Monday, January 23, 2012

Simple Truth: Frugality fosters wealth, wealth does not foster frugality

You cannot give someone the habits which lead to wealth by giving them something for nothing, or very little.

We all know these stories: The poor family that wins the lottery, or a major legal settlement, or receives a large inheritance, but then squanders it quickly and is reduced to poverty as bad as, or worse than, they knew before their sudden windfall.  The rich family thought of as misers and penny-pinchers who don't pay for anything they don't have to, and pay as little as possible for what they do require.

The fact is the first family will never be wealthy, no matter how many windfalls they receive, until and unless they learn the habits of frugality.  Contrariwise, the second family will never be poor for very long, no matter how bad things become, because they already know how to be thrifty and frugal.

In the decades leading to the housing collapse of 2008, the Federal Government had decided that it should foster upward mobility by making housing more affordable.  The theory went that people who owned homes tended to be thrifty, frugal folk who lived within (or mostly within) their means, and therefore letting people who would otherwise not have qualified for home mortgages purchase homes would instill in them those virtues.  The causal relationship between these two things- frugality and home ownership- was reversed.  As a result, countless families received home loans they could barely afford, and did not become wiser for it.  When things looked rough, they could not afford their mortgage payments and thus began the collapse of 2008.

It is not just in home mortgages, however, where this is at work.  All types of loans are affected, as are credit cards.  The Government has turned the world upside down in this respect.  They know that people who own homes are more likely to be more economically successful, and so they attempt to force people into a socio-economic status for which they are not ready.  This does a disservice to the families chosen for the dubious honor and for the country as a whole as well.

However, if we were to force back the Government and get them out of the business of "picking winners and losers," more people would still become homeowners.  They would learn the habits and character traits of those who have the economic wherewithal to purchase homes, and would move up within the economic strata at their own pace.  There is plenty of room in the affluent classes, and no one is holding the poor back- except the Government by their own policies, however well intentioned.  As with so many things, the Government has become a hurdle instead of a step-stone.

If you want people to own homes, find ways to help them become more economically stable and literate.  But, as with all virtues, these cannot be forced upon anyone.  People must choose to put forth the effort to learn them.


  1. Yes, yes, yes, yes! Excellent article.

  2. Just joined up though I have been reading your blog, very good. You would know me as rightlysouthern on AoSHQ or maybe not, don`t comment that much. I put this picture up because I love Nieces to pieces, and they were having a grand old time down at a new pond we had just dug and stocked. Keep the faith tenther, I will.

  3. It's annoying how our culture has steadily gotten worse on this. People don't save, and their government doesn't have a budget, and one of the emerging themes from the left (And some republicans!) is how e need a bailout from creditors, such as mortgages (for those who didn't pay, of course... not those who do).

    It's perverse and everyone knows it is short sighted.

  4. This concept has long been a bone of contention between psychologists and sociologists.

    A sociologist believes that if you change a person's environment for the better, you will change that person for the better.

    A psychologist believes that if you change a person for the better, that person will improve their own environment/situation.

    As government programs to move 'disadvantaged' persons from inner-city hellholes into middle/upper income areas have shown over and over again, for the vast majority of people the contention of the sociologists are wrongheaded at best, and actively destructive for everyone involved at worst.

    1. I honestly do not understand why someone would believe that changing one's environment would necessarily (or even just "probably") change one's character.

      As they say, "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the Country out of the boy." This is not a new idea.