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Hip to be solvent?

Frugality shouldn't be trendy.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 25, 2009 2:58PM
Inside a neighborhood newspaper recently I found a coupon section with the headline, "Frugal is hip. It's OK to clip."

Hip? Suddenly I'm hip? For years people debated my sanity, sometimes openly, because I shopped thrift stores, used coupons, made soup stock from chicken bones. Turns out I was just a bit early to a party that others have finally deemed cool enough to attend.

At various times in recent history it has also been hip to wear shoulder pads, cook with oat bran and turn rocks into pets. I don't want frugality to be hip. I want it to last.

Trendiness is the kiss of death. By definition a trend doesn't endure: It's simply the latest big thing, soon to be replaced by another big thing. When the movie "Flashdance" came out, leg warmers became the must-have accessory -- for a while. When the Iranian hostages were released, merchants couldn't sell yellow ribbons fast enough.  

A little girl I knew absolutely had to be near a TV at a certain time in order to watch "Lizzie McGuire." Her dad semi-apologetically explained that she would melt down without her Lizzie fix. Later on maybe she graduated to "Hannah Montana." Heaven knows what she's watching now.

My point? At various times in our history, clearance racks have bulged with leg warmers, yellow ribbons, and TV-character merchandise. Had to get rid of it so we could make room for new trends.

Recently I spoke with Stephanie Miles, a contributor to a PF blog called Recessionwire. Young people are talking openly about getting the best deals, she said, and are actually proud to use coupons. In fact, some folks are embarrassed to admit they did pay full price.

"You want to be seen as a savvier shopper," Miles said.

Yet it wasn't that long ago that people were bragging about how much they spent. Anybody remember conspicuous consumption?

I expect that this trend will last only until the economy swings the other way. Then most of us won't be able to get enough of the next big thing -- particularly if it's rare, expensive or nearly impossible to get a reservation for.

Here's an idea: Decide what's valuable to you and do it. But do it consistently. Clip a coupon with conviction, not for bragging rights. To strive for frugal hip-ness is ultimately as empty following any other trend, and as pointless as putting shoulder pads on a pet rock.

Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who embraces frugality and finds it to be a saner, more rewarding way to live. Especially compared to lying awake nights worrying about bills, or watching the repo man drive off with your Lexus.

Or maybe you'll just use it to survive long enough to be offered another credit card. When you do, I'll make you a good price on some oat bran.

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