Growing up, I worked to keep my family’s frugality discreet. Rather
than brag about the number of days I had re-used my now super soft
paper lunch bag, I ran to hide it in my locker once I’d finished
eating. When I showed up at school after the holidays in my new
“pre-loved” clothing, I chose not to discuss holiday gifts.
not sure what what I was afraid of- I wasn’t afraid of appearing poor
(in fact, I was embarrassed if my parents ever picked me up from school
in their “inherited” yellow convertible Mercedes)-, but I suppose I
just didn’t want to seem cheap, or worse yet, different.
I’d been a teen today when “frugal living is the new glamourous” and
“frugality is all the rage”, I could have been cutting edge with my own
clique of “recessionistas”, “frugalistas” and “eco-thrifter-istas”.
Frugal is the new Buddhism
Today, thanks to the perfect storm of global warming- “frugal is the new green“- and the damaged economy- “recession chic” is the new black-, it’s hip to be thrifty.
seems to be broadcasting their- or their role model’s- conservative
ways and offering guidance to follow their lead. Steve Tuttle laid out
in Newsweek how his parents, “the nation’s first thrift czars“, don’t use a clothes dryer, AC or new clothes.
NPR pays homage to the frugality monks of New York City, the visual artists who on average live on less than $30,000 per year… in New York City: “All they seem to need is some food, a roof overhead and the time and opportunity to practice their art.”
Kellee Sikes talks openly in a New York Times article about how she has
stopped buying paper napkins and instead reuses organic cloth ones, but
also how she’s planning to use her backyard in-ground waste composter
to compost her dog’s poop to avoid the cost of garbage pickup.
thirty-something Sikes, this is a chance to get re-examine her
priorities, “I recently heard a phrase: ‘Never waste a crisis’. I love
“Never waste a crisis”
It seems frugality is
becoming a value again in the U.S. The national savings rate, which was
less than 1% in August of 2008, has jumped up to 5%, the highest it’s
been in a decade.
Lifetime frugalists are quick to point out
they’re not celebrating the pain that comes with this economy, but
they’re relishing their moment of recognition. “There is no joy in
other people suffering, but this validates the choices I’ve made,” says
Vicki Robin, author of “Your Money or Your Life”.
I’ll admit that
this new age of thrift has liberated me from the fear of appearing
cheap. Normally, to avoid going out for pricey group dinners, I have
invented excuses other than cost (usually at least $50 in NYC or SF)
for fear of appearing cheap, but lately I’ve become more honest.
got the idea from my sister who emailed the other day saying she’d
turned down a group dinner invite at a fancy restaurant simply by
stating “I’ve decided I’m going to try to spend less on going out”.
her family hasn’t experienced a change in income, she admitted to me “I
sort of like what this economy gives you the excuse to do”. And she’s
They’re called “the gleefully frugal”. New York Times business writer Matt Richtel explains this new breed: “The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses.”
talked to one happily-thrifty-again real estate investor (whose husband
is a plastic surgeon) who is now growing her own fruits and vegetables
and using the library instead of the video store not out of need, but
because as a mother of 2 sons: “It’s a chance to pass along the frugal
lifestyle that my mother gave to me”.
Dumpster diving without the lexicon
mother passed along her frugal gene. I grew up comfortable with “day
old” stickers on our bread bags and tins from the “damaged goods”
store- we loved the surprise of not knowing what was inside the often
unmarked cans- and Christmas gifts I knew I couldn’t exchange for
My mother didn’t hide her thriftiness, but she was
cautious about her proselytizing. While she organized clothing swaps
with the mothers in our neighborhood (of mostly kids stuff), she wasn’t
very out about her food “rescues” from the local supermarket dumpster
(she always claimed it was before the Safeway worker actually threw the
“perfectly good” produce or fruit into the bin).
I wonder if our
lack of vocabulary is to blame for my mother’s semi-closeted status. If
she’d been able to explain she did a bit of “dumpster diving” or practiced “freeganism“, perhaps she could have passed along some of her more extreme practices to friends and not just family.
there is language to support our thriftier habits. Whether you’re a
refashionista- someone who doesn’t buy new clothing, but remakes their
own- or a “recessionista“- someone “conspicuous about her non-conspicuous, discount-store, coupon-carrying consumption“-, it’s now cool to be vocal about conserving, for both the environment and your pocketbook.
Life before Craigslist
the past decade and the explosion of the Internet, pre-modern
recessionistas and before-there-was-“green”-eco-greeks could easily
find themselves isolated with their compost and remade furniture.
my early twenties, I was making minimum wage and trying to save money
in expensive San Francisco. When I moved out of my parent’s home and
needed furniture for my own (shared) apartment, I relied not on a
(though I did meet Craig at one of those nineties Internet mixers and
was soon an early adopter), but instead on what must have been my very
obvious label- eco, thrifty, green, hippy- for in no time I had
accumulated more than I needed of hand-me-down dishware, furniture,
bedding and appliances (some of which my parents still use).
Now if you want to be frugal- with your pocketbook or the environment-, there are endless resources to help you share, swap, remake, and get stuff for free… and even bond over your frugal lifestyle (New York Times writer Richtel found 57 “frugal living” groups on meetup.com).
we’re now in the era of DIY, within seconds online you can find
detailed instructions on how to do any of those thriftier activities,
like growing your own vegetables, composting or making your own recycled furniture.
Drawing the line at ketchup packets
you start trying to save- money and/or resources- it can be addictive.
My biggest concern is that I fall into some extreme category, most
worringly that of being “cheap”. I was relieved to find that I’m not
alone and plenty of bloggers trying to clarify the difference between
thrifty and stingy.
The Frugalist draws the line as: “Frugal means that you’re being economical and avoiding waste. Cheap is…well, how about embarrassingly stingy?”
Frugal clarifies that while it’s frugal to re-use plastic margarine
tubs or to take an old rocking chair out of a dumpster, it’s cheap to
not leave a tip or to take extra ketchup packets from a restaurant.
“The bottom line is, when your “frugality” begins to impact other people
in a negative way, it becomes cheap.” I would add when it begins to
impact the environment, as well: I don’t understand the people who
drive farther for cheaper gas.
The Frugal Dad explains that while
cheap people look for deals, they might still be heavy consumers of
resources, but “followers of frugality generally believe in being lightweight consumers of resources, whatever those resources may be.”
So here’s to the era of lightweight consumistas… I hope it’s more than just a trend.