Do We Have Too Many Choices?

Last week I asked you all what was the biggest obstacle to your frugality. I revealed that one of my struggles was lack of planning. I gave the example of being out of bread and running to the nearest store to pick up a loaf, rather than planning ahead, so I could hit the least expensive store.

Cfish made the following comment, which was very thought provoking for me.

I am 59 years old and grew up in a small town in the midwest. There was no fast food, and we didn’t have much money. When we went out to eat it was a special occasion that was carefully planned. My mother did not like to cook but made a hot meal for her family every night.
Currently, we live 10 miles from town. By the time we could drive in, I would have been able to make a simple meal, like frittata or pancakes or french fries with gravy. My husband, bless him, considers a batch of popcorn an adequate meal. That’s the way we were brought up. We eat out about 5 times a year.
Being frugal is not a choice for us; it’s just the way we live. I think the problem with younger urban and suburban families (and I hate sounding like a geezer) is that you have too many choices. No bread? Deal with it instead of running to the closest minimart.

I think she has a good point. We do have a lot of choices these days. Sometimes that’s a great thing. Sometimes, though, it hinders us.

The Way Things Used to Be

I love to read the Little House on the Prairie series. So much that my husband bought me the entire set of books for Christmas one year. One thing you realize when you read those books is how much our ancestors needed to prepare for the future. If you lived out on the South Dakota prairie, you knew there would be months where you couldn’t get to town, because of the weather, so you needed to have enough food on hand to last the winter. There was no other option.

When I was in high school, I interviewed my grandparents for a paper I wrote on the Great Depression. Before the advent of easy credit, if you had no money, you didn’t buy something. You did without. Again, there was no other option.

People had to think ahead. They had to be creative in dealing with problems. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we have more choices and opportunities now, but I think there’s something to be learned from the past.

What Happened?

I’m not an expert in history, but here’s my take on a couple of changes that got us where we are today.

As advances in modernization occurred, more opportunities arose. Cars made it easier to go places quickly. As the population increased, stores became available in smaller towns, and people didn’t need to go as far to get supplies. Eventually it was possible to make a quick run to the store.

And then credit became widely available. Suddenly people could “afford” things they couldn’t afford before. And then came entitlement. The attitude of “I deserve to go to a restaurant every once in a while.” The line between wants and needs was blurred.

What Can We Learn?

Though I have no desire to live like people in the 1800s with no electricity or indoor plumbing, I think there are things to be learned from the past.

We do have a lot of choices these days. It’s important to evaluate how these choices impact our lives and reject the choices that impact us in a negative way. We don’t need to have it all. We aren’t entitled to having it all. I don’t mean to say that in a preachy way, as this is something I sometimes struggle with, too.

This week I decided to experiment with not running to the store. I’m not super-organized (working on it), so I knew I’d be faced with needing something. Sure enough, I ran out of bread again. This time, though, instead of hitting the store, I realized I had all the ingredients for bread on hand. I made a yummy loaf of homemade bread that tastes much better than the stuff in the store. And it was cheaper than buying a loaf, even at the least expensive store in the area. Plus I saved money on gas by not driving to the store.

I’m taking Cfish’s comment as a personal challenge in my own life. Especially as I wrap up our homeschool year and have an opportunity to take time to get a little more organized, I’m going to try to live like I don’t have many choices. If I don’t feel like cooking (cooking isn’t my favorite activity), I’ll cook anyway, as if a restaurant isn’t an option. If I forget to pick up an ingredient, I’ll find a way to do without, as if there were no grocery stores nearby. I actually think this could be a fun summer project for the whole family. Maybe we’ll read through the Little House books, discuss them, and decide what lessons we can take from them and apply to our lives today.

One day I hope to get to the point in life that being frugal isn’t a choice for us. I want to be able to say it’s just the way we live.

So what do you think? Do we have too many choices today?


By , on Apr 7, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


Popular Articles


  1. Mark:

    I would actually prefer fewer choices. I don’t need an entire isle for toothpaste, and another for potato chips, and another for soda, and another for cereal, and another for shampoo, etc. Insanity.

    It’s not just groceries and hygiene supplies — it’s everything.

    50 years ago, homes had one television, one radio, some furniture, decor, and a few kitchen appliances. That’s it. There wasn’t massive consumer clutter throughout the house like we see today. Many homes these days look like they were hit by a Walmart tornado. Junk as far as the eye can see. Many items rarely being used, collecting dust in a closet.

    Sadly, even with all of these choices at our fingertips, we are still an unsatisfied society. Always wanting more. Never stopping to enjoy the moment, or what we have. Perhaps that is why I enjoy going to small, family-owned markets. I get what I need without experiencing the option overload.

  2. I think that’s natural process. Mankind continuously learns and develops its skills and this opens new and new options. It’s all about determination. If you have a goal, you have to face distractions all the time, no matter if you are African farmer or rich businessman. unfortunately, most of the people fail again and again…


  3. dallen:

    I have a confession to make after church on Sunday morning I went to Walmart to pick up my fresh fruits and vegetables for the work week ahead. It’s was 11:30 in the morning an I was hungry all I had on my mind was I HOPE WENDY’S IS SERVING FOOD I WANT A SPICY CHICKEN SANDWICH. I realized that I have a trunk full of lettuce and tomatoes I even had a new jar of spicy chipotle sandwich spread. How lazy I went home and took out a frozen frozen chicken breast from the freezer nice sandwich that didn’t take 3 minutes to make.

  4. Budget Gal Angie:

    I love how Cfish said being frugal isn’t a choice, it’s how we live. For me, the longer I work at cutting costs in my household the easier it becomes because it truly is just the way we live now.

  5. Sam:

    I have noticed the more I do thing s like my grandparents & great grandparents did 100 yrs ago, the less stressful & more content I get.
    I’ve also noticed that we’re more resilient to the price of things too like food since we cook so much from scratch.
    I try very hard to keep wear & tear on our modern devices to a minimum so they las longer however, I can’t seem to win on that one. When the TV has it’s final death throws I’m wondering if it’s be worth replacing or if I should put put the 20 yr old one it replaced back in service. It’ll be a while yet (unless someone crashes into it)- we watch about one movie a week and during warm months watch no TV shows.

  6. Yes, we do have too many choices.

    I own a martial arts business and two years ago, we moved to a house less than a mile from my business. Because of the economy, I became extremely frugal so my business would not be at risk.

    I do all my grocery shopping in our small town of ~pop. 2500. I usually only plan about one trip out of town per week. I mostly walk or ride my bike to work and enjoy local activities in the community. I even bake bread when we run out so I don’t have to walk to the store (I don’t use a bread machine either, just a bread pan).

    What I found is that I am much happier now than ever with my simple life. No work commune, lots of exercise, fresh air and healthy food. All these things keep my stress level low, my energy level high, and physically fit.

    When the price of gas went up over $4 per gallon, I yawned because it was not an issue for me because I purchase gas ever 6 weeks. I even started shaving with a straight razor so I don’t need to pay $20 for those fancy Mach 4 razors.

    My lifestyle appears total old-fashion but I love it and have so many less worries. My business has been thriving too, but I decided to continue to maintain this simple lifestyle because I enjoy it.

  7. Love this post… really needed to read it. I have felt pretty overwhelmed with all the choices when I’m been working towards “greening” our home… replacing many many items we once used to use safer options, but there are SO MANY options!! I spent hours and hours figuring out what products to use for our hair, skin, make-up, etc. And then the kitchen, oh boy. At least we have options so we can choose what’s best, but it is overwhelming sometimes. I

    was really convicted with what you said about food though, reminding me of the 4 boxes of whole wheat pasta we have in our pantry and the 3/4 full big jub of Prego pasta sauce that’s going to go bad if we don’t use it. And how about the 2 huge pork loins in my freezer, the huge bags of frozen veggies and fruits. No more complaining about having no food in the house!! :) I need to read the Little House books, too, as I don’t think I ever had.
    Thanks for your hard work and honest heart. I really enjoy this blog!

    • Parden my horrible spelling/grammar errors. I need to not type so fast and I also need to proof-read more. Sorry!

  8. Lyn:

    I don’t mind having choices. I like having the option to buy a roasted chicken and fresh veggies when I’ve unexpectedly spent a day in service to a friend or the school. On the flip side, I enjoyed taking the pantry challenge in January. I’ll do that again, for sure. But both of those are choices I made, knowing and accepting the outcomes. I become weary of people who don’t realize they are making choices and that there are consequences to all those little choices.

    I had a similar conversation with my MIL when my kids were little. She started going on (once again) about how much stuff our kids had. Now, mind you, we didn’t buy them much and we were forever asking for memberships to the zoo, gift cards to add to the playset outside each year for the boys’ birthdays, making cookies with Grandma — those kinds of gifts, but she wanted to give things that would make them squeal when they unwrapped them.

    Anyway, I finally mentioned that while I was sure our children did have more than her children had when they were young, I was also pretty sure she had more as a grandmother than her mother had as a grandmother. She never mentioned it again.

    I know many people find themselves in difficult situations these days. But so many extra items — cell phones with internet access, DVD players and tons of movies, gaming systems and game, cable TV, internet access, etc. — have become “needs” for entitled consumers.

    Our former neighbors once told me how sad it was that two parents *had* to work. They had a boat, pool, motorcycles, snowmobiles, four cars for two drivers, a camper in storage, and so much more.

    I see lots of people confusing needs with and wants. Living purposefully, making choices and taking responsiblity for the consequences takes effort. Thanks, Lynnae, for sharing your struggle to live consciously.

  9. Sam:

    Great article.
    I’m a single Mom and when I get home at night I’m too tired to run out so we go without (unless it’s TP).
    There are too many choices – I’ve got some chemical sensitivities so I can only buy certain brands/scents of dish soap, bar soap, etc and that kinda relieves me because it restricts my choices a good bit. I think part of the reason I’ve chosen simple living is because I negates the need for stuff and having to choose that stuff. We upgrade nothing in our house – everything gets used until smoke rolls out of it and so far that’s helping keep the anxiety to a minimum.

    Meredeth – I think that might be why I stopped wearing makeup. Too many different kinds. When I do need to get some I’ve been going to closeouts type stores (like Big Lots) that have a limited inventory. I figure if God wants me to own it then it will be in my path.

  10. I absolutely think we have too many choices. And at the rate companies come out with new options I can hardly get used to what is on the market before they are coming up with something new. It annoys me. Why can’t they leave well enough alone? We don’t need as many options as we have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer and Legal Mumbo Jumbo

I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, I state that I have a financial relationship with companies mentioned in this website. This may include receiving access to free products and services for product and service reviews and giveaways.

Any references to third party products, rates, or websites are subject to change without notice. I do my best to maintain current information, but due to the rapidly changing environment, some information may have changed since it was published. Please do the appropriate research before participating in any third party offers.

For additional information, please review our legal disclaimers and privacy policy.