Sustainability is certainly concerned with taking good care of the environment. But there’s more to it. There’s also economic sustainability and social sustainability. Conserving natural resources and conserving money are not mutually exclusive, as some people seem to think.. They go together.
My mother is the daughter of a preacher. Apparently during the Depression, a typical congregation’s prayer was, “God bless our poor, humble pastor. You keep him humble. We’ll keep him poor.”
As a result, she came through the Depression with a habit of frugality and careful spending that continues to this day. A couple of my sisters used to make fun of her for washing and reusing plastic bags. That is, until the pinch of our recent hard times got them doing it, too.
Hard times always cause people to look for ways to cut spending and, if possible, save money. Some people, like Mom, hang on to the frugal habits they learned. Unfortunately, too often Americans in general have greeted the return of prosperity with spending sprees.
For generations before the Depression, Americans had practiced and repeated frugality even in good times. The long and unprecedented prosperity that followed the Second World War brought an unprecedented national binge. About three generations grew up with no thought for frugality even in wartime.
The Johnson administration promised “guns and butter” during Vietnam. There has been no call for sacrifice in our more recent wars, either. With no history of really hard times and no living tradition of frugality, Americans have continued to waste money throughout the Great Recession.
250 years ago, Benjamin Franklin noticed a lot of wastefulness in colonial society. I wonder what he’d say about America today. Maybe some of the same things he wrote back then:
- “If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.”
- “Content makes poor men rich, discontent makes rich men poor.”
- “The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.”
If “sustainability” describes practices that can continue indefinitely without causing trouble, then our entire economy is unsustainable. And that includes the money management of most individual households. We have to return frugal living to our understanding of prosperity.
- Buy what meets a genuine need, not to satisfy an impulse.
- Think of life cycle costs, not just the immediate price tag.
- Reread my posts on the costs of convenience. If a “convenience” doesn’t really save you any time, is it worth it?
- Don’t rush out for the latest and greatest model of some product if the one you have still works adequately.
- Consider: will the usefulness, satisfaction, and fulfillment of buying something be worth the amount of time it took to earn the money?
- Does your spending and all the things in your home truly reflect your core values?
Image credit: Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.