The headline in the Wall Street Journal captured the story well: "What Inflation? The Super Frugal Say They Were Made for This Moment." The scourge of a rising overall price level isn't much of an economic problem for the super-frugal. They don't spend much money in the first place.
There has always been a fascination with the super-frugal, especially in tough economic times. For example, during the recession in the early '90s, Amy Dacyczyn became the reigning guru of thrift. Her monthly "Tightwad Gazette" newsletter (later a book) had a broad readership. Dacyczyn was a self-described "compulsive tightwad."
That said, I've never liked the idea of tying frugality with living as a cheapskate. The frugal life is the opposite of living like a tightwad with money.
Instead, the frugal are conscious consumers that try to be mindful of the ecological and social effect of their purchases and activities. A frugal mindset calls for a greater focus on quality and sustainability, not quantity and cheapness.
"Cheapskates aim to buy as much as they can for as little as possible, not caring much for the quality or environmental or ethical virtues of the items they're consuming," technology columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote in the 2008 recession. "To be frugal, on the other hand, is to consider the full ramifications of every purchase."
Adds Joe Pinsker in a 2016 Atlantic column: "Frugality is about appreciating simple pleasures and generally easing up in a society that encourages materialism and competitiveness."
People differ in how much frugality and sustainability enters into their household buying decisions and money finance actions. An added attractiveness of frugality in our difficult age is that the approach supports the desire of so many people to live with a sustainability consciousness.
Global climate change is real and being frugal is green, and vice versa. The approach only may make a difference at the margin, but in the aggregate they can make a real difference.
What's more, frugality also offers a sensible margin of safety against, say, bouts of inflation or the inevitable downturn in the economy.
When I looked up "frugality" in the American Heritage Dictionary, I learned that its Latin derivation is frugalis, which means virtuous and thrifty. The Latin base for frugalis is frux and frug, words for fruit and virtue.
I like the idea that "frugality" signals virtue bearing fruit through our savings, spending and giving decisions. Frugality is for all financial and economic seasons.
Farrell is economics contributor to the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media's "Marketplace."