I bow before my Queen of Frugality

W. Hodding Carter

W. Hodding Carter, and his wife Lisa, frugal gifts to one another on their wedding anniversary.

W. Hodding Carter, and his wife Lisa, frugal gifts to one another on their wedding anniversary.


TESS VIGELAND: We talked at the beginning of the show about change in the year since Lehman Brothers collapsed. Whether we'll all stick to our new, financially responsible ways. I'm still somewhat skeptical. Still, there are people out there who have more than fully embraced the notion of change. We call them the "extreme frugals" and we've been hearing regularly from one of them.

W. Hodding Carter has been blogging about his new, almost threadbare existence for Gourmet.com. Think family of six, 550 bucks a month to live on, that's after the mortgage payment.

Here's his latest installment for us.

W. Hodding Carter: A while back, Lisa noticed six identical chairs for sale on the side of the road. In our house, none of the furniture matches and the pieces that once did were ruined by our four children and countless pets long ago. And, Lisa has a chair fetish. She wanted those peeling, quarter-sawn chairs. Big time.

The seller was asking $20 apiece. I didn't call that day, that week or even the next -- employing one of my many newfound frugal skills: Patience.

When the owner finally gave up and brought the chairs inside, I pounced, talked her down to 10 bucks a chair and drove home grinning with victory.

The day of our anniversary, I taped a used ribbon to one of the chairs and prepared to watch her crumble in defeat. She smiled, said how she loved them, and even nodded her head approvingly when I bragged about the price.

When it was her turn, she handed over a sealed envelope. "Ah, a certificate for some massages," I sighed to myself. "She's way out-spent me and I get massages to boot. I won! I definitely won!"

I stopped gloating the second I ripped it open.

"Oh, no," I groaned. "I lost. I definitely lost."

What did the card say? "Vacation Getaway... Accommodations for two for three days and two nights. Plus, $50 in dinner rewards!"

It was without a doubt the most selfless, perfect present I'd ever received. Not only had she performed the unthinkable -- conversed with a telemarketer for nearly an hour over the phone -- she'd also agreed to endure a five-hour sales pitch! The vacation was hers, as long as she made it to the end, no purchase necessary.

Of course, she did, dodging all advances from the flirtatious, elderly British salesman, whose many charms included bad breath, a mismatched toupee and an aura of defeat that almost, but not quite, guilted her into buying a time-share we could never afford.

Humbled, I bowed before her and declared she was not only my true love, but once and for all, The Queen of Frugality.

Vigeland: W. Hodding Carter is writing about his family's experience with extreme frugality for Gourmet.com.

W. Hodding Carter, and his wife Lisa, frugal gifts to one another on their wedding anniversary.

W. Hodding Carter, and his wife Lisa, frugal gifts to one another on their wedding anniversary.

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I have been increasingly allied with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE). We are attempting to devise/formulate workable, alternatives to the American consumer lifestyle which is clearly not sustainable for many more years. There is a dark side to this work. Humankind faces a very bleak future when the demand for oil exceeds supply, the almost fished out oceans become barren, we have depleted what is left of our topsoil growing corn to turn into ethanol to power SUVs, etc. Allen Wrench's comments hit the nail on the head so to speak. I would love to be able to email 'allen' so please forward my email address to him. He is speaking some fundamental truths. We have a tiger by the tail as he puts it and the neoclassical economists and politicians either don't realize it or are scared spitless to address it for fear of being hooted out of office.

We can see we have created a time bomb. Even the highest level brainiac economists can't fix what ails us. Our whole system is based on an unsustainable model that will eventually collapse no matter how much money that is printed up by the Fed. (...they don't even need to print money nowadays, all that needs to be done to create billions is to magnetize a silicon chip!)

Now maybe if our energy supply was stable and affordable and Peak Oil was not in our future and global warming was not an issue, things would be different and we could keep on consuming and expanding ad infinitum as our world overpopulates itself.

But...IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE TO DO A 180...Without compulsive spending and conspicuous consumption funded by unaffordable debt, we would fail as a country.

You ever hear the saying...'I got the tiger by the tail and can't let go?' That is how it has developed in the US of A.

Lets say everyone becomes voluntary simplicity and frugal squirrel devotees. We recycle, reuse, repair and just say no to buying more crap. If we stop buying all the stuff that America imports from China - who keeps the billion plus people in China from starving, so they do not go back to old ways of trying to take over the world?

And on a more local level, if the consumer stops consuming even US goods, the US companies go bust, everyone loses their jobs and his or her retirement funds will collapse.

What about growing a a garden...nothing wrong with that? Lets say everyone starts growing 'victory gardens' in the backyard as food has become unaffordable. So some of the few farmers left in the US go bust cause their food just rots on the shelves unsold. Now there is less food being produced and at even a higher cost to those that can afford it the least.

What about more taxes?

Tax the little guy so DC can pay for their compulsive spending disease. More taxes = less for us to compulsively spend 'trying' to buy happiness = lower earnings for the greedy corporations = raise hell with the DOW = less cap gains tax income for the gov to squander = everyone's retirement funds sink lower and lower = even less compulsive spending since everyone is poorer.

Back in the day, (prairie and turn of the century) homesteaders were more of a self sufficient nature. Some raised cows and produced milk. If they had excess milk they made butter and cheese out of it. They may have traded the excess with their neighbors that had a bumper crop of potatoes and carrots. And others specialized in poultry and eggs and traded or sold their output with the farmer's making honey or maple syrup...and some did it all.

Sure, few were people were 100% self sufficient. They always looked to the railroad to bring in seed or other things. But they possessed a certain ability to survive that is lost within the society nowadays....a society that is obsessed with downloading the perfect ring-tone or fondling their electronic communication device in the sweaty little palms as they dream about what to buy next in the hopes of satisfying inner fulfillment with outer possessions.

Most of us have lost that skill of self sufficiency and we have shifted gears to be dependent on gov and a few other such as farmers or oil producers or China to take care of the whole pop of the US. The problem is, it is very hard to go back without causing a lot of pain. (Actually a lot of deaths)

Hell, the impotent people of modern day and age can't even make pancakes or peanut butter sandwiches and have to buy them ready made in the store...it's really scary.

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