Monday, January 17, 2011

The Seven Anti-Frugal Sins

Happy Thrift Week, everyone! (For those who missed last year's explanation of what Thrift Week is, you can read it here.) This year's celebration of Thrift Week is inspired partly by a comment my friend Laura posted on last week's entry, and partly by an article published last summer in Tip Hero, "How the 7 Deadly Sins Warn Us to Live Frugally." Since there just happen to be seven deadly sins and seven days of Thrift Week, I thought exploring this topic in a little more detail might be an appropriate theme for this week's entries.

First, I refer you to Wikipedia for a little background on the concept of the seven deadly sins. It appears the list most people are familiar with, as presented in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (pride, covetousness, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth, and lechery) has evolved somewhat over time. The original list, developed by a fourth-century monk, contained eight sins rather than seven: gluttony, fornication, avarice, despair, wrath, discouragement, vainglory, and pride. To modern readers, of course, that list seems to have a lot of overlap, as well as at least a couple of items that are no longer generally recognized as deadly sins. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory I revised the list down to seven, but even then they weren't the same seven we're familiar with: the first item on the list was "extravagance," followed by gluttony, avarice, discouragement, wrath, envy, and pride. If this were still the list today, it would be very easy to kick off this week's entries by showing how extravagance is a wasteful habit: in fact, it's more or less the literal opposite of frugality. But over the years, extravagance was replaced with lust and discouragement modified to sloth, giving us the list we know today.

So where to start on this list? I think I'll take them in the same order as Marlowe, since a) pride is a particularly easy one to tackle and b) it saves lust, which is the most entertaining, for last.

First of all, let's be clear on what we mean by pride. Nowadays, the word pride is often considered a positive term: we talk about being proud of our country and proud of our children, and we encourage those children to be proud of themselves when they do well at something. But this use of the word pride is more or less a synonym for satisfaction, pleasure in your own accomplishments. The sin of pride, by contrast, is closer in meaning to hubris, or arrogance: thinking that you are, or deserve to be, more important than everyone else. (While these two emotions can certainly go together, it's also clearly possible to be pleased with your own achievements without concluding that you're too good for everyone else.)

It's easy to see how this kind of pride can be costly. If you care a lot about your image, you're going to spend a lot of money maintaining that image. Let's make up an example character to illustrate this: we'll call him Leo. Leo cares a lot about how other people see him, so he decided to become a doctor—not because he really likes medicine, but because he wants to make plenty of money and have people look up to him. Unfortunately, medical school left him with a lot of debt to pay off, so even with a hefty salary, his expenses still exceed his income. Because he has an image to live up to, he has put himself still further into debt buying a big house in a fancy neighborhood. He leases a car, even though it's the most expensive way to drive, because he can't afford a new car and can't afford to be seen driving a used one. He also has to shell out for at least a couple of new designer suits each year—since clearly he can't be seen in last year's styles—and have all the latest gadgets. He's making a lot of money, but he's spending more than he makes, saving nothing, and working at a job he doesn't enjoy.

Leo's lifestyle isn't just expensive; it's wasteful as well. He has to heat and cool that big house with only himself in it; he has to keep buying new clothes instead of keeping the old ones; and he has to keep replacing his computer, cell phone, and other electronics with the latest models, and sending the old ones—with all their toxic components—off to the dump.

Most of us aren't Leos, but we can still keep an eye out for smaller, subtler ways in which pride might be hurting us, financially or otherwise. For example: say I've got a leaky faucet in my bathtub. I don't actually know how to fix it, but I'm too proud to ask for help with a job I think I should be able to do myself. So I just put off dealing with it, while 11 gallons a day drip down the drain. If I keep neglecting it for three months, I'll waste 132 gallons of water and bump my water bill up into the next tier, costing myself about $14. (Granted, a visit from a plumber would cost a lot more than that, but swallowing my pride and asking a friend to show me how to put in a new washer would cost almost nothing.)

Got any more good examples of how pride goeth afore a massive credit card bill? Feel free to share them below. And tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode, in which we'll meet Ivy, the embodiment of envy.
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