As it so often does, the issue of frugality vs. free-spending has touched a nerve with readers.
A column that centered on those issues a few weeks ago drew several responses, and many make interesting points. So I thought I'd share a few with you today.
A reader named Kent sent me a letter saying he could relate to Mike, the reader who started it all. As you recall, Mike sent me an e-mail a few months ago in which he wondered how his neighbors who make similar incomes could spend freely while he has to be more conservative to live a relatively modest lifestyle.
"As a father of a preschool-age child, my concerns lie in the fact that while I can dismiss others' high-consumption lifestyle, it will not be so easy for my daughter to live among children of indulgent parents," Kent wrote. "In the church I attend, I see the children and youths who come from those same households pressuring leaders and parents to provide activities that must have food, travel, friends, fashions, entertainments and all of the indulgences they are accustomed to and expect."
Kent wrote that he hopes the current economic doldrums will "level the playing field" and reduce the free-spending peer-group influence his daughter may face as she gets older.
"If we have a big change in the economy, those households of undisciplined, high-consumption and indulgent parents will not be so conspicuous," he wrote. "I admire people who can rein in those desires to have bigger, more and best in today's world."
I admire them, too, Kent. And while I'm not eager for economic problems, I see your point that they might help people focus more on the necessities of life and on being more frugal.
A reader named Barbara wrote in an e-mail that she, too, could relate to Mike's dilemma.
"I use all sorts of mental exercises to try to buck up my resolve to live frugally and save money," she wrote. "I know that many of the people who live 'rich' are up to their necks in debt, and I certainly don't want to be there. I also know that money can't buy happiness, and having more things is usually more of a burden than a joy (once you get over the momentary rush of buying them!). Perhaps most importantly, I try to focus on the transitory nature of worldly riches and the importance of non-financial riches like spirituality, family, education, etc."
However, Barbara wrote, that is a constant struggle.
"I guess like most other goals large and small ... maintaining financial sanity requires eternal vigilance," she wrote. "Sometimes it's easier than other times, and I hope that one day it becomes second nature. In the meantime, I try to live by the words of William Henry Channing: 'To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich ... in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common this is to be my symphony."'
I love that quotation. Another reader, Kevin, quoted a different source.
"I found your article on keeping up with the Joneses very interesting, and it reminded me of a scripture in the New Testament that teaches us that life is not to be found in the abundance of the things that we possess (Luke 12:15),"
Kevin wrote. "I have found this teaching to be true."
An excellent reference, Kevin. Thanks for sharing it.If you have comments on this issue, or if you have a financial question, send it to email@example.com or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.