A few more thoughts on morality and money

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The last couple of posts have garnered more comments than just about anything I've ever posted here! Figures that would happen just as I'm too busy to give it the attention it deserves. If I haven't responded to your comment, please know that I have read it and am thinking about it (and am not mad at anyone). I just don't have the time I'd like to have to reply to everyone individually right now.

That being said, I do want to say a couple more things to clarify my position. To begin, I absolutely do think that there is morality in consumption. The ways in which we make and spend money are full of moral choices. I just don't think that, removed of all other factors, saving is a more moral choice than spending. Is saving a more moral choice than spending in environmentally destructive ways? Yes. Is saving a more moral choice than spending in ways that profit off other people's labor in unfair ways? Yes. But is saving, in a vacuum, more moral than spending? I don't think so.

There are a lot of ways to be immorally frugal. Buying whatever is the lowest cost, regardless of how and of what it was produced, when you have other options, just so you can have more money in the bank, is, to my mind, immoral. And I have a far bigger problem with that than I do with someone who has consumer debt but doesn't buy plastic shit made by slaves in sweatshops.

Personally, I am by no means a perfect consumer. I haven't ever quite broken my Target addiction (though it is much moderated these days). I strive to comprise most of my wardrobe of secondhand clothes, but as I've admitted here before, I'm definitely not above getting fed up and buying from a mainstream (read: sweatshop produced) store. I am more and more committed to supporting small businesses, and I do pretty well, but it's certainly not 100%. I'm not above my own moral reproach here.

But, as someone who is fairly suddenly and not very comfortably (upper?) middle class, I think my responsibility to spend well is far greater than my responsibility to spend less. It is important to me, and I hope increasingly important to the rest of my new class, to support my local economy with my dollars, to support independent artists and craftspeople and farmers, and to make a concerted effort not to line the pockets of the Walton family and their ilk. If I spend in ways that are helpful to my community and further my personal and political objectives, I think that spending is good. Better, in fact, than not spending at all. If I don't spend at all, the only person that helps is the me of the future.

I understand, or at least am beginning to understand, the importance of saving. Saving for the future, for emergencies, etc. I'm not saying that I think I or anyone else has a moral obligation to spend every dime, or to go into debt, in order to buy more local fair trade junk. But much of the frugality stuff I'm hearing and reading seems to me to just be miserliness by another name. Super for you if you can pay off your mortgage in four years and have a twelve month cushion in your savings account and never have a credit card, but what's the cost? To the economy you didn't support, and to yourself? If that way you were able to do all that super special saving was to only eat clearance food from Wal-Mart and never do anything fun, then sorry, you aren't going to get kudos from me. And if that journey has turned you into someone who thinks it is a waste of money to buy art, or to support charities, or to give gifts, or even to treat yourself to an occasional luxury, whatever your luxury of choice may be, then honestly, I don't think it did you a whole lot of good.

Obviously my thoughts on this subject aren't set in stone. I spend a lot of time thinking about money, both in the direct sense (i.e. how to do I save and spend my personal income?) and in a global sense. I don't have a lot of answers, at least not firm ones. But I am beginning to get more assured about speaking up when something makes me uncomfortable. The idea that salaries are secrets makes me uncomfortable. The myth that people are rich or poor based on how hard they have worked, rather than to whom they were born, makes me uncomfortable. And, most recently, the idea that you are a better person if you are far into the black makes me uncomfortable. I'm truly sorry if any WINOW readers find that offensive--it's not meant to be. But, as always, I'm glad to have this forum in which to work my thoughts out, and to hear yours in return.


I've really enjoyed this series of posts.

One of the people I admire most, as far as spending goes, is a close friend of mine. He rarely buys things for himself, and really avoids cultivating a sense of wanting new things or wanting to upgrade. So in that sense he's quite frugal and sensible with his money. HOWEVER, he never hesitates to spend money on a party. He never hesitates to give money to a friend in need. And when he does want to buy something for himself, he buys it at his local, independent store, even if its triple the price.

That's the kind of spender I want to be.

(For me, getting out debt is somewhat of a priority - I would rather in the long term give my money to locals than to a bank, and I'd rather be free from the sort of debt-slavery that bills stick you in. But again, that's mostly a person "this is more comfortable for me, and in line with *my* priorities" kind of thing.)

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