[this is the text of a response i made on misc.consumers.frugal-living to a post criticizing the fact that elaine saint james’s books advocate frugality to people who don’t need to be frugal.]
i think elaine saint james fills an important need, but i’ll hasten to add that i’m not a part of her target audience. at the time that i became interested in voluntary simplicity and read “simplify your life”, it was a useful read (and a warning about unfulfilling lifestyles to avoid), but much of it wasn’t applicable to my situation. i’d just finished college, and was earning $500-$600 a month; i didn’t have to worry about selling my extra house.
i agree that i would like to see books/lectures/programs about frugality targeted toward those who have a real need to be frugal. i live in the inner city in baltimore, and have many neighbors for whom the idea of having money in the bank is unimaginably foreign. when i go out for a walk, i pass piles of garbage everywhere, and i see what people are eating; they’re buying junk food every day at the wildly overpriced liquor store on the corner instead of walking a few blocks in the other direction where there’s a safeway with fruits and vegetables dirt cheap. and they all have to have their radios and the latest cds and designer tennis shoes.
i look at this and sometimes wonder if someone offering ymoyl-style workshops in the community couldn’t do more to turn things around (assuming people are willing to listen) than any amount of government funding.
but i don’t discount those who want to preach to yuppies. after all, they’re the ones with money and marketable skills. if they can cut back to a reasonable lifestyle, they have the option of investing both money and time into the community. if they continue to earn the same salary, but only need 1/3 of it, they have the option to spend the rest helping others. and if they can reach the point of not needing to work, they have the option of giving as much time as they want.
let’s not discount them because they have the misfortune of having been suckered into a rather screwy view of the world. they have the potential of being a great resource, and i’m all for reaching out to them. i’m sure there are those who pick up the books and pretend to follow saint james’s ideas to be fashionable, just as they take their yoga and aroma therapy classes and past-life psychotherapy sessions not out of any real interest, but because buffy’s doing it, too. but there are also those with whom the message will resonate, and they make the books more than worthwhile.