Is frugal living just a fad?


I’ve been asked this question a lot lately. While promoting my book the media have consistently asked if I think we’ll return to our spend-thrift ways after the recession. I’m always stumped with this line of questioning because I’ve never been good with predicting the future.

So I want to know what you guys think. Let’s all raise a crystal ball, summon the Ouija board spirts, and consult our Magic 8-Balls (you owned one right?) and attempt to answer the most important money question of our time:


Question: Do you think frugal living is just a fad? Will we return to our spend-thrift ways after the recession?

Fox’s Answer:

Since I’ve never been a “spend-thrift” I can only be what I am – and that’s a quirky gal who lives below her means, who values the work needed to earn a dollar, and who loves to save money.

But enough about me. I honestly believe there will be a lot of people who will continue with frugal living. I’ve seen this scenario with my grandparents who lived through the Depression and they never changed their “money minding” ways. Besides, having money is always in style and working less has always been my fad.

Your turn! Is frugal living a fad? Are you a reformed spend-thrift just waiting to spend big bucks after the recession?


  1. David Richards July 22, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t believe that being a spend thrift is a fad. It is good money sense. There are people who are interested right now because of the economy, but hopefully the lessons will stick with them long term.

  2. Wojciech Kulicki July 22, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I think that the recession has forced many into frugality, but that is one thing that recessions are good for – a return ‘to the basics.’

    Having said that, I think that everyone who lives through it will have a different mindset about spending money. We’ll become those ‘grandparents’ that talk about how things used to be ‘during the depresion.’

    Obviously, the current situation is not as bad as the great depression by any measurable or observable means, but I think it will stick in our minds like one.

    So all in all, I think frugality is here to stay. People have finally realized that money does not purchase happiness and we don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. Hoo-ray! 🙂

  3. Four Pillars July 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    It’s as permanent as Paris Hilton’s new best friend.

    People who lived through the depression and the second world war in Europe went through far worse conditions than most are is facing now. A 10% unemployment rate is not life changing for the vast majority of people.

  4. Riscario Insider July 22, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    The herd mentality gets people doing the wrong things at the wrong time. Look at how people invest. The gratification from spending comes now, the pain later. Credit cards make spending easy and paying easy (all they want is the minimum monthly balance …)

    This week, a recent college grad said she graduated without understanding money. I asked how that happened. She had a credit card with a $2,000 limit and used it freely without understanding the consequences. Her classmates are like her too. And her parents. What about the masses?

    Frugal living looks like a fad with the urge to splurge on its way. Personally, we’re in the live-below-our-means group and resist whatever the herd shouts.

    To quote singing sage John Mellencamp: “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” Similarly, you’ve got to save for something (e.g., emergencies, retirement,…) or you’ll spend for anything. Present company excluded, of course 🙂

  5. Rob Bennett July 22, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    There are going to be people who discover the joys of frugality and never turn back. So it’s not entirely a fad.

    But there are a lot of people becoming frugal because they feel forced to become frugal. Those people are going to be happy to switch back to mindless spending as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

    I believe that the non-financial benefits of frugality need to be stressed for it to take in a permanent way. Frugality is not just a money thing. It is about gaining freedom and opportunity, it’s about gaining more control over one’s time and life. Those who get into it enough to see that stick with it.


  6. Caitlin July 23, 2009 at 4:50 am

    I agree with Four Pillars – for the majority of regular, everyday people, I think it’ll be, sadly, a fad.

    I would like it if it was a permanent change in mindset, but the Great Depression was much worse, for more people, for a longer period of time.

    While I certainly think that many people will use our current economic times as a wake-up call and will continue to live frugally and below their means after it’s all over, I think more will return to their spendy, credit-card-debt-holding ways “because they deserve it after doing without during the recession”.

    I just can’t see today’s average American or Canadian citizen suddenly becoming a thrifty, saving person in the same vein of the grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. I can see some trends changing, and while I hope spending levels won’t go up as high as they were a few years ago, and while I hope savings levels will continue to increase instead of dropping back to almost nothing as they were a few years ago, I don’t see most people continuing the thrifty ways they’ve developed over the past year.

  7. William McDuff July 23, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Frugality is just a set of skills that people become aware of. Once you’re aware of the skills, you’ll use them for the rest of your life. If frugality falls by the wayside, it’s not that people are becoming less frugal; it’s that people aren’t learning to be frugal again.

  8. Susanne July 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

    We’ve recently killled some credit cards with bankruptcy.
    I’m looking forward to not having them. Ever notice that when you’re near the limit, the company just increases the limit? Or when you try to close accounts they won’t let you off the phone without a major struggle that involves getting nasty with the customer service rep?
    I think frugal is no longer equated with “being cheap”, but yea, I agree that when the economy becomes lush again, so will the majority of shoppers.

  9. guinness416 July 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    All those lazy journalists will find something else equally trendy to write about eventually, but I imagine plenty of people will have picked up some good habits along the way. And there’ll always be people who become frugal when they buy a house or lose a job or realize their parents’ housekeeping hints are interesting after all or whatever, even if they rarely use the word (I don’t).

  10. Laine Colorado July 24, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Frugality is how I have lived for a long time. Many people will believe that this is not as bad as the depression. True. However, I think that the unemployment rate is not an accurate figure. Many people are underemployed or no longer collecting unemployment. I hope that people will not lose the lessons being learned about frugal living.
    Unfortunately, like some raised in the depression they didn’t stay that way. When the economy improved, their lives improved, and they had a good life. They learned but they forgot to teach their children about being frugal. They spoiled them by giving them everything they didn’t have. Now here we are. They do not have the survival skills their parents had. That is why this time will be worse.

  11. Timmy July 24, 2009 at 4:43 am

    Frugal living is a lifestyle choice. I’m constantly looking for ways to save time and money with minimal impact on the environment. And when I retire… I’ll be faced with the same problems with a limited income.

  12. SmilingLady July 24, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Frugal living a fad? I’ve been living this way for 60 years! I’ve been flipping my swiffer sheets since the first time I used one, replaced them with other fabric cloths for a damp mop, though I’ve never tried washing them.

    But I often hung paper towels up to dry for reuse, and don’t normally use them; I don’t normally use paper napkins, or paper plates, take navy showers, reuse, reduce and when possible recycle.

    For some frugal living might be a fad; for others it’s a long term life style.

  13. Kelly from Almost Frugal July 24, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. I think a lot of people are becoming frugal out of necessity- I know I did! As long as the factors exist that make people need to spend less, they will, and until there is a major, society wide shift in consciousness and behavior patterns, there is a big risk that people will go back to their consumerist ways as soon as they can.

  14. marci July 24, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I’ve always been tight with a penny so I don’t see that changing.

    What we are seeing is maybe not so many people just turning to a frugal way of life because they want to, as people who cannot afford to live another way – necessity and no money.

    Probably for those who are spending less out of necessity, there may be a resurgence of blowing money once the money is available again. For a few of them tho, they will ‘see the light’ and how it benefits them, and then some will adopt frugalness just because they WANT to, and not because they HAVE to.

    It’s not a fad, in that a fad would be more like spending money on something because it’s cool… or because it’s in… and frugalness by necessity is more of what is happening at the moment.

    Those that were frugal long ago will continue to be frugal – it’s in our blood 🙂

  15. […] Is Frugal Living Just a Fad? The media has made much to-do over the idea that Americans are saving more and spending less due to the economic recession. Some out of necessity, but there is an implication that frugality is now more mainstream than it ever has been. I believe that’s an exaggeration. Perhaps we have been to the point where circumstances necessitate a change in consumerist behavior, but very few things in life are permanent. Entire generations have been identified by generalized adjectives such as “frugal;” current behavior is simply a reaction, not a permanent shift in behavior. […]

  16. CindyS July 25, 2009 at 5:15 am

    If we look at the folks who lived through the Great Depression, many, many of them developed not only a frugal lifestyle but a habit of saving that followed them all of their lives. I think that the people who have been hit the hardest by the economy at this point will continue to live a frugal lifestyle. The folks who it did not affect as much will continue on spending away. For myself, I have always tended toward frugality.

  17. […] Squawkback: Is frugal living just a fad? @ Squawkfox […]

  18. Marj M. July 27, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Frugality will always live in me, always has, always will. If anyone remembers, after Jesus fed the 5,000 he had his disciples gather what was left. Frugality lived long, long ago.

  19. Carla | Green and Chic July 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Though I had my moments, I was never really loose with my wallet, so for me, my habits are here to stay. For the rest of the world, I am not sure. Hopefully people will realize that they can have a rich and fulfilling life without overspending and going into debt, be it credit cards or mortgages.

  20. Wifeish Money January 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Many will be frugal until they are no longer afraid of the big bad recession or losing their jobs. Just like some people diet until they can fit into those jeans and then gain it back later. Frugal living is a way of life that one must commit to just like quitting smoking or getting in shape.

  21. s1mp13m4n August 7, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    If I am speaking for the general public then yes this is a fad. People seem to want things now, newer is better, they want convenience and are willing to pay for it. For me on the other had, I try and save and spend money wisely so for me it is not a fad. I see no need to go out and buy a Hybrid car when my 16 year old Ford runs just fine and gets over 30MPG.

  22. Alli November 3, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    I just left China. The mellowness of the people I met was life changing. “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery”. The people I met save 50% of their income. Does this include pensions, medical care, housing, etc.? But when it comes down to what there is to spend for a period of time, cash is paid!!

  23. Alli November 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Whatever your denomination, the Noble Eightfold Path described in Buddha philosophy could keep many out of the situations they find themselves in and give a new perspective to many things most people already know. Broaden your mind, not your $$$/debt.

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