'Frugalista': Great word, even better concept

Sarah Gilbert

A few weeks ago, one of WalletPop's lead bloggers and chief word geeks, Tom Barlow, sent around an email bringing our attention to the word "frugalista." I declared it should be the first entry to our "financyossary" (fashionable finance glossary) and made a mental note to write an ode to frugalistas.

In today's New York Times, William Safire agrees that "frugalista" makes a great word. (Better, he argues, than "hypermiling," "CarrotMob," or "topless meetings," all on the short list for the New Oxford American University's 2008 annual best new word -- "hypermiling" won.) The dictionary's definition is "a person who lives a frugal lifestyle but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying secondhand, growing own produce, etc." and Safire appreciates it for its timeliness (we'll need frugalistas in the next few years) and its sound, style and root words ("frugal" from the word for fruit, evidently cheap in the 16th century). Update: The Miami Herald hosts Natalie McNeal's 'Frugalista' blog; she's the poster girl of the frugalista.

I love considering myself, and a good percentage of my hometown of Portland, Ore. -- and hip equivalents like Brooklyn, New York and Berkeley, Calif. -- "frugalistas," and I think we would all do well to adopt some of the new style. It's becoming fashionable in many circles to show off one's creativity with re-using holey, accidentally-felted sweaters and the plastic bags in which newspapers are delivered (a local artist made a lovely wedding gown from Oregonian bags). A frugalista might be a "picker" at the Goodwill Outlet (known in Portland as "the Bins") who creatively snips the applique off a baby girl's shirt and applies it to the ankle of her Lucky jeans (found in a nearby bin), or makes a flouncy skirt from a dozen garments, bedskirts, curtains. A frugalista might ride a candy-colored cruiser bike (or even better, a souped-up ancient Schwinn with wide handlebars), saving money on transportation but splurging on a huge wicker basket for the front handlebars -- then carry enormous bunches of kale and leeks home from the farmer's market (because they're in-season and cheap!).