The other day, a friend and I were talking about the things we do to be frugal. We were discussing all the tips and tricks we’ve learned to save money and cut down on waste. We were also discussing how, with the current economic downturn, more and more people are learning how to be frugal. They are visiting websites that deal with frugality, watching money saving segments on TV, reading books on simple living, and seeking hints on any ways to save money.
Now, my friend is usually a pretty level headed guy who’s kind and understanding. But during our discussion, he dropped this bomb on me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here because some of it was unrepeatable), “I really hate all these people who are suddenly trying to be frugal. A year ago, most of them were looking down on us, ridiculing us for being thrifty, couponing, shopping at thrift stores, and growing our own gardens. Now they want all our tips and hints that we worked so hard to learn. Nobody taught me how to be frugal. I learned it in the school of hard knocks and I think they should, too. I’m not telling anyone how to save money; they can kiss my butt. Why should I give up my hard learned knowledge to a bunch of people that the minute things turn around will be back to consuming and wasting like mad? Why should I give away my secrets so that these losers can crowd my favorite thrift stores and compete with me for deals? You won’t catch me telling any of these people how to save.”
At first I was shocked, especially since this was coming from a guy who will loan you any tool out of his garage or help you with any repair. But when I thought about it, I did sort of see his point. It is difficult being the “frugal oddball” at times. We frugalites have put up with a lot of strange looks and nasty comments over the years. There are the cashiers (and patrons) who roll their eyes when you whip out a stack of coupons at checkout or ask for a price adjustment/price match. There are the people who mock your homemade gifts, even though those gifts are more useful and unique than anything that can be bought. There are the people who tell us we’re crazy for spending time hunting for deals and that we should “value our time” and just pay full price for something. There are all the comments about “missing out on life” because our frugal ways mean that we don’t have everything we want. But we’ve endured it all because we know the value of our way of life. And now that the recession is here, everyone else is coming around to the frugal way of thinking.
Now that being frugal is cool, more and more people are wanting to know the secrets of the frugal life. I have noticed that the good thrift stores in this area are getting more crowded (and some have raised their prices, I think, to cash in on their new found popularity). The grocery store is more crowded on the day the new sale flyer comes out and there are more people with coupons in hand. Store brands are scarcer. The local seed store sold out of spring seeds about a week after they put them out. When things go on sale in the Sunday flyers, you’d better be there when the store opens or you’re out of luck.
So I see my friend’s point. The things we always took for granted and enjoyed as “secrets of the trade” are now more crowded and harder to find. This new “frugal is cool” movement is impacting those of us who have always been frugal. Our secrets are out and we’re competing with a lot more people for our deals. And it is a little annoying that these new converts have so much information at hand that will make it easier for them to become frugal. Those of us who have always been frugal, before it was popular, had to learn the hard way, through trial and error. There were few people or experts out there telling us how to cut costs and reduce waste.
But I don’t share my friend’s viewpoint that these new converts can “kiss my butt.” I look at the growth of frugality as a good thing and am willing to help people along in their own frugal journeys. If a large number of these recent converts remain frugal, the demands on our planet will decrease. We will have less waste and pollution. People will be healthier. More money being saved is good for the economy in the long term. If more people are frugal, the likelihood of this doomsday recession happening again is less. Families might become stronger. There are a lot of benefits that go with frugality on a large scale that go beyond simply saving money.
While it may be inconvenient that my local thrift store is more crowded, demand should bring other stores to the area and force those that are currently cruddy to clean up their acts to compete. It may stink that store brands are harder to find, but increased demand might force stores to start stocking more and making more varieties. It may be annoying that all these new people have a wealth of frugal information at their fingertips, but the plus for me is that new viewpoints and ideas are coming to the fore that I can add to my own library of information. If more people in my neighborhood become frugal, it opens up more possibilities for carpooling, resource sharing, swaps, and bartering. Now that frugality is cool, I am less of an oddball. People actually want my advice instead of looking at me like I have a disease. So I say bring on the new frugal people!
My friend does have one hope to relieve his frustration. I suspect that he’s right that, when things turn better, many of these new frugalities will go back to their free spending ways. For many, the conversion is only out of necessity, not a lasting change of heart. And when that day comes, our good thrift stores will be empty again and store brands will be easy to find. Our expertise will no longer be in demand and we will be left alone. When frugality is no longer cool, those of us who make it a lifestyle will find it easier to pursue again. But we will lose a lot of benefits that come from having a large frugal population. And we will be back to being derided and dismissed as freaks. It may be frustrating to suddenly have to share our resources, but the tradeoffs are worth it. I, for one, welcome any and all new converts to the frugal lifestyle.