I am so excited to be blogging with the both of you on a subject that excites all of us to paroxysms of tight fist waving glee! I do, however, wonder about my qualifications to blog on this subject. While I have posted a couple of times on how to save money cooking and traveling, I am not the best model for financial responsibility. I am not wholly irresponsible, but I have very little savings, and much, much educational debt. While some of my best friends have been working since college and now have enviable 401Ks (well, less enviable since the crash), and my law school classmates are now making bank as third year associates, I am pretty much still living like I have been since 2002: from financial aid disbursement to disbursement, with odd jobs as a reader, research assistant, or TA (very rarely, since my program is not connected to an undergraduate major) to relieve some of the cost of living burdens. I suppose though, that my example can be of a person who lacks a consistent income and who therefore by necessity should be cheap and thrifty. You don't have to wait till you have a steady income to save money, or at least refrain from spending it profligately.
But if not me, who? Who really is a great candidate to write about thrift? The person who washes out every ziploc bag to reuse (my mom), or the person with the biggest retirement and savings accounts? Everyone should be qualified to write about thrift, if by thrift we mean an awareness that how, where, and why we spend money signifies ethical and economic values. The person with a lot of money in the bank is virtuous in one way (depending on how they obtained that money of course); the person who spends very little on clothing and entertainment is virtuous in another way. So my take on this blog will be of a cheap and thrifty, but not exactly fiscally healthy grad student. I'm very aware of how much it'll cost to payback educational loans, start a family and mortgage, save up for kids' college funds and my own retirement, but I am really not anywhere near being able to do any of that, having been in school since 1998 (at least college was free). I also have that great immigrant experience of growing up poor and actually remembering what it's like to be hungry and paying for things with food stamps, so I have a sort of Scarlett O'Hara defiance of "as God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again!"
I love all of your suggestions for blogging towards a theory of thrift. Here are some of my own:
- Further to Phoebe's suggestion on the gendered aspect of thrift, what are the relational aspects? There has been much written on the hoaxy DABA girls, the actually true Seeking Arrangements sugar daddies/babies ickiness, gold digging, and how the recession has affected dating, all by the NYT. I myself have blogged on my feminist cognitive dissonance on being partnered with someone with A Real Job, such that I go to great lengths to redefine to myself and my relationship the idea of "contribution," such that we can be co-equal partners in this joint enterprise of love, which if you spend every day together, involves a lot of eating and the occasional movie and ball game or concert. Historically, women have been the home economists, managing the money and household as the husbands provided. As some of my research is on work/life balance and gender in the workplace and society, I'm quite interested in how we navigate these personal and social questions. In fact, one of my future posts will be on how incredibly neurotic and calculating I have been, such that I was bargaining to myself whether I should feel guilty about ordering the $1 more expensive carne asada burrito, when I could have ordered chicken. I am still neurotic, but I have stopped keeping a ledger of how much I probably owe, and how many batches of cookies that would translate to.
- I am also interested in another potentially gendered aspect of thrift: the time value of money. In theory, it can be cheaper to make than buy, but not always. And as Hanna Rosin cogently argued, breast-feeding is "free" only if you don't value a woman's time, in terms of lost income, lost hours, and lost sleep. Let us not underestimate what we spend in time and energy when we try to save money. What do we do to save money, how are those activities gendered or not, and are our behaviors actually economically rational? Beause I spent two hours yesterday making a pan of lemon bars that ended disastrously, I wanted to weep over the cost of the lost ingredients: two cups of flour, two cups of sugar, 1.5 sticks of butter, eight eggs and six lemons, which probably equalled $7. I did this so that I could indulge my hobby of baking, bring something nice and homemade to a party, and not buy a $30 bottle of wine. Instead, I lost $7 in ingredients, but more than that, 2 hours of time and if I calculate my hourly rate at even the least generous pay rate provided by my university for a nominal academic job, I lost a lot more. Had it worked out, I would not have minded losing that time, because again, it was in pursuit of an avocation. But when avocations go awry, we can't help but to compare the lost time it means to our vocation, and what else we could be doing with our time--and money. And when we consider the other thankless tasks upon which we spend our time--cooking, cleaning, child care--and how such tasks are still to this day disproportionately gendered, what do we really save when we try to do everything ourselves? When is it more econoimcally rational to buy than make? When is it more economically rational to pay someone to do this task than to do it ourselves? Add a further level of neurosis by considering how outsourcing any of these tasks might preserve the gender imbalance in most households by putting the burdens on a wife-for-hire (i.e. a housekeeper).
- Finally, I would like to consider other moral and ethical considerations in spending, further to Rita's point that cheap clothes don't necessarily mean that you're saving money in the long run, and probably entail costs in the form of supporting bad labor practices, adding more to landfills since the clothes are basically disposable, etc. Should we follow Peter Singer's applied ethics model and make every economic decision a moral one? Warning: this may quickly result in cheapness fatigue (much like green fatigue) and a feeling of despair that it is easier to do nothing than everything, if those are the only two choices.