Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frugality - A Foreign Concept?

With the state of the economy, frugality is very popular in America right now. Despite our newfound thrift, we are not the only country to value saving money. Whether by necessity or by choice, other nations have been pinching pennies all along. I started researching frugal traditions in other countries to see what we could learn from them.

In Germany, the waste management department in some towns runs a place called the Sperrmull where unwanted items such as furniture are stored. People in need of furniture or appliances can go and look through the inventory, and take what they need, free of charge. Some American cities have a "big trash night" when you can put large items out for disposal, and I have seen people out picking these items up. The problem is, whatever is not picked up ends up in the landfill the next morning. I am not aware of any American cities that use a system similar to the Germans. We should approach our local waste management authorities and request such programs be developed.

In wintertime, rather than turning up the heat, the Japanese have traditionally warmed their beds with a Yutanpo. The Yutanpo is a hot water bottle traditionally made from metal or ceramic. Some modern versions are made from rubber with cute prints or pictures of animals on them. Although Americans sometimes use hot water bottles, it is more to alleviate aches and pains than to save on heating costs. This would be a cheaper alternative to the electric blanket!

Another smart Japanese tradition is to build storage compartments in under the floor, with a cover that can simply be lifted off. This allows Japanese citizens to live more efficiently and inexpensively in a smaller space.

Chinese commuters often walk, bike or take the subway, saving on the cost of owning a car. It also allows them to incorporate more exercise into their routine. There is also a Chinese tradition of exercising at scheduled intervals throughout the workday, leading to better health and lower health care costs for all.

A Nigerian invention, the Zeer Pot, allows people in the developing world to keep food cool without electricity. A small clay pot with a lid is placed inside a larger clay pot. The space in between is filled with sand, creating insulation. Water is added to the sand twice a day to keep it damp. Food is kept cool by evaporative cooling. Colin Beavan tried to use this type of cooler during his No Impact project. He didn't have a lot of success with it, but from what I've read, this type of cooler doesn't work well in high-humidity environments, which New York in the summertime definitely is!

The Dabbawala is an old Indian tradition that is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. For about $6 a month, Dabbawalas pick up hot lunches from office workers' homes and deliver them to their offices. Wives, daughters and sisters traditionally remain home and prepare the meals in the course of their daily chores. During the recent economic boom, workers began to eat out more in fancy restaurants. After the economic meltdown, Indians have turned back to frugal ways. The lunches are packed in tall lunch pails called tiffins. Dabbawalas balance as many as 50 of these pails on long boards balanced on their heads and rush through traffic. Special train cars are reserved for the Dabbawalas on the subway so that they will not be delayed. A new variant of the tradition has sprung up delivering healthy snacks to students and office workers working evening overtime hours.

What are some frugal foreign traditions you've heard of? I always find it fascinating to hear how people in other parts of the world live, and it often gives me ideas about how I can change my own daily routine to be more efficient and economical.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't know any of that! I love the idea of the Sperrmull where unwanted items are saved and people can come get them. If we couldn't do that here because the waste management companies are all individual companies and not government run, maybe we could mandate that useable items need to be donated to thrift stores or habitat for humanity?

Betsy Bargain said...

Excellent suggestions, Anon. There's also There's no reason useable items should ever be thrown out when there are so many wonderful organizations out there to redistribute our unwanted stuff!

Zengirl @ Happy Heart and Mind said...


These are all wonderful ideas, I wonder why we do not do it here in America? We should. I like this very much!

Many of my friend's frugality is to cut cable to basic but they still spend money on cars, eating out etc. No wonder, many of us are living paycheck to paychek.

Betsy Bargain said...

So true, Zengirl. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and some people just don't take drastic enough action when they are in financial trouble! Even if they are not in financial trouble, cutting back on a few more luxury items would make many people much healthier financially!

Anonymous said...

Excellant column America should be in the forefront not lagging behind...Our own government sets a very poor example...