Frugality is the new normal and that's not a bad thing
Once upon a time, frugality was so uncool. It was unhip to talk about saving money. It was cool to aspire to live a luxury lifestyle, and anything budget related was dull.
Back in 2015, I went to a national blogging conference on the Gold Coast called Problogger, run by blogging monetisation expert Darren Rowse. That August, there were more than 700 participants. There were shopping bloggers, travel bloggers, mummy bloggers, food bloggers, photographers, interior designers - and around four money bloggers.
People looked at me blankly when I started talking about my passion for personal finance and frugality. Someone even suggested it was a bad subject as there was no money in it. What brands would work with someone who wrote about saving money rather than spending on luxury brands?
Fast-forward to 2020. The Barefoot Investor has been one of the most successful books in recent publishing history. My book, The Joyful Frugalista, was published by Murdoch Books last February with a mission of making frugalista a trendy thing. And now I'm finding the word frugal - and even my own favourite frugalista - is popping up in all sorts of unlikely places. I even read an article in The Toronto Star last week that talked about how frugal is now cool because it's a sign of good decision-making (I totally agree).
The recent drastic change has been triggered by the shocking and deadly reality of COVID-19, which has ground our conventional, capitalist system to a halt. But even before that, Australia's economy was reeling from the prolonged double-whammy of drought and bushfires. It's hard to find a family in Australia that hasn't been affected by these changes, whether it's school closures, job losses, burnt homes, service on the frontline of emergencies (or in a supporting role) or the despair of the long drought.
What has saddened me most about these difficult times is the lack of preparedness. Australians are among the wealthiest people on the planet, yet we have had some of the highest levels of household debt in the world for many years. This should have been a giant warning sign. I'm conscious that many have been struggling from the effects of wage stagnation, increasing housing costs and high energy prices.
But for many, there's been a culture of enjoying our lifestyle, of treating ourselves and leading a carpe diem life with no real regard to the future. This is not to criticise because I think many of us (myself included) do elements of this. The social pressure to spend, whether it is on restaurants, holidays or shopping sprees, has always been high and it can be difficult to choose a frugal lifestyle.
I'm enjoying the fact that, amid the gloom, frugality is enjoying a new renaissance. Previously, I used to field semi-regular questions about whether a frugalista lifestyle was fun. I'm glad that I no longer need to justify why doing frugal things like baking at home, cycling and staying in with my family playing games are worth it.
I no longer need to prove that I'm depriving my children by forcing them to live a frugal lifestyle (no, I don't starve my children and we are middle class normal - but I don't try to buy their love with stuff). With many struggling to put food on the table or to pay the bills, I'm also profoundly grateful that my frugal lifestyle has prepared us to be resilient at this time.
I love seeing genuine interest in exploring meaning through relationships, and valuing family and communities over stuff. Decluttering and minimalism is in.
Many of my friends are baking sourdough, and I've almost lost track of the number of times I've gifted sourdough starter. Previously, I struggled to give away puzzles, yet now there is a steady stream of jigsaw puzzles being gifted back and forth on my Buy Nothing project. The skies in my city are bluer than they have ever been, and wildlife is reclaiming parts of our cities.
Through this challenging time I'm optimistic that it is an opportunity for change and reflection. When our treadmill day-to-day reality is tipped on its head, it's worth looking inward. What makes our hearts sing? How can we be better global citizens? What are our values, and are we living consistently with them? Were we happy with our lives before all of this, and if not, how can we change? And above all, what are the things that are important to us, and what is just clutter and distraction?
Yep, frugality is the new normal, and I don't think it's such a bad thing. In fact, I think it's an opportunity for long-lasting positive change that could strengthen communities and help planet earth.
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