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Frugal living requires you to shift your thinking about our consumerist culture. You must seek fulfillment through experiences, not from products. But to believe you can always transcend earthly desires is akin to believing you can sustain a strict diet that never allows for sweets. As someone who attempted such diets in my formative years, I know they all end with you staring into the bottom of an empty pint of ice cream, with several empty containers of [take your pick: oreos, cheese puffs, gluten-free brownies] hidden at the bottom of the recycling bin. Hey, at least you recycled!
Even a frugal shopper will be hit with the urge to consume. Long-term frugal living requires you to reframe the desire for material goods not as a blemish on an otherwise minimalist record, but
as an unavoidable part of living in our modern world. You must set limits, but not such extreme limits that you end up seeking retail therapy once a month.
With a little patience, frugality in our technological age is within reach.
Patience is quaint these days. We expect next-day shipping; we expect instant internet connection; we expect to be able to get a latte at a drive-thru even with an infant asleep in the backseat. The generation coming of age today will never know what it is like to wait days for film to be developed, nor will they remember the early days of the Internet, when you had time to make a cup of tea while your modem noisily dialed up AOL. Twenty years ago, to stick to a budget, you may have had to muster the self-control to write your desired items on a list, and stick it in a drawer for a month, during which time your craving may have subsided.
These days, we have “hacks” for everything. The Internet allows us to crowdsource to share shortcuts for everything in life. You can still have that microwaved popcorn– just buy kernels in bulk and put them in a brown paper lunch bag; you can still watch the shows you want without cable–just cobble together Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, and make friends with a geek so you can beam it to your TV. (hint: they look like hipsters, but they take more showers, wear better shoes, and they frequently talk about something called ‘Linux’)
But have we hacked patience? I think we have, in a way. We haven’t made patience irrelevant or obsolete; instead, through technology we have given patience super powers. Technology exponentially increases the rewards for our patience and it makes frugality easier to maintain, even as we are bombarded with more advertisements and more opportunities to make impulse purchases.
These days, you can take the same list you may have stuck in a drawer twenty years ago and instead enter it on a website that will automatically search sales and deals and then notify you when one comes along, giving you space to see whether you really need that [tablet, camera, pair of Frye boots], while at the same time finding you the lowest price if you still pine for it weeks later. You may still have to wait an entire year for Mad Men to pop up on your Netflix queue, but once it’s there you can watch two episodes a night for one glorious week. And if you forgo a trip to the glowing Ikea, replete with $1 ice cream cones and 50 cent hot dogs, you can find the exact same kitchen table you covet a few days later on Craigslist for half price.
It can be argued that patience is no longer a virtue in the digital era–that, in fact, it breeds complacency instead of progress. Surely, the people who were patient enough to make tea
while logging on to the Internet were not the ones who pushed to make it faster. However, I contend that to live modestly in a society shaped to our desire for instant gratification, a small amount of technology-enhanced, super-powered patience goes a long way.
Author Bio: Rhea P. is a freelance writer. Rhea and her husband recently launched a hot deal search engine with email notifications, which can be found at www.stealengine.com.