to it. And save your money. Don’t spend what you don’t have. If you simply must spend a bundle at Christmas, cut back somewhere else. Cancel the cable or something. It will be worth it to give your kids that iPod they can’t live without, right?

Or, maybe, will let you pay the electric bill this month. Whatever, eventually, we may emerge from this recession a more frugal, economically sound America. We’ll only do that if we quit listening to news stories like this one.

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13 Responses to Thrift is bad? So it would seem …

  1. laytonian says:

    You’re right, Charlie — but lots of us having been doing that for years. We’re the true conservatives. We live in modest (paid-for) homes, rather than McMansions. We pay cash for our vehicles. We may use a “card”….but it’s a debit.

    This country got in trouble because our financial systems were a form of legalized gambling, including “bigger and better houses with granite countertops and 300 square foot bathrooms”.

    We didn’t get in trouble because we spent money. It’s just that many people spent what they didn’t have, or fell into the get-rich-quick schemes that are so prevalent.

    I don’t want a bail-out. What I do want, is for the American public to remember that our economy is consumer-driven…..when the consumers are intelligent. There’s nothing wrong with spending money, but there are substantial issues with spending what you don’t have (and paying the bank fees, as you so rightly point out). Those credit card fees are built into *every* price you pay, whether you pay via debit, cash, check or credit.

  2. The choir comes to applaud you =) Brown bag the lunch, use things til they are no longer usable, carpool and ride the bus… I love being frugal and find that there is a lot of personal happiness in being content with the simple things – and in knowing that we can avoid commodifying ourselves as consumers by being frugal.

  3. flatlander100 says:

    OK, we can all agree — or we should — that spending beyond our means is foolish, and that thrift is a virtue that ought to be practiced and encouraged. And that the hucksters on TV and at the car lot and in the malls need to be recognized as hucksters and treated accordingly. But I get the sense from some of these posts that admonitions to be thrifty may be drifting into advocating a Spartan asceticism that might be going unreasonably far in the other direction.

    The standard ought to be, seems to me, “living comfortably within your means.” That does not necessarily mean brown-bagging it for lunch every day, or buying no Christmas gifts in favor of arts and crafts instead, and the like. Living within your means means, or should, not overspending your income, not spending to the point of having no savings and no reserves, not squandering money on whims. None of that necessarily requires a retreat into asceticism. Levels of spending that are well-within someone’s income when bills have been paid, and savings put aside, can still include dinners out [and lunches too], adding a deck to the house if that’s what you want, buying a Prius if you have the resources, and so on.

    The problem is not necessarily spending or buying, but over-spending and over-buying. And where the point of overspending is reached will vary with the income of the individual and family involved.

  4. ctrentelman says:

    not really bob — I’m like laytonian — thats me, paid off house, paid off car, cash life, I haven’t cut my spending this recession one bit. OK, maybe slightly cheaper lunches, and we switched our bulbs,but that’s it. I think, since my wife got out of college, we’re actually spending a bit more.

    it is people like us who are keeping the economy alive precisely because we always lived this way and, therefore, have the resources to absorb shocks, pay cuts and still keep living like we always have. For far too many, living “within their means” meant “manage debt” not “avoid debt.” They kept thinking they could manage bigger and bigger debt loads because some damn fool named Greenspan said they could.

    now they’re stuck and looking to folks like me for a bailout.

  5. flatlander100 says:


    OK. Looks like we’re on the same page, pretty much.

    Only quibble left I guess is the credit card matter. If you pay cash, you’re still getting charged the processing fee. It’s included in the prices everyone pays, since merchants generally don’t discount prices by the credit card processing fee when you pay with cash. Given that, and since we pay our credit card balance off every month [and so pay no interest],Iwe find them convenient to use, and the rewards are a nice perk. [One of us flying free on an upcoming trip thanks to CC rewards.] Since we’re paying the transaction fee in the prices we’re charged anyway, why not, [so long as we never carry a balance month to month, and we don't]?

  6. ctrentelman says:

    um, because if i don’t pay the transaction fee to the bank, the local business gets to keep it, thus enabling him/her to keep prices a bit lower? When I use a credit card at the ogden nature center I always turn down the member discount — every penny counts, especially for local. And paying cash also helps me keep my own budget in line.

    plus, not giving a transaction fee to a bank makes me feel good.

  7. Michael Trujillo says:

    I got a new Verizon plan and phone last month. I’ve been on a month-to-month arrangement with them since my “old” plan expired a couple of years ago. I didn’t do it over the phone but went into a Verizon store (I always prefer to do business face to face rather than over the phone if I have a chance.) I needed to pay the current balance due plus the price of the phone. I pulled out cash (about $100.00) and the guy told me there’d be a $10 fee for paying by cash. A fee for using cash! I payed the fee because I’m a contrary SOB and don’t like to be strong armed into using plastic. (By the way, this occured in San Francisco.)

    There was a study done, once, to see what determined the time it took for people to get through grocery store check-out lines. They found that patrons who paid with cash got through much faster than people who paid by another means, no matter how many items they were buying. So, the trick to choosing which line in Albertson’s to get into is not to see how many items the people ahead of you have in their carts, but to try to get behind people who are paying w/ cash. Of course, asking other shoppers if they’re using cash or credit could be problematic.

  8. ctrentelman says:

    A $10 fee for paying cash? I’d have read him the part of the bill that says “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Take it or leave it, and if he leaves it, I’d have left the phone.

    but that’s me, contrary to the end. Not like there’s a shortage of phone companies out there.

  9. flatlander100 says:


    When the salesman told me there’d be an extra charge for paying with cash, my next sentence would have been “Sorry we can’t do business, then. Good bye.”

    Hell and a whole lot more is going to freeze over before I agree to pay an extra fee for paying a bill with cash.

  10. FL- As with many frugal choices, neither brownbag lunches nor homemade gifts necessarily imply deprivation. Both will usually require a little more thought and effort, but as far as I can tell, our “instant gratification” culture (or even excess of consumer choice and convenience) haven’t made us any happier, healthier, or wealthier – quite the opposite actually. Statistics on anti-depressant use and a quick gander at the nutritional supplement aisle at Walgreen’s would bear that out.

  11. flatlander100 says:

    Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, CB. If craft gifts and brown bagging pleases you, then by all means, go for it. My point was not that brown bagging and craft gifts should be avoided if you have the wherewithall to do otherwise. It was that so long as someone’s spending is well within their means, I see no reason for that spending to be excessively curtailed in the name of economy. So long as it is well within their means, which definitely means not borrowing to do the spending.. That’s all.

    That said, you won’t get any argument from me that folks spend an un-godly amount on unnecessary, and even pointless, things — things I wouldn’t buy if I won the Powerball next week . My favorite example [so far] this Christmas is the digital automatic wine bottle cooler from Sharper Image, featured on the front page of the latest mailer from BB & B. For a mere $79.99 you can select from seventy — yes, 70! — different wine temperatures it will bring your bottle to in only minutes. 70. [Select by grape and country of origin and it'll choose for you the ideal temp from the 70 available.]

    Clearly no home should be without one. Two just in case. At least.

    [Actually, I'm feeling kind of sorry for them. How'd you like to have a warehouse or six full of $80 digital wine bottle coolers to move when the bottom fell out of the economy.?]

  12. ctrentelman says:

    actually, the dumbest object I’ve ever seen for sale, anywhere, is an automatic winding box for self-winding watches to keep them wound when you aren’t wearing them.

    they’re more than $100 in the airline flight magazine.

  13. flatlander100 says:

    Game, set and match to you. I don’t think I could top that one no matter how hard I looked. And a hundred bucks a pop. Sounds more like something you’d see Ronco hawking on late night TV for $19.99 and a free set of Ginzu knives for the first fifty callers…..

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