washingtonpost.com
Outlook: 'Tis The Season To Be Frugal
Drop How You Shop

Judith Levine
Author and Outlook Contributor
Monday, November 24, 2008 11:00 AM

"Two-thirds of American consumers tell pollsters they're cutting way back on their holiday spending... It all gives new meaning to the term Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when hyperactive shopping is supposed to bump retailers' bottom line into the positive column. And if next Friday is the bummer forecasters are predicting, it will be just another glum day in a long procession of economically and emotionally black Fridays -- and Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- to come. Recessions are tough every day. But they feel toughest on holidays, when generosity and overindulgence are the words of the hour. Adversity will not make us nicer, more spiritual beings. We are not about to join hands around the globe and start singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" as we watch the Dow plummet... But people can learn to live with less -- happily. I know from experience."

Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, will be online Monday, Nov. 24 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss her Outlook article, in which she shares how she broke the shopping habit and examines why so many Americans seem to believe it won't be a celebration without credit card debt.

A transcript follows.

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors

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Judith Levine: Hi Everyone. I'm Judith Levine, author (most recently) of Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, from which many of the ideas in the WaPo piece come. Feel free to ask anything--well, almost anything--that's relevant. I'll try to answer it all.

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Brooklyn, New York: In this "be the first in our neighborhood to own it" mentality, how do we convince people not to overextend their budget during this holiday season? A time when many people think more about impressing other people than to fill their own personal need or commitments. Thank you.

Judith Levine: The good news is, this holiday I don't think people are going to need much convincing. But practice what you preach: be generous with time, love, and maybe small homemade favors, and I bet that will come back to you in kind.

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Hollywood, Md.: This is a comment more than a question. Why are we giving the 750 million to the banks? Here is an idea. We distribute the remaining 750 million to the U.S. citizens distributed evenly. They agree to pay off all their debt first. Mortgages, loans, credit card debt, etc. The remainder of all the funds they receive, they can spend as they choose once the debt is paid first. Can you imagine the economic stimulus this would provide to our country? The country would be nearly debt free, have the ability to purchase and stimulate the economy. Do the math. Divide 750 million by our population, what's the #?

Judith Levine: It's an idea, Hollywood...

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Anonymous: I was so happy reading your article in the Post yesterday morning. Finally, a like minded person who is truly happy with being frugal during the Holidays.

I remember Holidays past when the joy of just exchanging warm greetings was enough. The Holidays have become far too competitive. I for one, welcome the downsizing of gift giving.

Thanks again for sharing your insights into rekindling the true spirit of the Holidays.

Judith Levine: Thanks for your sweet note, Anonymous!

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Charleston, SC: Thank you for mentioning the effect of media attention to the wealthy has on our contentment with our financial situation.

I take issue, however, with this statement -- "We realized that there are only so many dollars, and they can either go to private consumption . . . or be invested, through taxes, in the public good." I'm no economist, but there are at least two other options: private investment and charitable giving. It's nice that you were able to pay off your credit card debt, and you expressed concern for the environment because of landfill overflow from excess consumption, but only in passing did you mention that when we spend less on ourselves we have more to share with others ("I give away much more than I used to"). Handing our tax money over to the government to spend on public programs is not the only option in building a community.

Judith Levine: You are right. Charitable giving is an extremely important way to spend money. I tend to feel it's not enough to solve the biggest problems, however, as folks at soup kitchens and other charities that lost federal funding during the Bush years will tell you. Those giant problems need more than private action; they need wise, equitable public policy, including adequate and progressive taxation.

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Burke, Va.: Hello and thank you for taking my question. I was chagrined when the Congress voted for Bush's first $152 billion stimulus package/rebate checks. Instead of it being an investment into people and industries that would encourage more investment (like a college education helps create income) or to promote technologies that would free us from Middle Eastern oil, it was geared towards buying more toys and electronics from overseas. In hard economic times, where would you most effectively spend your money to insure a better future?

Judith Levine: I'm not an economist. But Obama's ideas about investing in infrastructure, green energy, etc. strike me as the way to go. I'd also like to see some money put into human-to-human activities: child care, eldercare, and the arts.

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Nunavut, Canada: I have the perfect gift for Christmas: It is a copy of a newspaper with the headlines "Congress declines bailout to North Pole. Santa Bankrupt." Just leave that under the trees and the kids will realize why there are no gifts.

Judith Levine: As I say, be nice to your kids. They didn't get us in this mess.

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Greenbelt, MD: In your book "Not Buying It," you mention that on several occasions during your experiment, rather than picking up the check for meals out, drinks with friends, etc. -- you opted to have friends and family pick up the check for these expenditures. Isn't that still "buying it" and if so, how do you reconcile this form of indirect (some might call mooching) consumerism with your philosophy of not buying?

Judith Levine: Actually, that's not true. We did not go out for meals, etc., in order to avoid that very situation. Obviously, having someone else pay for our consumption was not not-consumption!

Having said that, our friends were incorrigibly generous. We had to keep fending off their offers of food, movies, and tons of other stuff. Once in a while, a care package arrived--we couldn't stop them!

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Washington, D.C.: It's one thing to suggest that people cut back on gifts - reciprocally -- and it's entirely another thing to suggest that people be rude and completely ignore the rules of etiquette that require you to bring something to another person's gathering (another person who has reached out and kindly invited you to their home). The right answer is not 'show up empty-handed and monopolize the mushroom caps' -- the right answer is bring something to your host, whether it's a 'mediocre' bottle of merlot or something else. You don't rationalize etiquette away, even in difficult economic times. I certainly hope I'm never hosting a party where anyone like you shows up.

Judith Levine: This is an interesting question, and I don't take this problem lightly. I discuss gift-giving at length in my book Not Buying It. Because yes, there are deep cultural mores around gift-giving, and they provide an important source of cohesion between individuals, among people, and between even warring cultures. Suffice it to say, we need to find ways to give to others that are not necessarily material. Or if they are, that don't cost a lot. We often make a pie, which costs less than a bottle of wine. That tip was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps I should have worded it more carefully.

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Arlington, Va.: I really enjoyed your article in yesterday's Outlook section. It nicely articulated what I have been taking with various friends and family about over the past few months. I went on a shopping fast for a month and it was so much harder than I thought it would be. I did falter, but in the long run it has absolutely made me more deliberate about purchases and avoid impulse buying.

Judith Levine: thanks for your comment, Arlington.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Judith , Great article. Do you think that with a culture that glorifies excess as a virtue that we can really see the errors of our ways? When you have programs glorifying excess spending such as "My Super Sweet Sixteen" or The real Housewives of (pick a city)," can we really move away from a society of consumerism, especially when Christmas has become more "mass" than "Mass"?

Judith Levine: The question is always: an excess of what? Whereas we don't want an excess of cheap, fast-obsolencing, resource-intensive, worker-exploitive junk, we might want an excess of invention, joy, collectivity, sensual ecstasy, beauty, humor, art... I always look to history for answers (and both cautionary tales & inspiration). Very deep-seated cultural ideas & feelings can change, big-time. Such as the "inherent" inferiority of black people, women, etc. Anything can change.

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Burlington, Vermont: The biggest challenge for me is how to deal with the negative fallout from the family of cutting back on gifts at Christmas. Did you have to "steel" yourselves? What was the worst, and best from your decision?

And how do you deal with "temptations"?

Thanks!!!

Judith Levine: I don't know your family. But you might be surprised. Esp., as I said, if the deal is they don't have to give you gifts either.

Here's a way to deal with tempation: Wait. If it's a big purchase, wait 5 days. A small one, 5 minutes. The impulse to buy -- which is frequently an impulse and nothing more -- passes, just like all thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Be Buddhist. You'll save money!

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Eugene, Ore.: How would you expect the economy to be stimulated, and recover, if everyone were to take your advice and cut back on spending? Do you not realize that if everyone actually took your advice, then your income would drop drastically? Is that what you are hoping for?

Judith Levine: No, I am not hoping for incomes to drop. But as I said, economists have got to figure out a less consumption-centered way of keeping things going. Even in Europe, whose economies are not that different from us, there is a higher level of public spending, more taxes, and less disposible income; as well as slower growth. These are policy decisions that change the way we affect public life, happiness, and the state of the environment.

I don't say buy nothing -- but buy carefully, and think about more than what you want at this moment.

For a more nuanced discussion of these issues, read the book.

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Dayton, Ohio: Hi!

I just don't understand why people feel they need to "shop 'til they drop" and go broke in the process. I suppose I never got hooked on that terrible habit after being flat broke (in 1980 and 1981) when I was going to college. After college, I lived by the mantra of only living to 80% of what I earned and saving/investing the rest. Back then, that meant hardly being able to afford anything, living quite frugally, and doing without a lot of the "stuff" that others had. Now, 28 years later, our home is paid off, we have no month-to-month credit card debt, etc. - things are going quite well. (Investments are hurting a little but, that too will pass...) People will always have an excuse regarding why they have to spend so much money this time of year (to feel good, because it's expected, etc.) and go deeply into debt. As with most financial choices, it's totally up to the individual to make the right decisions -- even it that means going cold turkey (pardon the pun) this time of year.

Judith Levine: Your rational strategy was not so different from that of my parents' generation. The problem comes when people can't afford the basics -- health care, fuel, education -- and go into debt on the necessities.

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Texas: At age 25, I finally understand the meaning of Christmas. It feels so good to know it has nothing to do with all this nonsense in our popular culture about decorating the house, exchanging gifts and buying a cute outfit for a holiday party.

From a Christian perspective, I know Christmas is about the birth of my Lord Savior Jesus Christ. It's such a wonderful feeling to understand the reason for the season and why I am truly celebrating. That joy cannot compare to the empty thrill of finding the "perfect present."

I would encourage people to look at their spiritual roots to have a real meaning for this season. Pop culture will not give it to you.

Judith Levine: Thank you for this.

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Alexandria VA: I found your article very interesting.

Although I am middle-class American born and bred, I spent 10 years living in Central America, married to a "middle class" local man, and have more or less continued this lifestyle in the US. (Of course in the US I spend a lot more on things which would be considered luxuries in other countries, like a clothes dryer and central air conditioning.)

I continue to try to live within my means, which means don't buy on credit, except to finance a house or car; get books out of the library; listen to music on the radio; buy my kids new pajamas and a toy or two for Christmas; go out to dinner and movies for birthdays and holidays; lots of hand me downs clothes and discount stores on sale, etc.

Several things you didn't mention. We rent DVDs, buy a newspaper and a couple of magazines (we wouldn't want the Post to go out of business), have basic cable and spend a lot on a car.

I think there are a lot of people who live like this long term. Whar do you think?

Judith Levine: Yes, there are many people who live as you do -- and I do -- in a less-consumerist way. The economy has not collapsed because of them. And there is a fallacy that only the private sector contributes to the economy. Librarians are paid by taxes, but they also pay taxes (and buy stuff in the private sector).

I also endorse your move to buy the newspaper -- on PAPER!

save newspapers, folks. Please!

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Washington DC: As an economist, I want to protest your incorrect and misleading statement that, "Ask any economist left or right about this, and he'll write off resource depletion as an 'externality,' something to worry about later." No, no, and no. In economic terms, an externality is a consequence of an economic activity that is experienced by unrelated third parties. Economists - left and right - agree that externalities are precisely where the free market fails and where government should act. And in virtually every Econ 101 class, environmental pollution is the classic example of an externality.

Your statement also promotes the myth that economics is only about money. There are thousands of environmental economists working to improve the world we all share.

Judith Levine: Well, thank you for your correction. But many environmental economists & enviros (e.g., Princen & Maniates, Daly) would argue that the majority of economists are not taking pollution seriously enough. Indeed, the globe and the people in it are not "unrelated third parties." A holistic enviro-economics would look very different from what we've got today.

on the other hand, if you're concerned about this, and working on it, THANK YOU!

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to Hollywood, MD: That is really sort of a dumb idea. The population of the US is over 300 million. What sort of economic stimulus would $2.45 provide to you?

Judith Levine: thanks for doing the math. It does bring up the important question of economies of scale and the role of public policy. In NYC, where I live, there's a $400 yearly property tax rebate. It's really a political sop, a chicken in every pot. In total, those not-too-useful checks add up to $250 million, which if I am not wrong is the shortfall the public transit system is now facing. Do we want good subway service or 400 bucks to spend on pizzas or shoes?

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Western PA: I like your idea about stimulating the economy through more person-to-person activities, like child/elder care, arts, education, etc. In the news stories this holiday season, reporters and commentators have raised the spectre of job losses among retailers. While I'm not for people losing jobs and becoming unemployed, I do think that some job "redistribution" is necessary. Our way of life, where we buy, buy, buy is simply not sustainable. It's not sustainable environmentally, economically or spiritually.

While people lament not being able to buy that flat-screen TV, there is a lack of home health aides for people needing care. Where I live, home health aides get paid so little, and many of them cannot afford cars. Therefore, they can only work for patients along buslines. Anyone whose house is not accessible via public transportation is going to have a very hard time getting care. How about we invest in things like supporting our health care system? Seems win-win to me.

Judith Levine: thanks for this eloquent comment.

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Red Rock, N.H.: But Judith dear, we need people to overextend themselves to help get this economy moving. I see a report today that luxury brands have cut back on advertising and that in turn means less ad dollars for newspapers and magazines. Where does it stop? Will you only be happy when Chanel and Louis Vuitton are out of business?

Judith Levine: Call me rash. Write me about how I am single-handedly bringing down capitalism as we know it. But I wouldn't really mind.

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Sturgeon Lake, Minn.: I am concerned with a lack of basic applied home economics. I routinely plan my purchases of food and household necessities by checking weekly circulars, clipping coupons and knowing the in store pattern of specials in my area. I pay pennies on the dollar for good quality items compared to most people. I am often distressed to see others paying so much more. How can we improve the public education in this area?

Judith Levine: Your comment is well-taken. But I don't know if it's the answer -- or, rather, the total answer. Just a few complicating factors: cheap goods are often cheap because of low wages to the retail clerk or factory worker or shoddy environmental practices. So just going for the cheapest thing may be help your pocketbook but not the public good. All this means making careful, collective choices -- and weighing in politically on them -- as well as learning how to spend less individually.

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Southern Maryland: This past summer I did not buy any clothes just by staying out of the stores. How much is overspending being in the stores versus going to the library and checking out books, magazines, and movies? I also started using cash. It is something about reaching in your wallet and handing over cold hard cash. No debit cards, No credit cards, no checks, just old fashioned cash. The cost of gasoline also curbed my shopping habits. Do people tend to spend less when they use cash versus electronic devices?

Judith Levine: I don't know the stats on this, but if you're going all-cash, it stands to reason that you'll stop buying when you run out. It's hard to pay for certain things w/o a credit card, however. I didn't have a card til I was about 28, and could never rent a car or make a plane reservation.

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Germantown, Md.: Judith - thanks for taking questions. An intriguing column that sparked discussion in my family, and I pronounced that I would love to do this... but was questioned as to exactly how to do this, with two small kids... one infant/toddler and one 3 years old. Hand-me-downs are easy for the youngest, but the oldest will still need clothes.

Also -- I couldn't help but notice that this is a diet of sorts. And no one likes to be on a diet, b/c the term is connotated w/undesired sacrifice, but can be managed with occasional deviations. Do you feel it could have been easier if you were "allowed" to deviate at least once a month (i.e. restaurant, movie, new shoes)?

THANKS

Judith Levine: first of all, your babies won't notice.

second, you're right about total abstinence. I don't recommend it. Never would. You don't lose weight by ceasing to eat. You need to learn what hunger is, and also take pleasure in the things (including foods) you consume.

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Washington, D.C.: I love giving gifts and my family is not ready to give up a big gift exchange. However, what I have let go of is trying to spend an equal amount of money on each family member. If I spend $50 on one sister and $15 on another, but both gifts are well-chosen and things they will use and appreciate, who cares that one of them got "short-changed"? (Fortunately, my sisters don't.) That does help keep my Xmas bills down as I don't feel compelled to buy more for someone on whom I've spent less.

Judith Levine: as your tactic shows, the cost of a thing is not equivalent to its value.

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Reston, Va: Food prices have me concerned. I can visualize a price trend in food, similar to what happened with gas.

For example, just a couple of years ago, Campbell's tomato soup (when on sale) was about five cans for a dollar. Now I'm at the store and see it (on sale) one can for 65 cents!

Having a very tight budget means a sparse Christmas this year. But when the decision is between food and fun gifts - the decision is easy.

Judith Levine: One way to save money on food: buy real food, not canned, processed, etc.

As Michael Pollan says, "Eat food. Mostly vegetables. Spend more, buy less."

good quality food may cost more per pound but often goes further. And then there's stuff like beans: endlessly versatile, good for you, and cheap cheap cheap. We don't skimp on groceries, but our bills aren't that high, in part because we are vegetarians.

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Old Greenbelt, MD: I agree that we can live happy, satisfied lives while consuming less. Did you feel happier during your experiment, less happy, or about the same, and why?

Judith Levine: some of both -- and lots of other feelings as well.

read the book!

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Raleigh, NC: I admit to having a hard time understanding how some people have difficulties in NOT purchasing everything in sight. I'm looking for a watch for my spouse and saw a few lovely ones in a local department store (he needs a dressy watch). They were $1,000-5,000 each. Yes, they were nice, but there wasn't even a question of buying them. It doesn't matter what limit is available on my credit card. At one point, I made $12K/yr as a grad student and had a limit of $25K. Yes, you read that correctly. If I can't afford it, meaning pay my balance in full EVERY MONTH, I cannot afford it and won't purchase it. How hard is this?

This doesn't mean I never purchase anything. I needed some nice clothes last weekend for a business trip. So I went to my fav thrift store and bought four or five nice tops and two skirts. Total price: $15. Holiday gifts this year (for relatives on the west coast) are several huge boxes of home-made cookies. I made them two years ago when my spouse was out of work and we were tight for money. Ever since, the relatives have asked that I bake cookies instead of storebought gifts. My "grandmother in law" LOVES them.

Two simple rules: do not buy what you cannot afford AND there is always a way to get/give what you want if you look beyond the overpriced mall-ateria.

Judith Levine: good tips.

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2333.33: $700 billion divided by a population of 300 million is 2333.33. Chump change? no

Judith Levine: and also enough to get a family through about 2 months or less of health insurance. then what?

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debit card/credit card federal protections: So how wrongheaded that you have more federal fraud protection with credit cards (where the money hasn't yet left your pocket) than with debit cards where, if someone's already using the card fraudulently, you've lost the cash.

Any chance of changing this and encouraging more fiscal responsibility?

Judith Levine: No reason there can't be federal regulations requiring fraud protections on all personal cards/accounts.

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Divide 750 million by our population, what's the #?: Well, we have 300 million people, so that would be $2.50 per person.

Or, if you meant 750 billion, $2,500 per person. Personally, my mortgage has a bit higher balance than $2500, so I for one won't have anything left over to go shopping with. I don't think this plan will make the nation debt free. But I'll take the money if anyone wants to give it to me.

Judith Levine: people! We gotta stop thinking short term, penny (or even dollar) wise and pound foolish!

That $400 property tax rebate in NY? I don't want it. Give me better subway service any day.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Gifts of family time together or things made with a particular friend or family member in mind seem to be more appreciated and don't involve nearly as much spending.

Judith Levine: thanks.

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Sterling, Va.: By encouraging people to only buy the essentials, you're encouraging them to not buy your book. How does your publisher feel about that?

Judith Levine: My publisher? What about me?

If you read the book, you will see that I do not encourage people to 'just buy essentials.' That's what we did, as an experiment.

And one of the lessons I learned was that intellectual stimulation, beauty, fun -- and gifts -- are essential to being human and happy.

I buy lots of books. You learn what you can't live without.

Also, I learned that a life without ice-cream is not worth living.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I read the article on your no-shopping experiment, but not the book (yet). I think you did a wonderful thing environmentally, just by avoiding the daily take-out containers from coffee, lunches, etc. I'm curious - how much did your household waste go down as a result?

Judith Levine: interesting question. We didn't keep track of that. I think a few journalists have kept all their packaging/waste for a year. check that out...

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Chicago, Ill.: See, it's funny -- I don't buy a lot of stuff and I save a ton. But I've now lost a lot of that money in the market collapse. Everything I've saved in 2008 is gone. So I could have just spent every dime of it, and I'd be ahead, both because I'd have the same amount of money saved away as I do now, and because I'd have all this stuff. Maybe I should have shopped more?

Judith Levine: I gotta say, I've thought, gee, wish I'd have bought those skis...

I guess the answer to this is: S--- happens.

Seriously, though, our lost savings tell us that 'market fundamentalism' -- the idea that unfettered free markets will bring prosperity and happiness to everyone -- has been thoroughly discredited. There are other things that not only make life meaningful, but that make an economy sustainable.

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giving: People give in different ways and not all material. I often treat my closest friend, who has many commitments and does not have the same financial resources as I do. She lives in the UK so I've used frequent flier miles for her to visit, for example. In this way I try not to do it with the feeling that it's 'charity' -- it's not! She gives me boundless time, support, laughter... help, I'm turning into a Visa ad!!

On the other side of the fence, in the times of my life when I feel the pinch I think creatively about what I can give of myself. Can I make something, e.g. a collage? Can I give of my time, e.g. babysit? Of my skills, e.g. cooking, research etc...

A gift doesn't have to be merchandise.

Judith Levine: so true.

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Washington, DC: I would like to dispute the notion that some posters have put out there that the only "real" Christmas is the one in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus and that consumerism during this time is bad. I'm not advocating going deep into debt over gifts but I have no issue with gift-giving and celebration of the season. My family has taken the holiday and turned it into a tradition independent of its origins, just as Christians took pagan celebrations and put their Christianity on top of them for Easter. This time of year gets me thinking about all I have to be thankful for and I enjoy giving a trinket to my friends and family to show it. Please stop pushing the idea that we should cut off our traditions and treat such a wonderful season as any other random day. It's astonishing to me that people get so stuck to this "must never buy anything" mindset that they would want to ruin the holiday spirit for other people.

Judith Levine: I agree with you, DC. I DO NOT RECOMMEND NOT BUYING ANYTHING!

just thinking first about what celebrating means to you, and how to do it.

There are ways and ways of spending money. And -- you are right -- sometimes over the top is the way to go.

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Flagstaff, AZ - balance: I got a great idea from a friend in Michigan about how to balance the traditions of Christmas vs. no gifts at all. In her nuclear family, each person gets "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read." Our family has adopted this this year, and it is really helpful in setting boundaries.

Judith Levine: good idea.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Thank you, Judith, for getting the concept that "growth" for its own sake is a questionable basis for a civilization on the front page of the WP opinions. We need an economy that does more than simply get bigger no matter the costs (so to speak). I wonder how economists will react to your premise. There are some out there who are making serious suggestions about a steady state economy.

Alternative Gift Fairs are a splendid antidote - Held at this time, it's like a craft fair, except no crafts. Just wonderful non-profits who take donations for their work and give a gift card for your loved one. People do this on their own but embedding the activity in community, with local groups, having kids' activities, local music and a bake sale is really what I want to be doing at Christmas. Takoma Park's fair is Saturday, December 6. Visit www.aggw.org.

Judith Levine: Mostly the economists are yelling at me (see other posts). But, as you say, many are also taking serious exception to the growth-is-good orthodoxy, and coming up with interesting solutions.

thanks for the link, too.

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Alexandria, Virginia: Judith, Great subject, and props to you for your courage. For anyone looking for a good place to get started, try Nov. 28th as "Buy Nothing Day". Many thanks!

http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd

Judith Levine: ...and the fun events related to it, such as Reverend Billy's Church of Stop Shopping. very funny & inspiring.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you already have a book contract when you started, or did that come later? Did writing the book make the project feel more legitimate or acceptable to friends/family?

Judith Levine: I got a contract early in the process. It made it more legitimate to ME -- and helped me keep going. And probably to others as well.

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Over buying: Last year, my New Year's resolution was to go an entire year without buying a single piece of jewelry (I have a sad addiction). It was a lot harder than I anticipated, and I had a couple of slips, but I must say it was very freeing. Now if I could just extend that to other non-necessary items...

As for Christmas, I've long wanted to try an experiment of just buying items that will fit into our Christmas stockings. I think that would really force us to be frugal and creative about what we get.

One last note: for years, my parents have been buying us gift certificates to theaters and concerts for Christmas. It's wonderful to have an experience rather than a thing.

Judith Levine: on the other hand, you can fit a diamond necklace in a stocking.

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Alexandria: You seem to long for a society where "there is a higher level of public spending, more taxes, and less disposable income; as well as slower growth." Thanks, but no thanks. Do you really think politicians will use these higher taxes wisely? I don't and I don't see the problem with so-called disposable income.

You also mention the arts several times. I like art as much as the next guy, but is this really something the government should be involved with? Seems to me it's a luxury we can't afford right now.

Judith Levine: "The politicians" are people like you and me. It's up to us as citizens to force them to do the right thing. We are not just consumers, we are citizens. The govt is us.

and yes, I see the arts as necessities. They humanize a society. Every other advanced democracy spends hugely more on them than we do, even in the fat times.

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New Jersey: I was a poor student for years, spent very little money, now a disciplined saver. I tend to contemplate purchases for years, then buy rapidly. I stay within my budget but still manage to accumulate more than I immediately need, partly because I've configured all those shopping/website alerts for products that are particularly alluring to me. So far, that hasn't broken my resolve to stay budgeted, but I can see that more and more tempting offers have come my way ....

Judith Levine: unsubscribe from those alerts!

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Washington, DC: When I first graduated from college, I landed a good job and was flush with cash. I got extravagant gifts for my siblings each Christmas, and had a lot of fun shopping for them. But after three years of their increasing requests, I decided to dial it back. The past couple of years have been more modest, and now I have some necessary home renovations that are further crimping the budget. I've tried to let them know that holidays will be leaner this year, but they seem to be in denial. Any tactics you can recommend? (FWIW, I've told them I really don't need/want anything -- I'm trying to pare down my possessions.)

Judith Levine: Just what's in the article, or the book. But there are tons of frugal living/frugal holiday sites. check them out.

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Judith Levine: Thanks for chatting, everybody!

Eat, drink, and be very very merry. Tomorrow, who knows what's going to happen.

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