The Social Acceptability of Frugality

Over the weekend, I ran across an article that talked about the social acceptability of frugality. The primary example used in the article was that of a clothesline and what impact it might have on your neighbors. The underlying concern was that frugal moves such as hanging out your clothes might negatively impact property values and/or your social standing in the neighborhood.

Personally, I have a hard time imagining that people would think any less of you as long as you do it in a neat and respectful way. Is hanging our your laundry a sign of poverty? Not to me. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it was the status quo. Nowadays, it borders on elightened. Would it bother me if my neighbors did it? Heck no. I probably wouldn’t even notice.

Of course, this just my perspective, and I do realize that different people have different viewpoints. So…

Let’s set aside for the moment the issue of whether or not hanging out your laundry truly devalues property, or is inappropriate, associated with poverty, etc. Instead, let’s talk more broadly about the social acceptability of frugality.

To what extent do social pressures influence your willingness to be frugal?

To me, this just a different form of “Keeping up with the Joneses” in an attempt to avoid the perception of socio-economic or cultural inferiority. But there are, of course, limits. For example…

I’d willingly hang out the laundry, grow food in a garden, maintain a compost bin, mow my own grass instead of hiring a service, borrow (or lend) a tool that I don’t happen to have, have a garage sale, drive my car for far longer than average, etc. But I wouldn’t let our lawn get overgrown, nor would I let the exterior of our house get shabby in the interest of saving a buck. Likewise, I wouldn’t put a car up on blocks in our yard so I could scavenge it for parts later, keep livestock, or rifle through a neighbor’s trash bin looking for discarded treasures. Of course, I personally wouldn’t want to do these latter things, so there’s really nothing lost here.

So… Where do you draw the line?

Are there frugal moves that you’d like to make, but have decided against in the interest of social acceptability?

23 Responses to “The Social Acceptability of Frugality”

  1. Anonymous

    Having the time (to hang out laundry and/or be more frugal) is usually not the issue on days I don’t work. I guess I obsess a little just trying to maximize what I save and limit what I spend. So much of everything else in life is trying to get you to spend not only every last nickel and dime, but also go above and beyond what you can earn and afford. Having good balance (going places and doing things some days and just relaxing at home at other times) is key to feeling good about yourself. Don’t be too cheap or too reckless. A little planning of what to do and costs involved can go a long way. What sacrifices will you need to make to do expensive (go on a trip or buy a vehicle) things?

  2. Anonymous

    In my part of the US, it’s seen as “green” to hang your clothes out in the summer or to have a garden.

    The only issue I’ve had with the social acceptance of frugality is that I won’t stop wearing a pair of jeans if they have a few modest holes in them. Fortunately, it is currently a trend for kids my age. However, a few years ago I used to get some strange looks by walking around with worn out jeans.

  3. Anonymous

    Here in India, most of us dry our clothes on a clothesline. We are particular that we have space for one when we move to a new house. Nowadays it’s very common to see clothes being hung on clotheslines even on the side of 9th floor apartment.
    Here, it is necessity. Maybe in your place it’s a choice.

    Thank you for the post.

  4. Anonymous

    It’s an interesting question.

    One thing I was very struck by in reading about Alex Martin’s Brown Dress Project (she wore the same dress every day for a year) was the way that others reacted, and I think it’s relevant here:

    “When Alex Martin started wearing her little brown dress day in and day out, ‘I expected to get a lot of flak,’ she says. To her surprise, few people even noticed. ‘We are all so concerned with our own lives and families and work and whatever we’re doing, most people don’t judge what you do,’ Martin says. ‘I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt.'”

  5. Anonymous

    We’ve got too many trees out back to put up a line, but I’m looking into a retractable one for the front yard. I hang all of our unmentionables, hand towels, wash and dish clothes, and socks inside on a drying rack already to save on drying time.

    We’re doing square foot gardening in our front yard, and the garden boxes are lining our driveway. Raised beds look nicer than when we planted directly in the ground last year, AND the plants grow better.

    One instance of social pressure reared its head recently when I suggested buying the window clings advertising my business to put on the minivan. My husband said that because it’s an older (well maintained) vehicle, that it would not portray the image I want to portray… except.. I’m doing financial coaching!

  6. Anonymous

    Years ago we lived in a mobile home park and one of the park rules was that we were not allowed to hang our clothes in our own yard. There was a community clothesline area, but clothes were stolen more than once. I finally resorted to stringing a line down the length of our home through the hallway. They didn’t care that I had a garden though, so at least I had that option.

  7. Anonymous

    I think the only real social pressure I feel is not to TALK about how to save money or otherwise be obvious about it.

    For example, my neighbor found out that I’m pregnant and offered to babysit when needed. I was thinking “That’s great! It will save me so much money, and I won’t have to drive across town to drop the kid off with another friend,” but I didn’t dare say it, I guess because I thought it would make us look poor or stingy. I did remark how convenient it would be to have a babysitter down the street.

  8. Anonymous

    I grew up in a rural area, (I am gladly living back in), and my parents always hung our clothes out back. Several years ago, I moved to a “nice” bigger city, and was informed that only trashy people hung their clothes out. The houses were no nicer than the ones in my hometown, usually smaller, with dingy little yards, but the people felt it was very backwoods to do such things. I’d much rather live in a small town where no one cares if my undies are on the line out back, or if I have a garden. I don’t worry about what the neighbors might think. I do think it’s important to take care of your yard/garden, not because of what the neighbors think, but because it shows what you think of yourself.

  9. Anonymous

    I think mostly there is social pressure of not really talking about saving money or the measures to take to do that with most people.

    Clotheslines do have other justifications these days though, like saving energy because you want a more green lifestyle. So that one might be trendy.

    I think there is also a heavy culture to consume new stuff within the keeping up with the joneses culture of the suburbs.

  10. Anonymous

    I’ll have to ask my maid what she does with our laundry…do people actually do their own laundry?

    i think we are all influenced by social pressure regardless of or status.

  11. Anonymous

    I live in Brazil, here its common to hang the laundry in the backyard. Poor and rich people do it, i dont know a single person that uses laundry services.

  12. Anonymous

    Neighborhoods in the US vary greatly: there are older, established communities which have built up slowly and have a variety of folks living in them, and there are those where everyone moved in, virtually all at once, as part of some sort of development. These frequently have lots of covenants and rules. Personally I couldn’t live in the latter, it’s way to cookie cutter for me, and the fears/rules about clotheslines, fences, whatever, are part of the push/security/desire for conformity. Ironic in a country touting individuality as a cornersone of our society.

  13. Anonymous

    Do people in the US really worry about things like this? I find it quite surreal that people would take issue at you line drying your clothes.

    Line drying your clothes is a perfectly normal thing to do here in Australia, even in apartments you see people with their washing out on drying racks on their balconies all the time.

  14. Anonymous

    I live in a very Bohemian neighborhood. The great thing about it is that its old and that you have a good mix of homes – everything from $100k up to $2 million. It’s an interesting mix of folks. I’ve seen people in $500k and up houses use things like laundry lines, washing their own cars (luxury cars) and doing their own yard work. We’re in a southern city and no matter how high you make it – those old country values come into play. I have the money to pay someone to do my yardwork, and sometimes doing it myself gives me terrible allergies, but for some reason I can’t imagine why I’d pay someone to cut my grass when I have the time and energy to do it myself. Sometimes its just hard to shake the frugality you grew up with.

    I also always remember my 85 year old neighbor (who has since passed away). She was widowed from a doctor and had scads of money. But she mowed her own grass up until she died. I told her I’d do it for her, especially when it was very hot – she said no, she had nothing else to do and she had the energy to mow. This is probably why she had scads of money and was able to afford 24 hr. nursing care in her last years.

  15. Anonymous

    I thought I surpassed worrying about other people’s opinions years ago — but something always comes up. Right now, I’m embarassed to drive my beat up car. But, we’re frugal and it works fine, so the partner will drive it instead.

    As for the neighbors, most hang out their wash too around here. It isn’t a frugal thing, to me, it’s an environmental thing. As for other stuff, I think we’re actually “one of those neighbors” now because the partner loves free stuff and is constantly bring home random building materials and what not and our property can look a bit junky. It bothers me a bit, but when we’ve needed to build something or repair something, it’s been nice having the materials we need. I try to get him to put it in neat piles, but it’s still not the pristine, neatly manicured lawn of our neighbors by any stretch. Right now, we need these frugal resources, so it’s just what life is and I’m not going to stress over what the neighbors might think (too much, at least).

  16. Anonymous

    Well, I can sew but I often avoid doing it, for the sake of looking more stylish. It works well for sundresses but less well for professional attire. I do tailor my own professional clothes, but it’s not the same as making them.

    I can make great pants, I’m just nervous about wearing them to work.

  17. Anonymous

    Well, social pressures doesn’t bother me AT all (maybe something to do with being 56!) and my criteria wouldn’t be their attitude, but “is it cleary offensive” . Clean clolthes aren’t, a beater on cinderblocks is. Gardening isn’t, chickens might be because they stink and make a lot of noise (been there!), push mover isn’t, not mowing is. So forth. Oh, and wearing “Golden Boy” outside the house (except for yard work) is, Salvation Army wear isn’t. Just my 2ร‚ยข.

  18. Anonymous

    Most people are very worried about what other people think of them. This worry is so powerful, that people have been driving themselves further and further into debt just to maintain their social status with their friends and family.

    This ‘social status syndrom’, along with easy credit has created a huge mess of our society.

  19. Nickel

    Kyle: Good call. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Lynnae: Not having a backyard throws another wrinkle into it. I’m looking at this through eyes of someone with a backyard, so it wouldn’t impact the ‘public’ appearance of the neighborhood. Still, as long as you hung things neatly and took them down promptly, I wouldn’t mind you doing it in the front yard — especially if you had a retractable clothesline.

    Sara: I’m not saying that livestock is a bad idea. Rather, I’m saying that I wouldn’t want to do it given our circumstances. We’re actually surrounded by farm land (including several cattle ranches and a chicken farm) but livestock just wouldn’t fit into our neighborhood (I’m not even sure it would be legal).

    Sam: I agree. If we were to do these things, it would be far more about reducing environmental impact than about frugality. That’s why I said that line-drying your clothes borders on “enlightened” nowadays.

  20. Anonymous

    I think there are ways to spin a clothes-line (env.-friendly) and a veggie garden (same, plus healthy and a hobby) that move any discussion away from frugality if you were worried about what the neighbors think.

    I have a few friends that ask about when I’m getting a new or nused car and when I respond with “when I can pay cash for it” they respect that response.

  21. Anonymous

    I can’t say social pressure has ever stopped me from doing frugal things, but it has made me think. Specifically with the laundry issue. I live in a duplex with only a front yard, so there’s really no place to “hide” my hanging laundry. I tried to put my laundry line in the most inconspicuous place in the yard, but I still line dry during the summer.

    I’m fortunate to live in a pretty “crunchy” area, though, so I think most people around here think I’m cool with my frugal ways. ๐Ÿ™‚

Leave a Reply