Looks like I'll never stop hearing from readers who want to share their thoughts on frugal living and "keeping up with the Joneses."

And that's a good thing.

I think it's important that we keep discussing this topic, especially during troubled economic times. I find many reader comments useful, so I'll pass along some more this week.

One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, lives in Southern California and wrote that materialism there is "rampant."

"Materialism is a significant challenge for this generation," he wrote in an e-mail. "Too much excess. Kids in grade school have cell phones, when in my generation it was the $100 sneakers. These kids don't need a phone, they need a dose of economic reality."

I think they're going to get that dose real soon, if they haven't already. But this anonymous reader had more to say.

"I spoke to a friend who recently visited (Salt Lake City), and she said it seemed to be even worse there," he wrote. "She felt everyone there seemed to be driving a gas-guzzling SUV. Isn't the median household income there about $50,000?

"It seems people are going through a lot of economic pain right now. The excesses of being able to use your home equity as an ATM are over. I fear the economy will sputter or downturn for years to come as the excesses of the past few years pass through the financial banking system, where greedy bankers and brokers sold weak mortgage products to greedy or unknowledgeable buyers. Now, we all get to pay."

We've seen that prediction come to fruition in the last few weeks. I hope it doesn't keep getting worse, but I think it might.

Another reader, Janie, sent me an e-mail about the original question of this series of columns, which boils down to, "How am I doing compared to others?" She wrote that her response is to take the question globally and respond, "Absolutely wonderful!"

"I wish I knew the exact statistics, but I believe approximately 35 to 45 percent of the world's population has less than a sixth-grade education," she wrote. "Many live without indoor plumbing, clean water or a reliable source of food. Forget about EVER owning a car, microwave or a PC. You get my direction."

Yes, I do, Janie; you make an excellent point. We can get so wrapped up in what we don't have that we forget how blessed we are.

Janie wrote that she and her husband recently turned 40, both have four-year degrees, and they have four children between the ages of 15 and 5.

"Our cars are both over 12 years old, and until they are completely dead, we have no plans to change them," she wrote. "The house we live in is half the size of the one I grew (up) in, with the same amount of people. The best thing about a small house is that there is absolutely no room for non-necessities, and it really makes you think before you purchase ANYTHING.

"About five years ago, we began combining our Christmas and vacation fund and take a BIG vacation in January. Christmas is small with the kids receiving books, essential clothing items and one thing they really want. ... The idea is you can't have everything, so let's channel our available resources.

"We are trying to teach our children to live within their means; self-esteem comes from within and not from what you own; and to be grateful for the bounty that we have."

Janie, I'm sure your children will be better off in the future because you taught them at an early age.

If any of you have additional comments about frugality, send them along. Or, if you have a financial question, I'll take a shot at getting you an answer.

Send correspondence to gkratz@desnews.com or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.

E-mail: gkratz@desnews.com