'Frugalista': Great word, even better concept

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!).Frugalistas live in cities like Portland, where women declare loudly to one another over coffee or martinis, "I got it for $1.50 at a garage sale!" or, "I made it out of my brother-in-law's old pants! He was throwing them away." They live in New York, where fashion designers prowl the streets and budding artists and writers can't afford not to embrace the concept. They live in parts of San Francisco, where hipsters proudly tell the 70s provenance of their authentic rocker tees and plaid jackets. You'll find them behind coffee shop counters, on terrible-but-attractive off-off-off-Broadway actors, in the back rows of Math 121 at the local community college, behind the mic at the cool non-demoninational youth group held in an ill-used warehouse.

Frugalistas eat well because they cook from scratch, join organic produce buyer's groups, and grow their own vegetables and raise chickens for healthy eggs. They get together for book clubs and cheap French wine instead of cocktails; they meet for crafting sessions instead of manicures; they shop at bazaars instead of malls for holiday gifts. Frugalistas are prepared for the economic downturn, and they're looking good.
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