The Dirty Side of Frugal
Intrigued by that title?
First I will concede that the title of this post – the “dirty” side of frugalism – is literally accurate but somewhat misleading. I’m not offering up celebrity gossip or stories of crime and deceit.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about my visit to the local dry cleaner. But stay with me – it’s relevant.
One of the habits I have developed since the economic crash of 2008 is to ask small business owners I encounter how things have been going for them. I popped that question this week on the nice Korean-American owner of a local dry cleaning business. Based on the demographics of the community in which we live, my prediction was that she would tell me that business remained steady.
I was wrong.
She told me that her cleaning business had fallen off “due to the economy.”
Before I analyze that statement, I have another confession to make. I had been cutting back my use of cleaning services even before 2008. First, I intentionally buy and wear fewer clothes that require professional cleaning. Second (and this is going to sound bad), I sometimes wear a shirt twice before taking it to the cleaners. Yes, I am a cheapskate. I try to be selective in which shirts I recycle through the closet. I do have minimal sensory standards, if you get my drift. So far so good. No one has complained to my face.
Back to the owner of the dry cleaning business. Why would her business drop off in an upscale residential area? Are folks working less? Or are they like me, wearing clothes longer before cleaning them?
I’m thinking the latter. Being frugal and saving money in a tough economy means tolerating a little extra dirt for a little longer. And there is nothing wrong with that. I can tolerate it if you can.
The question is: When things get better, will we get cleaner? Or will the dirty side of frugalism stay with us? I think that service businesses like dry cleaning should adjust to a permanent decline in business. There’s nothing like actually doing without something temporarily that will teach a consumer that you can do without that something permanently.