Back in my college days, I spent some time in Vermont working in the service industry. Living among “Real Vermonters” was quite an experience, and one characteristic that stood out to me was their frugality. The Yankee way is to buy good quality merchandise, use it until it wears out, and then find some other use for it.
While this may seem quaint but impractical to some city-dwellers, the frugal life is now making a comeback. Business Week recently ran a front-page article on “The New Age of Frugality” in which they tell the story of a family who changed their entire way of life in order to get out and stay out of debt. This movement stems in part from recent financial pressures like higher gas prices and lowering home values, but there is also a deeper cause. Some people have become sick and tired of running on the never-ending treadmill to pay for things that will wear out before they’re paid off.
Several books have been published recently which speak to this issue of thrift and debt. Ronald Wilcox released a book in June entitled Whatever Happened to Thrift, published by Yale University Press. This book is primarily about saving and why Americans can’t seem to do it. He also offers solutions which the government and banks could put in place to help change this problem.
Another book, while perhaps more controversial, talks directly about debt. Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood points to the fact that debt is not just a political and economic issue, but a cultural one as well.
Others joining this movement are The Institute of American Values which has launched a site on thrift at www.newthrift.org which contains articles by prominent writers around the issue of thrift. A movement of people calling themselves “freegans” has sprung up with the goal to avoid the American culture of consumerism and find sources of free things instead. And you can also check out sites like www.freecycle.com where you can offer and obtain items for free, which others no longer want or need.
With the recent depreciation of many retirement accounts, we should all be looking for ways to save a few dollars. Expect this movement to continue to build up steam as mortgage, credit card and college debt becomes unmanageable for families.
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