Wednesday, September 3

Most of us aren't worth it

There's a sense of entitlement in this country that is doesn't seem to be deteriorating at the same rate as the economy.

What gives?

I started thinking about this after reading some very angry comments on Smart Spending, in response to The Personal Financier's "Outsourcing our chores -- Do we overvalue our spare time?"

I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. But apparently, some people get mighty defensive.

The Personal Financier refers to the fact that most of us will gladly pay someone else to do our chores. To rationalize, we tell ourselves that time is money.

But isn't this just form of, "I'm worth it"?

This was an admittedly brilliant slogan for L'Oreal back in the day, but has been wearing thin as all and sundry take up the chant.

Would you?

Personally, I would love to have someone come in once a week and handle the big cleaning. But I won't even consider that until we have a place of our own (and, preferably, a car made after the year I graduated high school).

In some cases, it comes down to simple prioritizing.
  • The woman whose husband works in another state four days a week. (Although, arguably, she could do the chores during the week to while away any loneliness.)
  • Parents who work a zillion hours a week and want quality time with their kids. (Some would say the whole family could pitch in and get it out of the way, but I think it depends how much time a week they get.)
  • People who have illnesses and who want to spend their limited energy more selectively. (Though most people with illnesses can't afford domestic help, even occasionally.)

It's my guess, though, that most of the outraged folks don't fit into these categories. And they probably don't have a ton of money sitting around.

Even so, that's their business. Or, at least, it was until they felt it necessary to defend themselves on the Internet. Now we all get a say. (Insert evil laugh here.)

So let's look the one that really bothered me: The army wife who claimed that, with her husband away, she was effectively a single parent and "needed" the help. She claimed that she spent all her free time getting kids to school and activities, as well as running errands, cooking and cleaning.

Certainly I'm sympathetic with her situation. It's very hard but here's a few holes in her theory:

  • Historically, kids have been assigned chores. Allegedly, it builds character
  • It's unlikely she has to run her kids to and from school. I took this large yellow vehicle with a bunch of other kids on it. It showed up every day. Very useful.
  • For school and/or activities, she could make deals with other moms and trade off.
  • She could cut down on the kids' activities (which also saves money) or attempt to coordinate so that all the activities are from the same organization.
  • She could trade off with another mom/neighbor to have the kids watched while she gets a bit of a break or uses the time to clean (or one after the other) and then reciprocate.
  • She could recognize that, though her situation sucks, since she is agreeing to be a one-income family, she doesn't deserve anything (not even a break) that costs $20+/hour.
(In fairness, I should point out, she only has a person come in once a month.)

Reality check?

I guess what bothers me here is that these people don't seem to see this kind of thing for what it is: a luxury. And when you're living frugally, you have to be awfully choosy about your luxuries.

  • Tim and I have a cable modem and Dish Network for sanity since we're home all day.
  • We subscribe to Blockbuster Total Access with unlimited in-store trade-ins.
  • Sometimes Tim's sick and I'm exhausted,so we order a pizza or get a bite out.

The entertainment adds up to around $115 each month. The food issue has been better since Tim took over cooking and I took over dishes -- and since I stocked our kitchen with safety nets like soup, hot dogs and a couple frozen entrees.

Even so, there are plenty of people who would find fault with those items. It's what people do. We judge.

Maybe they're misreading

I think the outraged comments are missing something very basic. Yes, The Personal Financier used slightly judgmental language like "lazy." But I don't think his post was about blame.

I think he was trying to point out -- not that people are overspending -- but that they are overspending and feeling thoroughly justified.

"Slippery slope" is a horribly overused term. It's also one central to frugality. Now, it's a couple of hours a week with housework. But your time being valuable can quickly devolve into any number of things:

  • More meals out (time spent cooking/shopping for groceries is too precious)
  • No coupons (the hassle isn't worth it)
  • Not shopping sales (you would rather pay a little extra than run around)
  • Late movie fees (you didn't want to make the time)
  • Buying more expensive clothes (you don't have the time to find them cheaper)

None of these is a mortal sin. (Well, maybe the expensive clothes. But only because I don't get to use that excuse.) Taken individually, most are acceptable even in a frugal life.

But that's because frugality isn't about deprivation. It's about creating a careful balance. It's about making conscious choices and being aware of their implications.

To me at least, "I'm worth it" is the very antithesis of careful decision-making. It's a rationalization, an easy out for a hard situation. And we can do better than that. We should do better.

Use this opportunity to re-examine some of your more blase excuses. (I will be.) Do they hold up under scrutiny? Which ones do you find yourself omitting rather than explaining? What do you think people would attack first on your budget?

Don't forget to enter for this week's giveaway. You can leave a comment answering any of the above questions, refer a friend, link/refer to one of my posts in your blog, subscribe to my feed, or save one of this week's posts on a social bookmarking site.



Blogger Dorian Wales said...

Loved the post. Thank you very much (I've linked to it in my little explanation due to all the comments on MSN Money ...)

September 3, 2008 at 1:05 PM

Blogger Kristie said...

Great post!

This sense of entitlement thing has really become common place. I think the real root of it is when children are little and parents overindulge.

My children and I can spend a half hour cleaning the house together. There are many lessons taught. I think it is a mistake to not show your kids that life involves hard work.

Another thing that bugs me is hearing people complain that they don't have money when they have no problem spending the money they have on luxuries.

Alright I'll stop there.


September 5, 2008 at 3:07 AM

Blogger Abby said...


I think you're absolutely right on both counts. We have this obsessive need to make sure our kids have everything. And so they end up overindulged (and overstimulated).

And I get so sick of hearing people complain about money when they have plenty of nice, new things. I just had yet another talk with a friend who spends plenty on alcohol and cigarettes and around $1200 a year on his computer upgrades. But they have several thousand dollars of credit card debt. It gets real old, real fast.

September 5, 2008 at 10:01 AM


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