A National Shift Toward Frugal Living?

by Ryan Guina

My friend and I were eating lunch in our break room like we do most work days, when he pointed out something interesting to me. “Ryan,” he said, “have you noticed there are a lot more people brown bagging it now?”

I looked around the break room. It had gotten more crowded in the break room over the last few weeks. Now it could be the weather – no one likes to go out in the snow. But when I thought about it a little more, I realized it started before the really cold weather hit, or shortly after the economy went in the dumps.

I have seen similar stories being reported on the news. It seems the popular topic to write about, blog about, and report about involve ways to cut back on expenses. In an uncertain economy, people are more willing to cut back on expenses, repair old or worn items, or do without. It’s unfortunate that it took an economic crisis and a large increase in unemployment for the media to cover a basic financial principle – spend less than you earn. Regardless of how we got here, I think the shift toward frugal living is a good one, and I am happy to see it. And I’m not the only one.

A push to bring back National Thrift Week

National Thrift Week was a national event celebrating responsible living. It ran from 1916 to 1966 and started every year on January 17th, Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. The idea is to promote the 3 pillars of thrift: industry, frugality, and trusteeship. Americans joined together every January in celebrating Have a Bank Account Day, Invest Safely Day, Carry Life Insurance Day, Keep a Budget Day, Pay Bills Promptly Day, Own Your Home Day, and Share with Others Day. In short, just about everything one needed to be financially responsible.

Thrift week was a great idea, but one that eventually ran out of steam and fell to the wayside due to a lack of sponsorship. Now, BringBackThriftWeek.org is leading the charge to bring back Thrift Week. Their goal is to build publicity throughout 2009 in order attract government sponsors and institutional partners to join their campaign. Spreading the word about frugal and responsible living is an excellent goal and I hope they can find a sponsor.

What’s your take on the frugal movement?

I’d love to hear your opinions on the national shift toward frugality. Has the economy affected your attitude toward frugal living? Have you cut back on spending since the economy crashed last fall?

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Published or updated March 18, 2009.
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Writer's Coin

I’m very skeptical. This is supposedly going to convince the very same people that used to bellow on about how they want their SUVs no matter the consequences because “this is America.”

I don’t know that frugality is even compatible with a lot of people in this country. It would be great because I think the country needs it. Needs a return to its roots and a coming together.

OK ok, off the soapbox. Oops!


2 Ryan

No, I agree. There are a lot of people who will complain and moan about prices, then continue living their lives without making adjustments. Life is about making adjustments. But there are a lot of people who are making changes, and it’s good to see that. Frugal living is something I have always practiced, so it’s good to see it becoming more mainstream.


3 Ryan

You’re absolutely right, Sam. I know quite a few people in debt as well. The problem is, some of them think it is normal – that people are supposed to be in debt.


4 Sam

We sure could use a national thrift week. I still know people who don’t own a bank account or who are in piles of debt. You gotta look out for yourself, and that means not going into too much debt.


5 Kristen

Interesting post Ryan. Since I work for a credit counseling agency, we were just talking about this today. Several of our counselors said they have definitely noticed that people are trying to be more frugal, and we’re starting to see more people who don’t have unmanageable debt, but are calling to do a credit counseling session just to have a good budget review and get some tips and an action plan as far as their home budgets and credit/debt management.

I really hope that something positive comes out of all of this economic sense in terms of people being more aware of their finances and spending habits and being more proactive.


6 Ryan

Glad to see some more people are taking an added initiative. There is no time like the present to get on top of your finances!


7 Craig

I am too young that the economy hasn’t affected me the way it has others. I do brown bag and cook my own meals though, as not only a way of being more frugal, but healthier as well. I try to take the initiative on my finances for things like food so maybe I can have more for other circumstances like my social life. It always needs to be balanced with me.


8 Kristy @ Master Your Card

I’m definitely seeing more of a trend towards frugality as well. I work for a credit union and we’re seeing a lot of our members coming in wanting to talk more about budgets and emergency funds. It’s great to see people taking financial responsibility, but I worry this is only temporary. The Great Depression inspired a generation of savers, but it was very different then. I worry that people will revert to their old habits when the economy shifts again.

Personally, I learned long ago the need to be frugal with my finances. I don’t always follow my advice and sometimes I fall off the bandwagon – particularly when there’s a huge DVD sale going on – but for the most part, the downturn hasn’t really affected how I’m saving because I do that already.


9 Steve

Frugality offers the opportunity to simplify one’s life. A way to reintroduce human relationships. With all of the stress built up by excessive wants and extravagance – here’s a chance to tone down and enjoy life.


10 TStrump

Have definitely cut back on spending but wouldn’t really say I’m frugal.
I do drive a ’94 Tempo, though, and it still runs great.
I try to buy most things on sale – the biggest thing I’ve cut back is entertainment.


11 Ryan

Kristy: I worry that it may be temporary as well. But I hope it isn’t. The longer this recession lasts, the more permanent a change this will instill in people.


12 jBill

I’ve been economizing for so long now, I think it’s permanently ingrained. A shift towards thriftiness in the U.S. is not a bad thing.


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