"A little knowledge
(which is what we call ignorance) is, in fact, a dangerous thing.
Almost everyone knows that drinking water from a filthy pond
or polluted lake can cause life-threatening diarrhea, but still
only a few realize that holding on to resentment, anger and fear,
or eating fast foods, chemical additives and artificial sweeteners
is no less dangerous than drinking polluted water; it may just take
a little longer to kill a person than tiny amoeba can."
"If this country is to survive,
the best-fed-nation myth had better be recognized for what
it is: propaganda designed to produce wealth but not health."
"One of the pioneers of the movement toward healthier
eating — Adelle Davis — raised many food safety and
health issues based on her own research. Her views were not accepted
by the scientific community at the time. Now the weight of medical
evidence — including former Surgeon General Koops’ Report
on Nutrition and Health — has vindicated her views." --
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in a 1998 press release setting
forth his opposition
to lawsuits being brought against people who question the safety
of our food supply
Feature documentary that shows how the devastating reality
of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labeled a
"dream cause," has been hijacked by a shiny,
pink story of success
- 7 Grains... Lying ToYou 081512
In the spring of 2012, investigations revealed that Kellogg
was using GMOs in some of the 'natural' products they
sell under the brand name of Kashi --and donated
$791,000 to defeat Prop 37
Spending is out, simplicity's in. Why the nation's thriftiest
people are also the happiest.
by Jeff Yeager
"Sure, we could afford to spend more," Bruce Ostyn
told me as he rinsed the plates from dinner in a shallow plastic
dishpan. "But why would we? It wouldn't make us any happier."
Ostyn then headed to the patio to carefully redistribute the
washwater to some thirsty potted plants. When I tried earlier
in the evening to be a helpful houseguest and put the dinner dishes
in the dishwasher, I was promptly reprimanded. The appliance wasted
too much water and electricity. "Besides, it's full,"
Ostyn noted. "We use it to store ramen noodles and other
bulk foods for our camping trips." You never know what you'll
find in a casa de cheapskate.
Frugality, formerly an everyday virtue, hasn't gotten much respect
in recent decades. Yet when the stock-market crash of 2008 pushed
a stalled economy into the Great Recession, bam!—suddenly
thrift was in vogue again. A recent Gallup Poll found that 62
percent of us would rather save money than spend it, up from 48
percent in 2001.
Being a cheapskate is my chosen profession, come by honestly
from a boyhood in the farmlands of Ohio—where you learn
to use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without—and
24 years running nonprofit groups. In the spring of 2008, as the
Dow seesawed, I crisscrossed the country on a 30-year-old bicycle
to research my second book, The Cheapskate Next Door. I had surveyed
more than 300 of my "Miser Advisers"—a network
of superthrifty folks I've developed—about their financial
habits, and I wanted to take a closer look at them. I met near-millionaires
and people who earned so little they could qualify for public
assistance but chose not to—they had more than enough to
live as they wished. What they all had in common: they've found
ways to be wealthy that don't depend on earning more cash or buying
That's right—the reality of the frugal life upends stereotypes.
These aren't latter-day Scrooges, though I've yet to meet one
who doesn't sport apparel dating to the Carter administration,
or earlier. For its adherents, thrift is more about knowing what
you cherish, then skipping the rest.
Ostyn, 59, and his longtime partner, Daniel Newman, 45, are prime
examples of people who enjoy the good life while spending far
less than their neighbors. The couple live in southern Arizona,
in an average-size but Architectural Digest—gorgeous ranch-style
house (which they paid for in cash). They travel throughout North
America for at least two months every year, following the migratory
birds they love to watch and sleeping in the comfortable camper
kit they installed on their pickup. The pair run their own interior-design
service, a venture that typically nets them a modest $20,000 to
$40,000 a year, but they still put "at least 25 percent into
savings," says Ostyn.
Among their savings secrets: Live cell-phone free ("It's
a quality-of-life issue, too"), wear your clothing until
it's truly worn ("It's like losing a friend when we consign
a shirt to the rag bin"), and save twice the amount needed
for a major purchase before you buy it ("It lets you make
sure you really want it, and—if you do buy it—you
don't feel broke afterward").
"For us," Newman told me, "a true sign of wealth
is free time—freedom from drudgery and unwanted commitments.
In terms of baubles, we might be living below our means, but in
terms of the things that really matter, the Queen of England doesn't
have it any better."
You don't need to go back to the Puritans or Poor Richard's Almanack
to find when penny-pinching was last a source of pride. The YMCA
and other civic groups launched National Thrift Week in 1916 to
promote frugality "For Success and Happiness"—or
so the official slogan proclaimed. Thrift Week celebrations were
held throughout the land, and they included sexy-sounding events
such as Have a Bank Account Day and Pay Bills Promptly Day.
National Thrift Week had a long run—until 1966. That year,
it so happens, "Time" magazine ran a cover story entitled
"What's Good for the Economy." An excerpt: "For
62 fat months, prosperity has fed itself because Americans have
spent, lent, borrowed and invested with confidence. They have
felt correctly that jobs, production, profits and paychecks would
continue to go up and up." Meanwhile, household debt as a
percentage of disposable income had nearly doubled since 1950,
from roughly 35 percent to nearly 70 percent. Thrift Week had
been replaced by a newer national mandate for success and happiness:
Spend more than you can afford, and our economy will boom.
Fast-forward to today, with personal bankruptcies and home foreclosures
near all-time highs. The average U.S. household owes about $7,500
in credit-card debt. Almost half of workers live paycheck to paycheck.
Sometime in the 1990s, says Boston College sociology professor
Juliet Schor, Ph.D., consumers went into overdrive, egged on by
easy credit and real-estate values on steroids.
According to Schor, author of The Overspent American: Why We
Want What We Don't Need, keeping up with the Joneses suddenly
wasn't enough anymore. Now we had to surpass them, to live, as
Robin Leach would say, the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
How long ago that now seems.
A familiar line item in the budgets of the thrift mavens I met
is zero. They spend nothing, or close to it, on fast food, clothing,
or the latest whatsit. "Like a lot of moms," says Welmoed
Sisson of Gaithersburg, Maryland, "I love shopping with my
daughter, but it's just to laugh about how much stuff people buy
that's totally unnecessary, not to buy things ourselves. It took
me a while to explain to our kids that if a company needs to advertise
all over the place, it's something that people really don't need.
But eventually they got it." Confirmation came when her daughter
scored a thrift-store find: an elegant black dress for $12.50
that she wore to her senior prom.
Sisson and her husband, Bob, both in their early 50s, display
the zeal of converts. Bob quit a high-level corporate job a decade
ago. Together the couple started a home-inspection business and
now typically earn around $80,000 a year. Three years ago they
moved from an 8,000-square-foot home to one about a third that
"Moving made us realize how much we owned that wasn't being
used and wasn't necessary," says Welmoed. "When you
look at how much most of us have compared with world standards,
it's almost embarrassing."
One of the joys the Sissons discovered as they downsized their
lifestyle was each other's company. "We started eating nearly
all of our dinners here at home, as a family, and—I'm not
exaggerating—sitting around the table for a good hour after
the meal was finished, just talking about our days," says
Welmoed. "We started sharing so much more as a family."
For many cheapskates the formula is simple: spending less money
creates more time. "The relentless pressure to buy more crap
makes things like sleep, free time, and relationships the real
luxuries these days," says Jacquie Phelan, 55, a professional
mountain biker I met in Fairfax, California, outside the rustic
home she proudly calls the Taj Mahovel. The only way most people
can afford simple pleasures, she adds, is to "spend less,
not earn more."
In 1992 Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez published Your Money or
Your Life and became champions of the neglected notion that your
time is more valuable than money. A bestseller when it first came
out, the book was reissued in 2008 and once again climbed the
Robin, who now lives in a sustainability-minded community on
Whidbey Island in Washington State, sees the tight economy slowly
changing more people's minds about what she calls "the true
cost of stuff." The current flood of books about de-cluttering
your life is evidence, she says, that Americans are realizing
less can be more. "For years we cheapskates picked on gas-guzzling
SUVs as symbols of excessive consumption," Robin says. "When
GM announced it will shut down Hummer production, some called
it the result of higher fuel prices. I call it a return to common
In her research for The Overspent American, Schor concluded that
many of us could trim spending by 20 percent and not feel it.
"Most people are caught up in fantasy desires," she
says. "We tell ourselves we want an expensive car because
it's safer, or a gourmet kitchen because we want to do more cooking,
but that's rarely the truth." To prevent buyer's remorse,
Schor suggests putting off until tomorrow what you're tempted
to buy today. "Every parent knows that children will probably
lose interest in an item if told to wait," she says. "Adults
are really no different."
Schor is board cochair of the Center for a New American Dream,
a nonprofit group that's out to help people "consume responsibly."
A survey it sponsored revealed that 86 percent of Americans feel
the phrase "more of what matters in life" fits their
concept of the American dream better than the term "more
What matters most to many folks I met, like Bruce Jackson of
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, is sharing their wealth with others.
A 64-year-old retiree, he relies on Social Security to cover most
of his needs (apart from medical expenses). A key to his financial
independence was his decision to buy a duplex and rent out half:
the income stream helped him pay off his mortgage in eight years.
Living in Lewisburg also helps minimize expenses. Bucknell University,
a rich source of free or inexpensive entertainment, is close by,
and Jackson's "two-mile rule" means he walks or bicycles
to any destination within that radius whenever possible.
The satisfaction of giving drives his choices. He estimates he
donates 15 percent of his income to assorted charities and the
church he attends (the average of those I surveyed was nearly
5 percent; the national average, less than 3 percent). "Most
of my estate is slated to go to charities," he says. "The
more careful I am with my money, the more I can pass on to someone
else who really needs it."
Have we reached the tipping point—or perhaps the "no-tipping"
point—where thrift is here to stay? Schor thinks the stigma
of "cheap" may be fading. "With friends it's easier
to raise whether you can afford to go out," she says. "Frugality
is hipper now." There's even a movement afoot to resurrect
National Thrift Week. Maybe we'll celebrate Keep a Budget Day
once again. But Lauren Weber has her doubts. Weber, a historian
of thrift, is the author of In Cheap We Trust. "History shows
that in hard times, we hunker down and make do with less,"
she says. "It also shows that as soon as the danger passes,
we cheerfully reset our appetites a notch or two higher."
Maybe so, but when the economy roars again, I'm certain my fellow
cheapskates will persist. We have it too good. My questionnaire
ends with a hypothetical: Someone drops a million dollars on you—how
would it change your life? More than 9 out of 10 replies said,
in so many words, that money cannot alter their lives. They already
have what they want.
Bruce Ostyn and Daniel Newman put it this way: "Honestly,
it would change our lives very little. It would just serve to
reinforce what we have already learned—that we have enough
right where we are, and we realize that is a gift most people
don't ever choose to receive."
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road
Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. Read his tips
on living below your means at aarp.org/savingschallenge.
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