Mary Beth Writes

Frugality is a tool and a weapon. You can use it to be powerful.


Sometimes it feels as if a person, especially a woman, diminishes her power if she acknowledges she does frugal stuff. Right? If I say I wash plastic bags you will you think I am the kind of “woman who washes her plastic bags” and then your assumptions skip down your neural pathways and you end up thinking “That MB, she is so funny and cute, isn’t she?”  Because unless people have thought about it, that’s the assumption. Powerful people earn money; frugal people do diddly things like wash their plastic bags and bring peanut butter sandwiches to work - because they are earnest, low-earning sweetie pies.

I pay attention to feelings – and this hasn’t been an autumn where a woman wants to do or say anything that makes her feel less powerful. Until Trump and his revolting revolving administration of white privilege, I didn’t really think I could get this angry this often. Cynical side-note here: I just started to list what has and is making me angry. The list is too long and you already know anyways.

I am so angry that justice and opportunity are seen as luxuries we can’t afford for all, while enabling the already-rich and already-powerful is seen as a reasonable reality. 

So how do we bring our anger home to how we choose to consume or not consume?

Frugality is not just about being nice, or thoughtful, or prudent. We are living in a vastly unjust world. Frugality is a weapon to fight injustice and mindlessness. Frugality is a tool with which to build real a real life for others and for ourselves.  Frugality is one of the places where our spirituality, whatever it is, affects how we live our lives in our families and in our communities.

Buy Angry. Don’t buy at all.

There was a line in Nomadland (my book review)  where an older person is regretting that the only way she can afford her already-impoverished life is to work in an Amazon warehouse. She says, “I work 14-hour shifts packing plastic crap into boxes to be shipped to customers – where they will soon throw it away because it doesn’t mean anything.  I feel as if we should just skip my part and move the crap straight to garbage dumps.”

Before you buy ANY presents this year; watch this video of Americans buried in their own consumerism.

Consider Fair Trade. (These days Fair Trade is on Amazon).  Fair Trade is a worldwide undertaking to ensure products are grown, prepared, and manufactured by people who are paid fairly and who work in safe conditions.  Fair Trade chocolate, for example, is not picked by kidnapped children. If that makes a difference to you.

UNICEF estimates that nearly a half-million children work on farms across Ivory Coast, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. The agency says hundreds of thousands of children, many of them trafficked across borders, are engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

Buy angry. Buy energy-efficient when you buy new.

American vehicles are gas hogs. Maybe you are driving the car or truck you’ve had a good long while. Cool. Not building a new vehicle saves a huge amount of resources. But if you are going to buy something new, buy angry.

According to the EPA, motor vehicles collectively cause 75% of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. … The U.S. has 30% of the world's automobiles, yet it contributes about half of the world's emissions from cars.

There used to be a $7500 tax rebate if you bought an energy efficient car. Or hefty tax breaks for installing solar panels or more efficient windows or other house-heating efficiencies.

I would tell you how many of the people in Trump’s cabinet own oil and gas companies or are heavily invested in those stocks, but I can’t find any articles that have kept up with the merry-go-round of his cabinet.  Most of them.  And in case you thought the cabinet was made up of millionaires, think again. Most of them are billionaires. They WANT you to buy gasoline. They WANT you to heat big and energy-inefficient houses.

Buy angry. Don’t buy plastic stuff if you can avoid it.

Back to those plastic bags. Plastic food storage bags cost around $4 box. Not a big deal, right? Have you seen the photos of beached whales who died from eating plastic bags? Or more likely here in the Midwest – our plastic gets buried in dumps where it will NEVER decompose. 

Worldwide, people drink ONE MILLION plastic bottles of water EVERY MINUTE and 91% of those bottles are not recycled.  Many people live in nations with no or low water standards, in many places people are struggling through disasters and crises.  People live in Flint. Water is necessary. But damn it, we Americans with access to clean water need to think about what WE are doing.

Buy angry. Buy less and pay more.

Frugality for me is a strategy to find a life I can afford and that the earth can afford for me to have. I don’t want $2 gallons of milk and eggs at 80 cents per dozen – those costs give us a filthy, unsafe environment, abused animals, a life that can’t be sustained – and farmers priced off the land they and their parents worked for generations. (More about the price of milk).  Next time we think we can’t afford the “luxury” of sustainably raised food – realize that the reason some food is cheap is because our government subsidizes corn.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about watch the movie “King Corn”.

I completely understand that wages have not kept up with the price of things we need. And I am not raising kids in my house, kids eat a lot! I don’t care about being politically correct, which is a phrase invented by people who don’t want you to think about your everyday choices.

Maybe your family drinks three gallons of milk a week. Cool. Can you buy one gallon of sustainably produced milk? Don’t look at this as all or nothing. Look at your grocery consumption as one of the most powerful places you steadily consume. What can YOU do that will strengthen sustainable agriculture on our earth? Buy angry.

If we had a wages that kept up with the cost of living … if we had health insurance that actually paid for health care instead of helping to pay after we had kicked in our multi-hundred to multi-thousand dollars of “co-pay”… if higher education was affordable … those are the places where we are losing our quality of life. It isn’t sustainable milk and locally-grown apples that threatens whatever we have left of middle-class life.

Holiday shopping is already here.  I dare you to put your purchases through this test.  Where will the item you are buying for someone – where will it be in five years?  If you can’t answer that, unless there is some overriding reason why you NEED to get it, skip it.  When in doubt, buy or make food for adults. Get the one or two things the kids really, truly want. After that, let the teenagers look at what’s available Fair Trade and see if there’s something they want. They might be interested to learn why it matters. Or get them books. Or put money in the bank for their futures. Or pay for experiences, not things. (Thanks,

Pay attention. Choose what you buy and what you won’t buy. Live frugally, not so that you have a tidy little home and life, but so that you can do your powerful part to create opportunity and justice in this hazardous and angry time.





Thank you do much for a wonderful post. You have so eloquently described my anger, and concern. I live frugally to I can invest in the things that matter to me. Mainly people, and the environment. Passing the word whenever I can. I am grateful that I have found likeminded people through the blog world. It all gives me hope. Patricia Fl/USA
Mary Beth's picture

It's Quixotic to spend ten hours writing something I am passionate about, but for no money and very little sense of who will read it. Letters and comments like yours are what give me the resolve to keep on doing it. Thank you so much. ONWARDS!

I am thinking you are the reason I made a vow to only buy sustainable milk! Some of my neighbors are dairy farmers. What a hard, physical life! I have no idea why the do it but after 5 generations, I do not know what else they would do. I am one little old lady who can only drink a gallon a week. But I can write letters, make calls and raise hell. I would like to think my grandchildren will inherit a planet that supports human life ...... those Republicans must have a exit strategy to move to another planet or they really do have their heads up their a$$es.
Mary Beth's picture

Later this week I am posting a short story I wrote a while back - about a smart "older" woman named Joyce. So come back, okay?? Raising hell is good. I salute you with my (bought at Goodwill) pink pussy hat.

Great post. There is way more that we could do to be frugal, but I am NOT washing plastic bags. I do recycle them - our Kroger’s store takes them back.
Mary Beth's picture

I realized later I probably should have delineated between plastic bags. There are the ones we buy to put our leftovers (and a zillion other things) in. And there are the grocery bags from the grocery store. I wash and reuse the purchased ones. I try to remember to use the cloth/ sturdy material tote bags when carrying groceries from car to house. Recycling plastic grocery bags by bring them back to the store IS the thing to do - those are the ones whales are ingesting. So you are good and thanks for reminding me to put the grocery totes back in the trunk of the car...

I just found your blog and love it. I'm looking forward to reading through the archives. I decided yesterday to buy nothing new next year, I am fortunate to need nothing and look forward to pushing myself to consume less. Thank you for more inspiration!
Mary Beth's picture

It means so much to get comments like yours. I am super curious how your adventure in non-consuming will go. Stay in touch and maybe I can update people on YOUR path. Taking a year off from stores sounds as potentially exciting as a trip to some far-flung place.

Great article. I wash my bags too.

True to her word, Patricia is spreading the joy, and posted your article to my blog - thank you, Patricia, and thank you, Mary Beth for this truly inspiring rant! You are so right - the time is well and truly here that we are each and every one of us required to stand up and channel our anger in positive ways to make ourselves heard and make a safe and beautiful world for our children and grandchildren. I am honestly not even sure if it is too late for that, but we must make the attempt..
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you - both - so much. Writing gets stronger with strong readers.
Leonard's picture

When you buy angry, the corporate giants will listen to you because if there's one thing they're afraid of, it's consumers who aren't buying what they're selling. Also, remember that companies buy and sell your search data - so make 'em pay! (or get around it, like this article explained:

I just came across your comment on the and really liked reading it. It is so furious and full of energy that it's just sweeping me off my feet. Thanks for this powerful stand for frugalness
Mary Beth's picture

OMG I follow your blog! For those who are curious, she is a powerful and curious woman currently touring China - on a bike!... check out: Thank you so much! In Guatemala (I haven't been there in ten years) the sides of roads at intersections would sometimes be trash 10-20 feet out on each side; litter from small plastic bags and water bottles. Is it like this in China?

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7-6-2020 Mindful QUARANTINED Chickens

(Thanks, KJR, for the funny fluffy chicken photo!) 

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

Making (a little) Sense of Medicare by Len Lamberg

Friends learned recently that they are facing imminent retirement with the accompanying medicare and insurance decisions - that have to be made now and made right. They asked how we figured out what to do. I asked Len if he could write up what he knows in plain English - and thought this would take him 20 minutes.

This took Len several hours over several days.

Our friends say this makes more sense than anything else they have read so far.

Mindful Chickens - Clucking at the Stock Market

I started this a month ago. Time flies…

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to values and values.

Big Shopping & Quick Shopping

Len and I are buying groceries differently than we used to and we are saving $100-250 per month doing so. If you know us, you will have noted that neither of us are any slimmer.  This is not about eating less.

Mindful Chickens - the "It's been a while" edition

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of dollars and choices.


Mindful Chickens in Canada

In case you don't already know... My husband and I did a 15-day road trip to eastern Canada.  Kurt Vonnegut wrote “Unexpected travel is like dancing lessons from God.”  The plan was to visit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – but then Hurricane Dorian changed that. Stories and photos at my website.

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

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