Smart Money: How the Recession Made Frugality Cool
"Ahh, the Great Recession," we'll tell our grandchildren. "When we learned the real value of a twenty, refilled our inkjet cartridges, walked two blocks through snow to get to Starbucks."
It just doesn't work, does it? Surely the recession has had a huge impact -- an especially traumatic one for the 12.5 million American workers who are still unemployed. But it just doesn't feel like it's made the imprint on the national psyche that the Great Depression did.
No national orgy of sock-darning and home auto repair. No piling into rickety SUVs in a mass exodus to go west (perhaps this time to North Dakota, where unemployment is just 3 percent). Certainly no shuttering of luxury retailers, which have thrived over the last few years.
And yet the recession has made saving money a little more legit. Something you can admit to in mixed company. As William Safire wrote when a new word -- frugalista -- was coined: "Concerned about your budget in this year's market debacle? Sharpening your pencil and tightening your belt, foraging for bargains but not altogether abandoning good food and good screens? Join the frugalistas!"
We may, slowly, be climbing out of the recession. (Economists say it ended in 2009 -- but economists tend to have tenured jobs at big universities.) Yet the cry to "join the frugalistas" remains. And that's because it's not just about money.
It's About Health
Compare the frugalista manifesto with what health experts keep telling us. For an example, check out the work of longevity expert Dan Buettner, who joined up with National Geographic to study "Blue Zones," societies around the world where people live a long time. Buettner came up with nine "lifestyle habits" that can lead to longer, healthier lives. Several of the habits are straight out of the frugalista's playbook.
There's "move naturally" -- using your own power to get around. Not surprisingly, the walking shoe and the bicycle are frugalista icons. According to Buettner, simple things like walking instead of driving, taking the stairs and gardening can add about four years to your life. Then there are the eating habits -- don't overeat, and focus on plants. Again, aiming lower on the food chain than feedlot-fattened beef is central to frugal dining. Add in a daily glass of wine, and Buettner says you pick up eight years of life. You'll save some cash, as well.
It's About the Planet
This point would fill a book rather than a blog. But for a visual example, try the imagery of photographer Chris Jordan, who has dedicated his art to showing us ourselves through the mirror of our garbage -- from the number of mail-order catalogs we toss every three seconds to how our ugly trash kills baby birds way out in the Pacific. A glance at a few of his photos will have you chanting "reduce, reuse, recycle" for at least a month.
It's About Choices
For the consumer, our economy is no longer like the old five-and-dime, where everything had a fixed price. Instead, it's closer to airline fares, where what you pay depends on when you buy, how you buy, and -- most notably -- what's important to you.
There are choices out there, though our marketing-driven society is loath to broadcast them. You should get to set your own priorities, even fly first-class sometimes when you think it's worth it. But you can't make the choice until you know the options.
And that's the idea here -- knowing the options. It's what my weekly frugal living blog posts will explore.
Read more: To Buy Or Not To Buy
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