Saving Money is Not a Righteous Act

Hi friends.

First, elephant out of the way. There’s a global pandemic happening right now. It’s some wild shit.

Ok, now that I’ve said that, I’d like to talk about my “three months of broke” challenge, why I will likely “break” it, and why, if the government gives you a check and you can use it as disposable income, you SHOULD (rather than saving it aka hoarding it).

Saving money is NOT a morally righteous act.

Frugality, for some reason, has been painted with a connotation of ethics. It is perceived as somewhat morally upstanding to save money (though fortunately there is still the concept of ‘being cheap’ which is the opposite). I think this is good and bad. First, it is good, because people have started to talk about consumerism vs. minimalism, zero-waste lifestyles and sustainability, which sort of just naturally lend themselves to saving money. Those are all good things.

There’s also the panic that even the well-off millennials go through around being able to save for retirement, afford a house, stave off existential crises around working a job you hate (the FIRE movement being an example of all three).

But saving money, at the end of the day, is about saving money for you. It is a personal gain. You benefit. Not others.

It is good to think about what we spend our money on, and how frequently we buy things, especially when they are material or carbon-producing (clothes, vacations, etc.) However, we can also spend our money on services (my big ones are yoga and aerial acrobatics memberships), on restaurants and cafes (which actually waste less food and packaging than the average American home), or of course, donations. And when we do make material purchases, we can “vote with our wallets”–we can reward businesses that have good practices and punish (via boycotts) businesses that do not.

In the way our economy currently works, money needs to be spent on things for the economic wheels to keep turning. I’m no economist, but it seems pretty obvious to me (and hopefully everyone) that COVID-19 is going to have a massive impact on businesses, especially small businesses, and especially service and hospitality businesses.

So although I’ve spent the last three months championing frugality as I try to adult better and get my life together, that’s not what I’m going to do if the United States government gives me a check, which is starting to look like a reality.

I repeat, I will not be saving that money. Now is not the time for me to be concerned about a future house down payment when others are worried about how to put food on the table.

Instead, I’m going to use it to “vote” for companies that did the right thing during this COVID crisis. There’s a list somewhere of companies that gave their retail employees paid leave or increased sick leave vs. companies that just laid off employees. Obviously I wouldn’t be too harsh on small businesses for laying off employees (hard decision), but for big businesses, we can imagine many of them had the leeway and profit margin to take care of their people. What’s more, a lot of the small businesses around me actually kept their employees, too–so if it’s possible for small businesses, it must be possible for bigger ones with huge credit lines. You can find lists of these businesses online with some Google searching–off the top of my head, Lululemon and Starbucks are two examples, but there are (fortunately!) many more. I will probably end up with some Girlfriend Collective leggings by the end of this (an indulgence…but forreal my other ones are too big ok).

I will also, of course, also be supporting the small businesses in my area. I will buy gift cards for the now-closed coffee shops, restaurants, and bars that I frequent and love, to use later. I will continue attending now-online yoga and acrobatics classes. I will donate to Women’s Lunch Place, Pine Street Inn, Haley House Bakery, and other local shelters and food pantries.

Yes, this is not ideal. It would be way better if we had more robust social safety nets *in addition* to this sort of temporary UBI that might be happening. It would be way better if we got all the multi-billionaires to stop being selfish assholes. But I can only control my own actions right now. I can only strive to not be a selfish asshole myself, acknowledging that my entry-level engineer income as a single person with no dependents is still within the top 15% or so of Americans, and the top 1% of the world.

All my retirement accounts have plummeted like yours probably have, too. But I’m young. I can afford to weather this storm (unless there’s a true apocalypse in which case money won’t matter anyway). I can afford disposable income. And counter-intuitively, I believe that is what our local, national, and global economy probably needs right now–at the very least, it is most obvious at the local small business level, so you can focus on that if you wish.

You’d think it wouldn’t be hard to convince people to spend money, but I felt it was at least worth saying!

Neon Sign Wall-art at my favorite local bar, Bukowski’s Tavern.

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