Frugality is the new trendy?
Reading articles on declining consumer spending and increasing saving rates (and watching new words such recessionista, frugalista, and cheap-chic enter the lexicon) has made me wonder: has frugality gotten too trendy? And, will it stick?
Frugality isn’t an issue I write on, because I’ve never claimed to be frugal – I try to save and invest, yes, but I certainly have my moments. Exhibit A: $200 worth of wool gabardine from J.Crew today (if you follow me on Twitter, you would’ve seen step-by-step how the consumer pummeled the pf blogger in me.)
As an example of some recent coverage of the new return to thrift, Friday’s New York Times article is titled: “In an Age of Austerity, the Miserly Thrive”
I cringed a little at the word “miserly”. A miserly person is someone who’s cheapness is inconsiderate and inconvenient to others. Miserliness is not a quality to aspire to in any economic situation. But I see how the title “In an Age of Austerity, the Financially Responsible Thrive” might not have the same ring to it.
Then NYT used this example of an enterprising nurse who took home a duvet off the street.
“My behavior has become less strange and more of a resource,” said Katy Wolk-Stanley, 41, a nurse in Portland, Ore. A practicing penny-pincher for the last decade, she is now spreading her gospel. Last May, she started a blog with tips and tactics for cutting back called The Non-Consumer Advocate.
She knows whereof she blogs. She darns socks, dries clothes on a line she recently hung inside her house (even though it takes a few days for the clothes to dry inside), washes and reuses plastic bags and takes used clothes and furniture people leave on the street — like the slightly torn Garnet Hill duvet cover she found recently.
“It was wet, and covered with dog hair,” she said. “I washed it really well a couple of times and mended it.” Her quest for money-saving ideas “is very energizing,” she says. “You see opportunities everywhere.”
I’m glad she was handy enough to take the duvet (it’s also great for the environment – one less duvet in the landfills). But I’d feel uncomfortable using a duvet I found off the street, “wet and covered with dog hairs.” The ick factor would be too great for me to overcome (curiously, I have no problem buying clothes from thrift stores). I’ll settle for my duvet set from IKEA (bought it during one of their one-day sales for $20).
I guess this confirms what I already know: I’m just not that frugal, I like my creature comforts, and I’m willing to pay for them (although I am willing to pay LESS for them in this uncertain economic climate).
Will Frugality Stick?
As far as will frugality stick? People will always want things (or experiences). That requires money. Real estate in desirable areas such as San Francisco, Manhattan, and Los Angeles will always be pricey. Conspicuous consumption has gone out of style – for now – but who knows?
In 10 or 20 years, if things are good again or we have another bubble – will New York Times be writing about fishing discarded bedding off the streets and washing plastic bags? Will a consultant skip her $4 morning latte at Starbucks? Will the middle-class professional woman be so eager to disclose that she got her holiday dress at Goodwill instead of Neiman Marcus? Will she even go to Goodwill?
As deep and as hurtful as The Great Recession is, can it truly, permanently reprogram us as a culture of frugality? I’m hesitant to say yes. We had a huge, wild party that went too long. Now comes the hangover and the recriminations. But after a while, after we feel a little better, after we promise to never let things get so out of control, we’ll raise a glass (or two, or three) again.
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