Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Privilege of Frugality

For many years, I've been involved in rat rescue.  Once, I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow rat-enthusiast (a rare event) and we had a long talk about our rodent friends and how much we loved them, what it was that made them so special.

My new friend made a point that I had never considered:  "Rats are just such a bourgeois pet.  In other places in the world, people have to try hard to keep rats out of their homes.  It's a matter of survival.  Here, we're so far removed from that, we can actually keep them as pets.  We can afford to feed and love and cherish something that other people are threatened by."

That stuck with me.  He's right, of course: Keeping rats is the epitome of privilege.

And, in many ways, frugality is also a position of privilege.  

What is Privilege, Anyway?

Privilege is a term that gets used frequently in discussions of race and gender, but it's not limited to those spheres at all.  Privilege is something all of us have, and all of us need to be aware of.  Essentially, privilege is something that you have that makes certain things easier for you than others who do not have it.  If you are privileged, you're operating on "easy mode," while people without those same privileges are operating on a harder setting.

There are several privileges that can make it easier to live frugally:
  • Having some extra money in the bank so you can do things like stock up in bulk when you find a good sale. 
  • Experience with handling money, such as learning money management skills from your parents.  
  • A working spouse with a good enough job to enable the other person to stay home and home-make. 
  • Good health, enabling you to complete projects around the home or simply avoid spending so much on medical bills. 
  • Access to resources that can teach you new skills -- the internet, library books, community classes.  
  • The space to grow your own food. 
  • For that matter, the space to store and cook meals at home, and the knowledge of how to do that.  
In a lot of cases, these are things that can be learned -- and that's one of the things I hope I can achieve through blogging, is helping people learn some of this stuff so we're all on even footing.  In other cases, they're situational problems: You have to solve something else before talking about it is even an option.  If you're living in your car, it's not going to do you a bit of good to learn about how to can tomatoes.  You've got a bigger issue to deal with.  Once you find a way out of your crisis, then you can get up to the next step. 

Owning Your Privilege

Privilege isn't something you need to be ashamed of or guilty about.  It's not something you need to apologize for.  Often, it's something you have no control over -- your gender, the part of the world you were born in, the socioeconomic status of your parents.

But it is something you need to be aware of, and it's something that you need to realize not everyone shares.  That's the crucial part: You cannot dismiss people who do not share your privilege as being "stupid" or "lazy" or "unworthy" because they are working with a different set of skills than you are. 

What you can do is listen to people who have different experiences, and try to appreciate where they're coming from.  And you can use your privilege to help make things easier for others -- whether that means teaching someone a skill that you have, or participating in a grass roots program to make changes to your community. 

We all have voices.  They all deserve to be heard.  And flaunting your privilege silences the voices of the people around you.  So next time you start to lose patience with the way someone else lives, or the questions they ask, or the mistakes they make, try to take a step back and remember that they might not have what you do.  Instead of degrading them, listen to them -- and then think about what you can do to make the world a better place for people like them. 

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, this is a really really interesting point. I'm really stuck by this. Don't have much to add, actually. I'm a super-frugal person, and this post really got to me right between the ears. Thanks.