Extreme Frugality: Starting Anew

In this day and age of specialization, W. Hodding Carter is an unashamed generalist. The man is curious about everything, and his books have taken him around the world. He’s followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, retraced Leif Ericsson’s journey to the New World in an authentic replica of a Viking merchant ship, and has written about the ecology of the Everglades, the history of plumbing, his quest for Olympic gold, and even how to build your own mackerel smoker with the same single-minded determination. These days, he’s finding adventure of a different kind—living within his means.

I feel a consensus among a certain set out there that this series should not have been called “Extreme Frugality.” Some comments here and on other sites have made it clear that what my family is doing is not “extreme.” And they’re right—sort of. Our attempts are insignificant when compared to the efforts of a friend who lives far from society and buys nothing at all except the occasional citrus fruit or haunch of protein. And the things we’ve taken to—heating (mostly) with our own or bartered wood, shopping at a liquidation grocery, only eating in, drying clothes on the line instead of in the dryer, attempting to produce our own food, etc.—are nothing more than adopting traditional ways.

Yet juxtaposed against our former selves—as well as typical American behavior over the past 15 years or so—we’re talking about a fairly extreme shift. But even that isn’t the full picture. Extreme frugality is what we all make of it: my family; you, the reader; and those with whom we come in contact. It’s a goal, a thought, a mantra to be repeated and tossed back and forth so we can figure out the best way to live.

For decades, we’ve been encouraged to spend our way to happiness, and look where it’s gotten us. Actually, look back at those free-spending days and ask yourself if you were any happier then than you are right now. I realize I wasn’t any happier then, although I admit I did enjoy one or two of the top-shelf delicacies that I can no longer afford. It’s clearly time for extreme changes for all of us. To sit around and pick apart what is frugal and who is extreme enough has its place, but that’s a distraction.

The point is to move forward and create an entirely new existence—not just for me, or for you, but for our entire country. What kind of economy is dependent on its citizens spending more and more? That is certainly not who we used to be or how we measured ourselves. It’s laughable to imagine FDR exhorting people simply to go out and spend to save the country. If that’s the only thing that will work, then maybe it’s best if we don’t “recover,” “regroup,” or “rebound.”

Instead of doing anything that begins with “re,” maybe it’s time to implement some “a” words, like “afresh.” I’m not jump-starting my personal spending. I don’t want to inject it with a stimulus package. I would rather make an about face. Start from something solid and then grow (up) from there. In my world, this means heading outside right now to clean up all the chicken guano from the laying boxes because, even though it’s not yet spring, when life begins anew, we just got our first egg.

Favorite new coffee: Maxwell House Dark Roast in the 2-lb tub: $6.99

Date last new razor purchased: 12/1/08

Most recent bottle-return earnings: $14.50

Carter family eggs eaten: 1

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