I own The Complete Tightwad Gazette, which contains not only all three of the original books but also about 8 months worth of newsletters which were published after the last compilation. I admire the Dacycyzn family for having a goal, focusing on it, and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.
The following is the entire text of an article entitled "The March of a Different Dreamer" which appeared in The Tightwad Gazette Volume III. In the Complete edition that I have, the article begins on page 703.
Fifteen years ago, while freelancing in a Boston design studio, I became friends with Nancy, another graphic designer. At that point, our lives seemed similar: We lived in the same city, had the same occupation, and we both married in the early ‘80s.
Nancy and I stayed in touch and managed to see each other every few years. Each time we met, I marveled at the different roads we had taken. About the time my third or fourth child was born, Nancy was still pondering whether she would ever have a child. When I told her Jim and I were saving for a New England farmhouse in which we hoped to live for the rest of our lives, she shuddered – she couldn’t imagine living in the same place forever. Just as I was feeling disenchanted with graphic design, Nancy’s career flourished. The job that had been an empty experience for me was meaningful for her.
I last saw Nancy about four years ago. We again compared notes on how different our lives were. Nancy had decided not to have children. Feeling pressure to take yet another “grown-up” step in life, she and her husband had been shopping for a house. After months of indecision, she realized she didn’t want to own a house either. She was content with their small apartment, which enabled them to have a streamlined, uncomplicated life. She went on to confide that she really wanted to save for a one-year trip around the world with her husband. She told me they had been squirreling away money but had not made huge lifestyle changes; for example, they still sometimes ate in restaurants.
The conversation then turned to my odd career direction, and, as many people do at a similar point in conversations with me, she described herself as “not frugal” in an apologetic tone. She felt this way not only because her goals were different, but also because she used fewer frugal strategies than Jim and I did. I leaned toward her and said, “But what you just told me five minutes ago is the essence of frugality.”
My point was that although our goals were vastly different, we had both stripped away the expectations of others and had decided to generate surplus income to pursue our dreams. Jim and I had less disposable income, so we had needed to use every strategy possible. Nancy and her husband both had good-paying careers and no children, so they would need to use fewer strategies to accomplish their goal.
Neither did I think it “spendthrift” of her to spend a good chunk of her life savings on this one temporary pleasure. Replacing their savings would be easy since their ability to generate more income was high and their personal expenses would be few. And since both of them couldn’t imagine their lives without working, spending money wouldn’t result in a painful tradeoff of having to work to replace the money.
There’s a reason why I have chosen to relate this story. On my book tours, I occasionally bump up against two reactions that concern me. The gentler response comes from those who, like Nancy, apologize for not being frugal. This response is strange coming from people who clearly have adequate resources for all their needs. The second response is a criticism. During a radion interview, the editor of a competing thrift newsletter called in and accused me of being a “thrift terrorist,” because the ideas I publish “aren’t really appropriate for Middle America.”
Both of these responses are based on the same incorrect assumption: that all people should be frugal in the same way, regardless of their circumstances. Everyone’s goals, resources, talents, values, and “frugal comfort zones” are different, and there are many legitimate ways to be frugal.
Further, it’s incorrect to assume that certain frugal ideas are appropriate for upper-class Americans, others for the middle class, and yet others for low-income Americans. If I’ve learned anything in six years of publishing, it’s that no two people agree on what is and isn’t an acceptable idea. For instance, in some parts of the country, furnishing a home with curbside finds is socially acceptable only for the lowest income groups. Yet this practice is considered to be “chic” in New York City be people of all income groups.
My readers fall into a variety of categories. I support all of these choices:
Some have ample economic resources and modest goals. These readers may choose to use a more limited range of frugal ideas.
Some have modest resources and are facing desperate circumstances such as unemployment, house foreclosures, and/or bankruptcy. For these people, few ideas would be “too extreme,” and it would be shortsighted of me to withhold ideas that might not be acceptable to everyone in “Middle America.” I want to provide them with the “black-belt” techniques their situation demands.
Some readers have ample resources and still want to use the black-belt strategies. It’s perfectly legitimate to find hard-core frugality a worthwhile lifestyle for non-economic reasons, such as enjoying the challenge, preserving the environment, or passing on frugal skills to kids.
In other words, I’m an easygoing person. Most people spend money in ways that I wouldn’t, but the only time I think of people as “spendthrifts” is when:
They have spending habits that are making them or their families unhappy, or may make them unhappy in the future and they complain rather than making the lifestyle changes required to improve their lot in life.
They have wasteful spending habits yet they carry no health insurance, declare bankruptcy, or fail to pay child support.
In short, it’s my job to provide the range of strategies from which you can choose. It’s not my job to determine which or how many frugal strategies you should use, or what to apply your surplus toward. Those are your choices.
Nancy did take her yearlong trip around the world, returning in the fall of 1995. Interestingly, she wrote me to say that the experience made her more frugal, as she and her husband had been forced to adhere to a tight budget to avoid having to return early. Not only does frugality vary from person to person, but we can adjust it individually day to day – that’s one of the wonderful things about it.