Solutions for Self-Reliance

Two similar words, one big difference


Here’s a minor, but important point.  It’s the distinction between these two words:

  • Thrifty
  • Frugal

A thrifty person doesn’t waste much water, energy, money, etc.  In contrast, a frugal person uses as little of everything as possible.

Now, being thrifty is a resilient trait.  It’s something I strongly approve of.  By wasting less, you reduce your costs and accumulate more, faster.  Being thrifty makes it easier to bounce back from set-backs and disasters.

In contrast, being frugal is a false resilience.  Sure, if you use very little, it’s likely that many set-backs may seem inconsequential.  However, this is an optical illusion.  It’s done by setting your standards for existence very low (being cold, hungry….).

My friend, the writer Bruce Sterling, has a good test for whether you are frugal or thrifty.  He calls the dead great, great grandfather test.  It’s simply this:

IF your aspiration is to use less water, energy, money, food, things, housing, etc. than your dead great, great grandfather, you are on the wrong track.  You are trying to act dead.  

Let this sink in a bit.

This makes sense.  Life requires the expenditure of resources.  Nature is replete with waste.  Focusing all of your energy on cutting back on what you use isn’t a natural way to live your life.

In contrast, avoiding waste through thrift, and using the waste you can’t avoid to feed other systems (that generate more resources that you can store or consume) is a natural way to live a life.  It’s how our bodies work.  It’s how the natural world works.

Your thrifty analyst,


John Robb

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