Archetypical contributed a great comment to my last entry, Surviving (and Thriving) on $12,000 a Year, with a very different take on Donna Freedman’s story:
I think frugality is great, and there are certainly things we could all do without, but I refuse to glorify this woman who gets praised for leaching off of everyone.
If only we could all get paid alimony because we refuse to get a job or if only we were all comfortable stealing food from starving children via the food bank maybe we could all be as frugal as her. She even mentioned that she would get food stamps if she could. It seems almost miraculous that a system which allows people to misuse it so regularly found a way to at least not shoulder her fake burden on society as well!
This woman is an example, certainly, of how you can try to put a positive spin on the most dispicable of activities.
I had ended up cutting my thoughts on toeing the line between accepting “charity” and sponging off of others out of my last entry since it took the entry in too many directions, but Archetypical’s points are valid and worth addressing separately.
I do feel that it’s fantastic to be able to live on low funds, but not if you’re always taking from the system and not giving back, and not if your activities are costing your friends and family, making them the sponsors of your lifestyle. I can’t speak for Donna Freedman, but the two friends I mentioned manage to toe this line very well. In fact, they’re always giving me things they picked up, “paying it forward” with things they no longer need, and bringing me home-baked goods (a plus-two in my book). If they didn’t have money on hand to contribute their percentage of the dinner costs, they’d make up for it by bringing wine or doing the lion’s share of the work.
It’s a delicate balance, and I do disagree with doing some of the things Donna suggests in her article on a long-term basis. Public services like welfare and the food stamp program are meant to provide short-term assistance to those trying to get back on track. We pay in, then collect only if needed. My assumption was that Freedman would pay society back in the long run for what it gave her, but then, I can’t say that for sure. Things like freecycling, however, I can completely support – it’s a system good for the landfills as well as for us.
When I reread from Archetypical’s perspective, there are certainly some things that cross the line of what I’d be comfortable with. I consider myself an “ethical consumer”, which basically means I believe in spending more to support the things I believe in. I pay extra for green energy, for example, or to buy my vegetables from the local organic farmer instead of the local Wal-Mart, but that’s another topic which deserves its own entry.
It’s challenging to balance that with frugality, but I think there’s certainly a happy medium to be found here. The couple I spoke follow practices much closer to what I believe in, and I’m glad to be able to share their story as a comparison and contrast to Donna’s.
That said, I’d love to know: where’s that line for you? At a certain point, taking advantage of opportunities can become taking advantage of people. Do you know someone you feel is saving himself at the expense of someone else, or toeing that line well? How do you manage to give back?
Published or updated October 11, 2007.