Spreading the New Frugality: A Manifesto

This essay discusses how frugality is suddenly coming back into fashion in our culture, and how we can do our society a favor by helping it along.
As representatives of the small but growing minority of Americans who take pride and pleasure in spending less money rather than more, I believe we have an obligation to society to spread the ideas of The New Frugality--especially now.

What exactly is the new frugality? Well, it's really just the same as the old frugality. It just seems new to lots of people of this generation. But thanks to a stiff credit crisis, 10% unemployment and a good old-fashioned recession, being frugal is coming into vogue once again.

It may seem counterintuitive, but recessions are actually good for society. They help us put things back into their proper perspective, and they remind us that life is about much more than our stuff and our status.

Therefore, if there was ever a time for the frugal lifestyle to go viral, with all of the cultural, financial and environmental side benefits that accrue with it, it's right now.

Let's face it, humans tend to act in herds. That's why the stuff-and-status mindset became so contagious during the boom. Today, however, more and more members of society are casting off the old stuff-and-status lifestyle and they're trying out this newfangled frugality thing.

And they are finding that being frugal doesn't have to mean wearing tie-dyed shirts, cutting your own hair and being cheap. Not any more.

Instead, they are finding the real truth of the new frugality: that you can save money, be a better steward of the environment and live a higher quality life by thinking a bit more about what you buy and how you spend your money.

That snotty comment I made a few sentences ago about humans acting in herds? Well, watch what happens as the current recession progresses and as these heretofore heretical ideas about saving money rather than spending it begin to spread. More and more people will find it easier and easier to follow along.

So, to all my readers, and to all of the food bloggers, debt bloggers and frugal bloggers out there: our obligation begins now. We owe it to our economy and to our society to spread the culture of the new frugality. Now is the time, because there's never been a more receptive audience to our ideas.

If you've already taught yourself to cook and you've mastered some inexpensive recipes, share your skills by inviting your less-frugal friends over and cooking for them. You won't even need to say a word about the savings of cooking at home, just show them. The delicious food and the great times will make the idea an easy sell.

If you're a regular Casual Kitchen reader, then you've successfully escaped the clutches of the culinary-industrial complex and its overpriced second-order foods. Well, now it's time to help your friends escape too. Write about your ideas and insights on this subject in your own blog.

Do you usually meet your friends out for dinner and drinks? How about hosting a dinner party at home instead? Or instead of dropping $70 in a loud bar, shouting over your appletinis, why not learn to mix great drinks yourself and invite your friends to your home? You'll save money (not to mention your vocal chords), and your popularity will increase in direct proportion to your mixology skills.

Pretty soon, your other friends will want to host their own dinners at their homes. Guess what? Suddenly your entire social circle will be spending a fraction of what it used to spend, and you'll be having more fun than ever.

And if you don't yet know how to cook, team up with a friend and learn together. Scale your spice costs and your cooking gear purchases across two households. You'll eat healthier food, you'll learn some great skills--and you'll both save a ton of money.

These may be modest ideas, but they can have meaningful results. If each of us helped a friend save some extra money, spread just a little bit of our cooking knowledge, shared our ideas on frugality, or shared our time enjoying experiences that really matter, we could collectively make an enormous difference across the whole of our society.

Readers, what's your take?

Photo credit: Tracy O

Related Posts:
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
Applying the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking
How to Team Up in the Kitchen

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!


Kate said...

I have practiced frugality for most of my life, not out of necessity but out of habit. It was the way I was raised and I see no point in changing that habit even if you could. I've even heard talk of this 'new frugality' movement and it makes me want to hurl. There's nothing new about being practical and wise with your money but somehow this economical weakness around us has opened all sorts of eyes to something that has been a part of life since our grandparents were infants. It's the same sort of feeling I had a few years back when I read an article in a food magazine where they were talking about this 'fun new trend of eating locally'. I about spewed my coffee. Every time something becomes verboten in the general population, everyone seems to think it's 'new'. It makes me cringe. And seriously, I could go on and on about it but I think I've stated my point enough. I'm there with the frugality as I've been there all my life. Thanks for speaking out on it!

martha in mobile said...

Beware, Food Bloggers in search of first-order food converts, that the road is neither easy nor short. We recently ate at the home of friends who wanted to make a "home-cooked dinner" for us, who had cooked for them on many occasions. When it appeared there weren't enough instant mashed potato flakes (!!) in the box, the husband surreptitiously added Bisquick (!!!!!). Now my husband not only refuses to eat at their house, but he buys cheap wine for when they come to eat at ours.

Kate said...

Oh my god, Martha.....that topic is an entirely different soapbox to get on!

I can't believe what some people will call 'home cooking'. Ugh....

Dave said...

We have a some of foodie friend couples and often trade off having each other over for dinner. It's always a cheap, tasty, good time.

Like a lot of folks, we're looking for the best bang for the buck when it comes to food. When one of us finds a deal or discovers a really great product, we make sure our friends know about it too.

Anonymous said...

Back to packing lunches for work and skipping on the late afternoon lattes. Trying Basikbox to help portion food.

J.N. Urbanski said...

Agreed! Bling should only be the sound that your egg timer makes. I think it's more about getting back to the conscious spending of our grandparents and trying not to be a nation of debtors. Hey Kate - if you already eat locally, then where did you get the coffee that you "spewed"? I've been dying to find local coffee for years!

Marcia said...

Great post!! I have been practicing frugality for quite awhile...and of my friends and coworkers, we have almost a silent group.

I am unopologetically frugal in my life and cooking. I do spend more here and there, when necessary (but I can afford it). Case in point: my son's shoes are literally falling apart. So I bought him a new pair. Instead of searching around for used shoes (he does have one pair of used ones that fit).

Luckily, our best friends are Asian, they cook from scratch too.

Joanne said...

Ever since I started living on my own and cooking for myself, frugality has become central to my way-of-life. I am always scouting out sales at the supermarket, sometimes visiting multiple stores in a given day to find the best deals and have eliminated most, if not all, second-order foods from my life. (I just cannot rid myself of ice cream). I also have a policy about eating out wherein if I can make it myself, it's not worth buying. I have also given up buying presents for my friends for their birthdays in favor of baking things for them, which is the gift that keeps on giving because we can partake in enjoying it together. All of these little things add up and it is certainly true that if everyone became a little bit more aware of their spending situation, the benefits would be many.

Daniel said...

These are all excellent insights.

A couple of thoughts: First, to Kate: the bottom line is not everybody can be the first to embrace something. My feeling is, if pretending frugality is "new" helps the ideas and the benefits to spread, then I'm all for it.

Martha, Bisquick??? Come on. But it reminds me of friends we have who buy canned pie filling and store-bought pie crusts and claim that by combining the two they are "baking a pie."

Dave, I like your idea. We do the same.

Anon, those are great places to start.

JNU: Ha, love it! My timer beeps five times though. :) Completely agree that it helps no one to be "a nation of debtors."

Marcia, good for you--keep it going!

Joanne, thanks for chiming in. I have to say I think ice cream is a vital food group--second order food or no.


The Diva on a Diet said...

I love that you're encouraging those who are less experienced cooks to make a party of it and learn together. Now that's my idea of a party!

I heartily agree with entertaining at home as well. Not only is it less expensive, but its often much more delicious and so much easier to socialize with everyone present.

I'm a big believer in packing my own breakfasts and lunches on the days I work outside my home. The savings, of course, are wonderful - and its so much healthier than eating out.

chacha1 said...

I am a baaaaaad example when it comes to food frugality. I would generally rather host a dinner party than set up a dinner out - it costs much less overall and offers significant benefits in terms of comfort and privacy - but even in that scenario, we're not talking grilled burgers or tuna salad. We're talking filet mignon or seafood paella with good wine.

It's still a rather obvious indulgence, in other words. Anyone who buys food would know that an appetizer of endive with goat cheese and smoked duck breast is in a different cost class than the mini-quiches from TJ's.

To friends who only see us on such occasions, it might be hard to believe that there are many more nights when we dine on a $5 Newman's Own pizza, or a vat of homemade chili. Even perceptive people only see what's right in front of them, most of the time.

So while I'm not by any means disagreeing with the thesis, I guess this is an area where I don't quite see how modeling the behavior could realistically work unless with people who share ALL one's meals.

And in those cases, I'm guessing the one making the frugality decisions is probably the one buying the groceries and doing the meal planning, so the rest of the household isn't actually participating in the decision.

Am I missing the point or just being Monday cranky? LOL

Daniel said...

Chacha, I don't think you're missing the point at all. In fact I think you and I are on exactly the same side of the fence here. You can host a dinner at home with friends at far less cost than dinner out. That's the activity I'm suggesting modeling, not necesarily that your friends have to replicate your specific food choices. (PS: And hehe, I'd love to snag an invite one of these days!!!)

My point is you can feed everybody very well--and in your case amazingly well--for less money and fewer resources. If that's not a solid definition of frugality, I'm not sure what is.

Thanks for an interesting take on this post.


chacha1 said...

LOL any time you're in L.A., Daniel, look me up (I think you know how to find me!). I will be happy to feed you!

Okay good then. The point actually WAS to live rich for less by DIY, and not necessarily to sweat "being an example."

Which is good, because Porterhouse Bistro closed, anyway. :-)