Being Conscious With Less Frugal Friends And Family

As I am writing this, I am sitting right across our new snake plant. I had read about it over at The Green Purpose and figured I wanted some more green life to improve the mood in our living room.

Did I buy it?

In this case, I am actually a little embarrassed to admit that no, I did not buy it.

Why? Well, I don’t have any friends or family with one (that I know of), so I had no one to get an offshoot from.

How did I come across one then?

Well, I thought maybe my grandmother might have one, so I thought about it for some time, before asking her if she did.

She did not, and now I had a problem. She had heard that I wanted a snake plant. In her grandmotherly mind, that meant she had to buy me one and ship it over 570 kilometres (over 350 miles) to our flat, because our local plant shops could not possibly have one.

I thought I managed to talk her out of it, only to greet my father, visiting for a few days over Easter, with a 3 feet tall snake plant in hand. I suppose I might have expected as much, but to my surprise, he had not paid for it either!

As it turns out, he had gone to the plant shop to ask after a snake plant. The store clerk said they were not in stock, but she had one at home not five minutes away, and he could have that one.

Que bafflement and amazement that a stranger gives my dad a large, healthy snake plant for free.

The lesson of the snake plant

Snake plant and frugality
The plant in question

While I suppose the monetary value of a single plant might not be ruinous, there is a point here that I wish to emphasis.

I have incredibly generous friends and family.

Generous to the point that some of them will eat rice and beans for a month if that means buying me something they heard from him who heard from her who thought that maybe I might want such and such item.

Which is why I need to be careful about expressing wants.

Probably, I could get most anything I want, simply by expressing a want and waiting. On the surface, that might seem frugal, as I am not actually spending any money. But make no mistake, doing so regularly is undoubtedly cheap.

Because of their relation to me and consumerist habits, I am making someone else spend money in my stead. Not good, and not in line with my values at all.

The cost of new things

Somewhere during the rise of consumerism, we got the strange notion that used things are not suitable gifts. That is, not unless they are old enough to be an antique or an heirloom.

We insist on buying people new things, afraid that anything less would make the recipient feel as if we do not care for them.

Excuse me, but that is utter horseshit, and I would like all my frugal friends to fight it with all their might.

When my frugal friend got me a whisk I had wanted, I was ecstatic for two reasons: It was free, and it was used. Not only had she paid no money for it, but she had contributed no more landfill when she acquired it, and she had actually reduced her carbon footprint by reducing said landfill by a tiny fraction.

Just like refusing plastic bags in the shop and bringing your own, every little bit helps.

Being considerate of friends and family

I believe in a frugality that encompasses everything, not just my own, selfish wallet. That means I cannot make other people do my shopping for me (expansive and expensive wedding/baby lists, anyone?).

By and large, my relatives are good with this. Over many years, we have learned to give each other donations if we give each other gifts at all.

But to get there took years of careful conversations. If you are a family who equates love with new things, you can’t expect everything to turn around 180 degrees within a fortnight. These things take time and patience, and some people just cannot understand why you would not want all this fabulous stuff!


It was my own fault that the snake plant ended up in my living room. A careless request from someone who doesn’t usually make requests? I should have known better.

To me, frugality is not just something we embrace solely in this household. It is a way of life I hope to inspire others with and spread far and wide. To have others buy stuff for me feels an awful lot like cheating.

Much like taking on an uber frugal month, and then just postponing all the shopping you had planned to do to next month. Sure, you are frugal that one month of the challenge, but that is not the spirit of the challenge.

Share your experiences

Do you have particularly generous relatives, to the point where it impacts your frugality? We would love to hear all about it, and particularly if you’ve found efficient ways to deal with them in a kind and honest way.

Considerate Frugality

15 Comments on “Being Conscious With Less Frugal Friends And Family

  1. This is all too familiar; my mother views shopping as entertainment and she views spending money on people as a necessary extension of love. Her favourite is clothes shopping, and she is the queen of the unsolicited, unwanted, wasteful gift.

    I started all buying my own clothing when I was in high school when I got a job and got into thrift shopping. I have always been very independent and was proud of my ability to supply my own clothing. Plus I really liked the ability to make my own choices. My mother grumbled about what she viewed as my taste for plain, unfeminine, unattractive clothing, but she couldn’t really afford to buy me clothing anyway so she confined her responses to griping about my choices.

    Years later, when I was in undergrad and then law school, her income was higher and she still hated my taste, so she decided to “help” by buying me clothing. Every time she visited, she’d show up with bags full of clothing, and when I said I didn’t want them, a fight would always ensue. She thought I was ungrateful; I thought she was being insulting by criticizing the way I chose to dress and also being disrespectful by refusing to honour my often-explained preference for not over-consuming.

    The sad thing is that she never really understood my explanations of my motivations. To her, frugality is buying things on sale. By her reckoning, the more things you can get on sale, and the bigger discounts you can find, the more frugal you are! My attempts to explain my concerns about the environmental impact of cotton farming, or the human rights/labour rights violations that are involved with producing skirts for $6, were waved off.

    After many years of her refusing to listen to me, I told her that I wasn’t going to fight about it anymore, and that anything else she brought me I would just take straight to the local thrift shop and donate without even taking off the tags. It made her so mad that she finally stopped bringing me clothing. A sad version of success, indeed.

    The sad thing is that through all those years there was a gift that I wanted from my mother: her acceptance of my choices, and respect for my right to have different preferences. I never got the gift I wanted. Instead I got many unwanted “gifts” that were really just material manifestations of disapproval. As you can probably guess, I am not close with my mother. But I try to use that experience as a lesson and as a reminder that whenever I give a gift, it should be about what the person wants or needs, and not what I need or want to give them. I try to remember that the way we treat people, the way we respect their individuality and listen to them, is a lot more important than the things we give them. When a friend brings me the gift of baked goods, or a book they just finished reading and want to pass on because they think I’ll like it, they’re not just giving me an item. They’re sending the message that I am seen and understood, and that the gift was chosen with knowledge and care for the things I actually enjoy.

    • I can understand how a situation like that would end up being very frustrating! It is quite sad how, often, the only thing we want from someone is the one thing they are not able to give.

      Good on you for finally finding a language she would listen to and understand, even if it was a bittersweet victory lined with frustration. My family has also stopped buying me clothing some years ago, and I find it a relief.

  2. Yay! The new addition looks fantastic!!! Wow did you get lucky with all the connections. The consumerism mind is so hard to break. My family is the type that has gifts for every occasion and while I appreciate it I try to emphasize the point that we don’t NEED more things and I would rather people not waste money on gifts just because culture said you should. I value time with family on holidays much more than any gift. For the past two seasons I have tried to initiate the idea of donating to a charity as a gift. It has somewhat worked lol but my in-laws especially still feel the need.

    • Thanks, I really like it! My father is much the same, where he wants to give me something almost every time we meet, because we meet quite rarely. Somehow, in his mind, giving me used things does not count in his mind as gifting (??). Usually he asks first, but there is still that insidious culture of gifting stuff.

      Donating to charity is a great gift! I’ve tried to get my family on the same boat, but some would rather simply not give gifts, which is also fine!

  3. It’s a bit of a cheat but a lot of my family don’t have a ton of extra cash, so it was easy to establish a no gift among adult rule. We all love giving but we’re pretty much past giving for the sake of giving.

    I’d love to hear how others manage it when it’s not so easy.

    • Hey, whatever works, right?

      I think part of why some of my family members want to give things now is that we did not have a lot growing up. No giving among adults seems like a good way to go, perhaps I’ll have to try that line of argument!

  4. I’m so thankful that our family has no such issue with gifting secondhand items, but I hadn’t realized that might be strange until you wrote this post. My parents do occasionally buy me something new if they know I’d really like it, but those things are few and far between. Now gifts for our son, that’s a whole different story…

    • That’s great! I have friends who give secondhand items if they know I’d like it, and it’s great. Especially when we go to the free shop at the recycling plant. It still appals me just how much perfectly usable stuff people just throw away!

  5. Close to home. We have family who give to our little ones beyond what their lifestyle would otherwise be. Hard balance between being grateful and sending a different message than we want to our kids.

    • It can be sooo much more difficult when there are children involved! I can’t even imagine how to begin trying to balance that!

  6. My family used to have this problem as well—it always felt like we were trading equal-value presents at Christmas even though no one really needed anything. There was a lot of stress about finding the “perfect gift” and staying in budget. We decided instead to donate to charities we think the other person would like. It makes the shopping process a lot easier, still feels like we’re getting them a present, and I never feel like I’m wasting money.

    • I agree, it used to bring so much stress! Especially as a student with a limited budget and exams on top. Sheesh.

      I love the donating as a gift! We do the same thing and it is so much more hassle free, clutter free and makes everyone feel great!

  7. My family are definitely expensive gift givers and I’d love to get away from that. I was even more struck though by the point about not letting your frugality just be a thing that pushes expenses off on other people. I’ve been hyper aware of that lately and with most people I’m fine. With my parents I think I’m still too willing to let them pick up the bill places or buy me nice gifts. I don’t know where the line is. I think part of the problem for me is they want me to participate in their lifestyle when I’m with them, which is not at all frugal. So if I suggest a cheaper alternative they just suggest they’ll pay. :/

    • I agree, it can be very difficult! As with anything, there is no instant fix to ingrained habits such as these. Also, a lot of parents genuinely enjoy being able to help their adult children in various ways. If you really want to influence this, baby steps and patience is key. It took me several years to get my family to where we are all comfortable giving less and just spending time together. Good luck!

  8. Pingback: Our Frugal, Zero-Waste Wedding - Frugasaurus

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