Why Can't I Find People Who Share My Values on Anti-Consumerism and Frugality?

If you're serious about embracing frugality and rejecting consumerism as part of an overall strategy to build wealth for your family, there's one big thing you must accept: most of what you do, say and think will be quite different from everyone around you.

You'll experience social pressure from every direction and with every degree of subtlety: from colleagues, friends and family still plugged into the work/spend matrix, from the advertiser supported media surrounding us.... and even from your own ego, which will try nearly any tactic to get you back into the herd with everyone else.

It can feel quite lonely embracing these values, even for those people who have really mastered this domain, who have built a habit of extreme or near-extreme savings and have found great satisfaction in avoiding the pull of consumerism. I've had quite a few readers ask me, "What do you do when everybody around you is always buying stuff, eating out, and spending money like it's going out of style?"

Recently, one friend who lives in another country asked me, sadly, "Why can't I find people who share my values on spending and saving?"

Admittedly, it often feels like there just aren't all that many of us out there. If it weren't for the internet to unite us as a subculture (in particular, great sites like Mr. Money Mustache or Early Retirement Extreme that essentially act as rallying points), we'd all be little lonely islands, surrounded by a sea of people who just don't get it.

But then again I can't help thinking: if you look around and can't find people who share your values, could it be that you're just not looking hard enough?

I'll explain by way of a thought experiment. Imagine there are lots of people in your community, your neighborhood, or your country who live on less (or even much less) than you do. They are there. Then imagine how they live. What kind of cars might they drive? What kind of clothes do they wear? What kind of homes might they live in? More importantly, how prominent will these people be? Will you be able to see them? Will they stand out?

Not if you aren't looking for them.

So, why is this? Simple: because they're completely overshadowed by the people buying things and showing those things off. By definition, consumerist people are more noticeable and more prominent. Think about it: when someone engages in identity construction based on the things they own, obviously other people must see the things they own. Duh, that's how it works. This form of identity construction--as pathetically shallow as it might be--cannot be built any other way.

Now let's take this thought experiment one step further and ask a trick question: can you see the stuff that someone doesn't buy?

This, in a nutshell, is why acts of consumerism will always be more prominent, tangible and noticeable than acts of anticonsumerism. As circular as it may sound, the people who buy a lot of stuff have a lot of stuff for us to see. You aren't going to be able to spot the non-consumerist people as easily as you can spot the consumerist people. Even among people you know well.

But just because you don't see them doesn't mean they're not there. They are there. You just have to train your eyes to look for the right things. If you really see, rather than just look, you will find people who don't buy things, who don't drive flashy cars, who don't live a flashy lifestyle. Obviously they won't stand out in the typical sense of standing out. But if you can teach yourself to notice the quiet people among all the loud purchases and shouting acts of identity construction, you'll see them. Lots of them.

Much of our reality depends on the kind of mental lens we use to look at that reality. Like it or not, you tend to see what you've chosen to see. Choose properly.

Readers, share your thoughts!

Read Next: Your Money Or Your Life

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Terpsma said...

Thank You for your post. Us frugal folks fly under the radar. We do get disapproving looks and comments at times. I get a deep sense of satisfaction when shopping for food as I peruse the perimeter of the store.

Marcia said...

Interesting. It can be really hard to find fellow frugalites. I think because a lot of people just don't think about it.

In my area, I find them by looking for the SAHMs, or the people in school getting a degree. Single income families tend to spend less.

I have a friend who was so proud of becoming more frugal - she said I "rubbed off on her". So she's excited about getting an awesome groupon for skiing this winter. Um. Still consumerism but she did get a good deal - a lot less than she would have paid. There is that.

Rebecca said...

I recommend making friends with teachers! We're pretty level-headed folks, and most of us understand how math works, so we tend to live within our means.