Is Frugality in the Air?

It started slowly with concerns about rising food and energy costs. Next came the mortgage meltdown. Finally, news coverage reported that more than half of Americans plan to use their rebate checks to pay down debt or boost savings. Now, I’m seeing car commercials that encourage people to pay off their credit cards. Is frugality in the air?

Frugality in the News

This Sunday, the Los Angeles Times business section was entirely devoted to frugality and personal finance. They detailed the rising costs for food, fuel, and housing, all of which are crimping everyone’s budgets. According to their report, food costs are expected to rise 3.5% this year. And not just pre-packaged foods, but the basics like bread, milk, and eggs.

They also profiled five people who recently realized the importance of frugality. The feature I found most interesting was the recommendation to buy all your food, including produce and dairy, at 99 Cents Only stores. I had no idea they carried produce! My friend reports that it’s poor quality, however, so I don’t think I’ll start shopping there.

Frugality in Commercials

Of course, it wasn’t terribly surprising to find tips for saving money in the newspaper. I was very surprised to see a recent Honda commercial encouraging buyers to use the money the save on the car to pay down their credit cards. Now, buying a new car isn’t necessarily frugal, but I’ve never actually seen a commercial for a product that advised customers to get out of debt. Is paying off debt now such a buzz word that even advertisers see it as a tactic?

What’s the Cause of this Interest in Frugality?

I think it’s a confluence of factors, really. The costs of food, energy, and housing are a big concern for the average family. The last five years have been a high-flying time for homeowners, but as prices come crashing down and all other costs rise, most people realize that the stodgy recommendations to save money, pay down debt, and live wisely aren’t old-fashioned. They’re smart bulwarks against rising costs.

There are also other factors at work:

Baby boomers retiring. As Baby Boomers look at the possibility of living another 40 or more years and having to pay ever rising medical costs, I think some of them are ready to start pinching their pennies.

Gen Xers lacking hope. I don’t buy into the generalization that all Gen Xers are cynical and hopeless, however I don’t know a single one (and I am one) who expects to get money from social security. We’re going to live a long time and we don’t have a big safety net, so more of us are starting to value frugality.

Gen Yers dealing with more expenses. Gen Yers were the generation that seemed to grow up with the most stuff, but now that many of them are balancing spiraling student debt, the costs of living on their own, and the reality of having to pay for all of that stuff out of their own pockets, I think they’re starting to question the value of the stuff.

Growing environmentalism. As more people become aware that something must be done to ease climate change and the way we treat our world, I think frugality has also entered the conversation as a way to conserve and preserve our resources.

Awareness of other cultures. Specifically, the awareness of how other cultures view us and how we affect them. As more nations advance technologically, they adopt our wasteful ways. It’s not good for the planet or our species, and I think more people are realizing we have to reverse the trend toward wastefulness.

Of course, these are just my theories for why frugality seems to be in the air these days. Have you noticed a greater awareness of frugality? What do you think is the cause? Tell me in the comments.

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