Our Cultural Split-Personality: Frugality and Consumerism

by on Nov 19 2012 - 18 Comments

With the Holiday season in full swing and retailers planning on opening at 8pm (WalMart) and 9pm (Target) on Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to reflect on what I see as a cultural split-personality of frugality and consumerism.

On the one hand we have frugality, which focuses on living within your means and getting out of debt. Frugality and living frugal has become a very hot topic in recent years, most likely because of the housing bubble and subsequent recession. Even those who have not lost their job are more cautious about the possibility that their job could be eliminated, or that their personal situation could be affected some other way. Based on the rock-bottom average savings rate of most Americans, I think that this focus is a good thing.

What we see with the deal and coupon culture is that there is actually arguably more (or at least stable) consumerism; when you can get things for relatively “cheap” prices, you have more money to spend on those things that fall more under your want list. The new focus on frugality may force retailers to compete on price more often than they would like, but if people are still consuming at the same level they can still rack up the profits – even if those profits are razor-thin on a per-item basis.

Do I think this cultural split-personality is a bad thing? No

The reason I do not think this split-personality is a bad thing is because taking advantage of coupons and deals can help stretch your dollar. Coupons are usually for things that we need anyway: groceries, toiletries, home goods, etc. Deals may cater more towards things that we want, like televisions and new furniture, but as long as there is room in our budget for these things it’s not necessarily bad to take advantage of them.

If you can save a few thousand dollars over the course of a year by using coupons on things that you would purchase anyway, spending money on things you want is much more justifiable. Bonus points if you look for deals on those things on your want list before you purchase them.

While many people participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there are many who shake their head at the mass consumerism that takes place on these days. Personally, I don’t blame people for taking advantage of deals on these days; there are deals year-round but there is never another day like Black Friday or Cyber Monday where there are literally hundreds of retailers offering deals and discounts. Why wouldn’t people take advantage of these once-a-year days?

What I’m getting at is this: frugality and consumerism are neither bad and can easily co-exist; a smart consumer is one who is frugal in their lifestyles and their purchasing behavior.

Will you see me at stores at midnight or even Thanksgiving evening? Will you see me searching for deals on Amazonon Cyber Monday? Yes – if there are things that I need or would purchase anyway. Not much changes on Black Friday for me – I use the same approach year-round when deciding what to purchase.
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Photo by Beth Rankin
 

18 comments
seedebtrun
seedebtrun

when i see black friday, and all of the craziness that goes along with it.. my instinct isn't to think "look at all those foolish people, trapped by consumerism"... but instead , to think .. "look at all of that money getting pumped into the economy"... :-)

JustinatTheFrugalPath
JustinatTheFrugalPath

I feel that sometimes the items offered are junk that the stores are just trying to clear their shelves of. Yesterday my wife and I hit the pre-black Friday sale at CVS (what's next, All Saint's Day sales?). I've been meaning to purchase some type of foot product and we CVS had easy-feet for free after the Extra Care Bucks. I was pretty excited and bought it, because I've been looking for something like it.

I took it home and used it, man was I disappointed. The think broker during the first use. I'm glad that I got it for free because it was the worst product I have ever gotten in my life.

Beachbudget
Beachbudget

a smart consumer is one who is frugal in their lifestyles and their purchasing behavior. Exactly! No one is saying don't buy anything..just think about it first. Really ask yourself what that item will add to your life! 

Veronica @ Pelican on Money
Veronica @ Pelican on Money

Hehe, frugalconsumerism.com is already registered. A good phrase though :) Who knew frugality and consumerism could co-exist peacefully? DC did. I like it - makes me consider being responsible for my own actions when it comes to finding balance in my personal financial life.

RFIndependence
RFIndependence

I always get carried away in a shop. Be it a pack of gum or something bigger, I almost always get more than I initially went for. Online shopping is the key for me. Having a list of what you need and some comparison prices is important too.

Eyesonthedollar
Eyesonthedollar

It is really exciting to score a great deal, but you are absolutely correct in that if you didn't need and and weren't planning on it, it is never a good deal, no matter how much you save.

RepaidOrg
RepaidOrg

Great article!  I think part of the fun of Black Friday / Cyber Monday is not just the deal itself - but the search!  And I wholeheartedly agree with @Free in Ten Years - the real key is only buying things that you were already planning to buy, as opposed to being tempted into purchases you don't really need - that's the ugly side of consumerism, IMO.

NateFancher
NateFancher

We are big on saving money wherever we can. I'm all about looking for deals; so really this just means the way in which I consume leads me to save more. Frugal consumerism....

 

I had never heard of Cyber Monday either... I'm stoked about that!

Free in Ten Years
Free in Ten Years

Cyber Monday! First I've heard of it - sounds awesome. The real trick with these types of deal in my view is only buying something that you were already going to buy. If I bought every awesome TV that was on special I'd have three in my toilet. 

MonsterPiggyBank
MonsterPiggyBank

I think people have finally come to realise that money doesn't grow on trees and that saving money where possible is an important part of managing your personal finances.

 

My wife actually has this great little entertainment book which costs us $50 a year, but with all the birthday dinners that we attend I think it saves us at least $150 or even more.

FrugalRules
FrugalRules

I don't see a problem with it either, as long as you can afford it.  I'll be doing it from home though as it's just not worth it to me to fight the crowds. I think timing is key though and retailers are getting smarter about that and many deals can be had even now. On a side note, I saw the K-Mart flier in the paper yesterday, those poor people have to work all day on Thursday here.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @Free in Ten Years Cyber Monday is relatively new, but I think online retailers will look to compete more on Black Friday than on the Monday after, so it may fade away.  Haha there are quite a few deals on TVs, that's for sure!

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @MonsterPiggyBank Ah yes there is a similar book here that costs ~$35 that we got last year.  We saved money from it, but we save a lot more from weekly coupon ads in the newspaper.