Saturday, 14 August 2010

A Frugal Virtue - Patience

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I was not brought up in a particularly frugal household.  I come from a middle of the road, middle-class American family.  My parents made decent money most of the time, though there were periods when my father was laid off.  They didn't tend to indulge in big, extravagant purchases, but neither did they sock away every penny.  Looking back, I know that a lot of money trickled through my parents' fingers by way of waste, and a steady stream of small but frivolous purchases.  I wasn't taught the skills of living frugally at home, so I had to learn frugality as an adult. 

I suppose that even most people who are raised in a frugal home must do the same thing, since most of us tend to rebel at least a little from our parents.  It took me a while to apply myself seriously to the study of frugality.  I went through a learning phase, really not so very long ago, when I read the books and actively looked for all sorts of frugal tips, techniques, and advice.  All those things are useful.  But I also found that there were a few larger, overarching values or virtues that profoundly shape a frugal life.  One of those is patience, or the ability to delay gratification.

Patience is regarded as a virtue in the Catholic faith I was brought up in, and by many other major religions.  It's not highly regarded or promoted in western culture though.  Our entire capitalist economy and in particular the credit boom of the '90s encouraged all of us to buy it now! don't delay! hurry! give yourself a break!  In trying to live a frugal life, we have to swim hard against that tide, and struggle counter to the cult of instant gratification.  It's a hard thing to learn patience, especially least at first.  It's not a skill easily acquired, or at least it wasn't for me.  After all, most skills need practice, and when the skill you're trying to develop is patience, well... by definition, those who most lack it are going to have the hardest time developing it.  I was one of them.  It seems incredible to me now, but even waiting until my vegetables were ready for harvest was difficult for me a few years back.

Patience is indeed a virtue, and one worth deliberately cultivating if you wish to live a frugal life.  I still wrestle once in awhile with the impulse to just go out and buy something I've taken it into my head to want.  But slowly it has become easier and easier to accept that I don't need to have everything immediately.  Age helps.  I've gotten this far without whatever it is that I think I want, so how important could it really be?

Patience allows me to request books that interest me through the inter-library loan program, when my own library doesn't have a copy, rather than buying them myself.  No small benefit for households that read as much as we do.

Patience often allows me to wait for something to turn up at an annual church rummage sale, or on a craigslist listing, at a yard sale, etc. Now, when that rummage sale comes around on the calendar and the very two items I've had on my list for months are priced at about $1 each, the satisfaction is enormous.

Patience helps me believe that many tiny changes and efforts will have big effects in the long term.  It's a form of faith, and confidence in the future.  Without patience, would I ever see the benefit of saving a few pennies each day by using cloth napkins instead of buying paper?

And yes, patience helps me wait for the potato and garlic and tomato crops to ripen in their turns.   The garden teaches patience and many other virtues if we but allow it.

Those of us who choose the frugal path will likely walk that path for years.  Our goals may vary from paying off a mortgage or saving enough to buy a home without one.  We may have children to provide for, or elders to care for.  They all take discipline over the long term.  Patience and frugality are bound up with one another. Patience allows us to hold to our path when it looks unending.  It allows us to persevere when we question why we do what we do, and when we wonder whether our efforts are bringing us closer to our goals.

 Is patience a skill you've mastered?  What other skills or virtues help you live the life you want?