Recession tales: Frugal becomes fashion

The term "frugalista" may be trademarked, but frugality is so hip the practice deserves a new, rights-free term. Let's call ourselves the "frugalite," as in, "frugal" and "elite." Or call it "thrift store chic."

We may be doing this because of the recession, but baby? Frugal is the new awesome.

The frugal run the gamut from the truly extreme (counting toilet paper squares, re-using plastic wrap, making your own laundry detergent) to the practical environmentalist (biking instead of driving, fixing old appliances and furniture instead of buying, re-using glass jars and plastic bags) to the hipster broke artsy (making hats out of holey sweaters and wedding gowns out of plastic newspaper bags).

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, however, it's clear that frugality has had a resurgence of the sort not seen since the Great Depression.

And really: this looks so much like the time when my grandmother was a young bride, I often look to her generation for guidance. After all, that was the time when everything was patched, and patched again; when old sheets and curtains were made into dish towels and aprons and clothes for little girls; when nothing was thrown away until it was used up, beyond all recognition.

If I'm now impressed with those who can slim down to filling one garbage can a month, well, I would have truly been amazed at my grandmother, who likely filled one every six months or a year in her 20s and 30s. My mother, born in 1939 and now in possession of a comfortable income, still winces when my husband uses paper towels with abandon.

Frugal is this year's media buzzword. The charming (and very, very assiduous) W. Hodding Carter is writing a book and, until just now, a weekly column on, called "Extreme Frugality," where he and his family of six have set forth to live on an income of just $41,000 a year.

USA Today
has been following several "Frugal Families," who've they've teamed with financial experts to help them save money by cutting out iPhone service and filling their tires full to save gas (I know, not exactly the "frugalite," are they?). What? This frugal stuff is getting to you already? Then you have "frugal fatigue" (yawn).

Whether or not it makes you tired just thinking about it, more and more of us are living this way because it feels right, Recession or no.

You see, frugality is not just what you go without, but what you do instead of buying things. The frugalite are often gardeners, either in their own yards (food not lawns, you know), or in community gardens -- just like the Victory Gardeners of World War II. Why buy when you can grow your own?

When they're not growing food, they're joining food buying clubs, becoming members of community-supported agriculture (CSAs), buying in-season, frequenting U-pick farms, or simply going freegan and gleaning or dumpster-diving. Most frugal foodies I know (like me) combine many of these strategies, growing what they can; finding or swapping unpicked fruits, vegetables and nuts; sticking religiously to local, seasonal food; and never turning down marked-off produce.

The frugal aren't afraid to stop at a free box or pick up furniture from the side of the road. I've been doing a completely unscientific study on free toilets, which have been appearing on street corners that make up my typical weekly bike rides, and disappearing, too. Who is it that picks up a free toilet? I ask myself. Someone, surely, as they eventually get picked up. Free sinks, free couches, free glassware, and even free shoes disappear more quickly than the toilets.

And best of all, the frugalite make things better through their thriftiness. Among my friends, it's long been admired to show off one's creativity with re-using accidentally-felted sweaters, promotional t-shirts, too-small baby clothes, or to make a flouncy skirt from a dozen garments, bedskirts, curtains.

I have heard women declare loudly to one another over coffee or microbrews, "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."

Frugality has shifted from survival mechanism to art form, making this Recession-era practice a thing that will stick long after our GDP recovers and jobs are once again plentiful. Frugality is smart, green, and beautiful, and I'm proud to think of myself as one of the new frugalite.
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