“Austerity – Understanding & Practicing it”

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Personal Arena

Quotations for consideration:

  • “One person’s Austerity may yet be another person’s Ostentatiousness.” – Anon
  • “There is no austerity equal to a balanced mind, and there is no happiness equal to contentment; there is no disease like covetousness, and no virtue like mercy.” – Chanakya
  • “It does not matter how much we have, as we cannot do much to change what we have. But we can certainly change the way we use what we have, as what really matters is what we do with what we have. A chess pawn, if used well, will become a Queen.” -T.T. Rangarajan.
  • “There must be a reason why some people can live well. They must have worked for it. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things that we could use.” – Mother Theresa. (See “Equality for All or All are Equal”)

Key Concepts:

  • What is Austerity – Asceticism or Miserliness or Parsimony or Frugality or Thriftiness? Perhaps we should first understand what Austerity is NOT!
  1. Asceticism – Severe self denial of social life and of all comforts by doing without what one does not have or having, but forsaking it all. Can even include self mortification. This is obviously NOT Austerity and is not for social people.
  2. Miserliness or Stinginess:- Denying to oneself and to others the ordinary comforts or even necessities of life, for the sake of hoarding. Even this is obviously NOT Austerity and again is not for social people.
  3. Parsimony: – Excessive and unreasonable saving just for the sake of saving. This too is NOT Austerity and once again is not for social people.
  4. Frugality: – Saving by exercising economy, by wise and sparing use and careful administration of the means at one’s disposal. When exalted into being a virtue to be pursued for its own sake, becomes the vice of Parsimony. Within limits this is good but only reflects a slight touch of Austerity.
  5. Prudence: – Prudence that plans and providence that acts – is looking far ahead and sacrificing the present for the future, saving as much as may be necessary for that end. This too is good but it is only a part of what Austerity is.
  6. Thriftiness: -At once earning & saving with a view to wholesome and profitable expenditure at an appropriate future time. This too is good but again is only part of what Austerity is.

Now let us try and understand what Austerity really is – Exercising strict Frugality, well short of Parsimony, incorporating the concepts of Prudence, Providence and Thriftiness.

Austerity – Can it be described as living within a Budget without reducing standards? Austerity is a Principle which is admirable and those who properly practice it worth emulating.

The Operative word here is ‘Properly’, because Austerity is much more than mere cost cutting. It is an attitude of mind that leads you into managing better with less. Practical Austerity must not be confused

with ascetism or doing without – that is for ascetics and not social people.

During the major economic crisis caused by the OPEC Oil price hike in 1973-74, when everyone and his cousin was going overboard extolling their own definition of Austerity and running around pointing fingers at everyone else who according to them was not Austere enough, a voice of sanity was that of Lt. Gen. A. M. Sethna, padma Vibhushan, PVSM, AVSM, who advised the young Army officers at the College of Combat, Mhow, to properly understand Austerity.

‘Austerity’, he said, ‘does not mean that if you today have 3 suits costing  1000 each, you now replace them with 3 suits costing  300 each. That would only serve to convey a picture of poverty and inability to maintain standards. ‘True Austerity’, he said, ‘lies in managing to do what one must with less, not in reducing the standards. It therefore means that you still continue to wear a proper suit costing  1000 but learn to manage with ONE suit instead of THREE. It also means that if you earlier had a good evening out with your wife at a decent place every weekend, you still go to such a place, but perhaps now only once a month, and not that you now decide to go to a road side eatery every week’.

Let not COST be the measure of the VALUE of the EXPERIENCE. It is the experience and the memory of that experience that counts even long after the cost is forgotten. With due care, the cost can be reduced without losing out on the experience.

Austerity is a mindset that balances ends and means and it is clear that reduction in means must not lead to a reduction in the standard of the ends. Do not confuse stinginess or miserliness with Austerity and also of course understand the difference between maintaining appropriate standards and, Extravagance (being needlessly free or lavish in expenditure) and Ostentatiousness (making elaborate or pretentious display to attract attention or elicit admiration or wonder).

Austerity needs you to plan and budget your costs responsibly, to be able to balance your means and work within them to meet your desired and realizable ends in a cost effective and time bound manner. Once again, Austerity means being Prudent, being Frugal, being Thrifty and yet maintaining standards.

Do not seek to set your standards of living by attempting to outdo your neighbours. We each have our own limitations which we must recognize and understand, and thus avoid the danger of exceeding them out of a sense of misplaced optimism or out of foolish pride, as too much is at stake. An overview of our many expenditures will often show that our largest expenditures are our most frequent small ones and if one can properly recognize, control and reduce the frequency of such expenditures the overall impact will be considerable.

This is Austerity and may you always properly practice it!


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