Editorial – Extreme Savings

Paying full price? So turn-of-the-century. Heck, even an ordinary coupon has lost its charm. Economic woes, unemployment, and the rising costs of living?together with the power of social media and blogging?are creating an unprecedented movement toward frugal living.

Correction. Make that toward saving money.

?Frugality? is the latest buzzword, but It’s really saving money That’s trending right now. Freebie-finding Twitter feeds are cropping up all over, the group buying phenomenon is spreading rapidly, and shows like Extreme Couponing are spurring a dying economy’s victims to hope.

We all want to save money. In fact, we think It’s silly to pay full rates for anything if we don’t have to. The lower you can get the price the more admirable you are. Score one against the Big Guy!

But whether the culprit is the economy itself, the media’s capitalizing on the economic slowdown, or the blurred notions of property created by online content and services over the years, one thing is clear: our desire to get stuff for little or nothing is quickly becoming a more than a mere tool. In fact, for some It’s morphed into a sense that we’re entitled to use any reasonable means to save?and that can be dangerous.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with saving a few bucks wherever we can. As long as we don’t take it too far. Too far might be someone who hoards hundreds of cereal boxes just because they can. Too far might be someone who pockets a candy bar at the supermarket.

But there’s a messy grey area in between using that 30-cent coupon and outright stealing or hoarding. For example, a recent Globe and Mail article discussed the increasing number of students who keep using their student IDs to get sizeable discounts long after they’ve graduated. They rationalize, they make excuses, they shrug off their convictions because, well, everyone else is doing it.

If my kid did that, I’d have a few things to say about honesty and the honour system. Yet recently I congratulated a friend who had saved $11 a day by using our mutual friend’s corporate discount to get the hotel’s wireless Internet service for free during a vacation. And what about resetting your computer to print a high-value coupon one more time than allowed? Also something I’ve seen applauded.

Not bad, exactly. Not like stealing or something. But also . . . not good. Grey. Blurry. Like the student discount thing. Like many other practices we do continuously, justifying them in our haste to save a few more bucks ?perfectly legally.? Why are some practices okay, and some not? Where do we draw the line?

The so-called coupon craze, with its emphasis on deal-getting, is problematic. Rather than encouraging us to embrace a more frugal lifestyle, it urges us to develop an expectation of deals.

We want it all, but we don’t want to pay for it. We want the nice hotel with the free breakfast and the free happy hour drinks and the indoor pool and the nice lobby. But Internet? Why should we pay for that?

There’s the quandary.

Ironically, a little too much ?working? and ?tweaking? the system means profits go down, so the price of goods and services rises. Which spurs us to find new means to save money, and the cycle perpetuates.

But in the end, bending expectations of honesty are going to hurt us all in the long run, and more than just the pocketbooks. Not just because, like when we were kids, dishonesty means we can’t be trusted anymore. And not just because this attitude casts aside quality in favour of cost, a phenomenon That’s already painfully keen in this age of Walmart.

More importantly, when we focus too much on getting something for (close to) nothing, we’re only feeding our greed for things, for possessions, for luxuries that previously we didn’t really need. And constantly pursuing that desire, that hunger, keeps us focused solidly inward, consuming us with the desire to continue to want, buy, and want again. It’s a never-ending cycle of greed.

We don’t want to change to a simpler lifestyle; we want the old lifestyle, for less. By all means, let’s keep couponing. But let’s be mindful. Because if we don’t also keep an eye on our spiritual accounts, our pursuit of savings could cost us our morality.

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