Monday, May 10, 2010

Defining frugality

I just read what struck me as a fairly pithy definition of frugality. It was in a New York Times article about, of all things, a pharmaceutical company based in Israel. One thing that sets this company, Teva, apart from the giants of the American pharmaceutical industry is the way it uses resources (for example, no corporate jets). The article quotes one of the company's officers as saying, “Frugality doesn’t mean doing less. It means doing as much or more with less.”

The thing I like so much about this line is that it counters one of the most common misconceptions about frugality: that it's the same as deprivation, as going without. That kind of thinking leads people to assume that the only reason to be frugal is that you have no choice—in other words, that frugality is for “poor people.” The point that I've tried often to make, and that the Teva executive made particularly well, is that frugality doesn't mean going without; it means getting the most you can out of what you have. It's about abundance, not scarcity, and it can benefit people on every rung of the income ladder.

The formula that Amy Dacyczyn (all hail the Frugal Zealot!) used to express this idea in her Tightwad Gazette books was, “Frugality without creativity equals deprivation.” If you try to save money without thinking creatively, you'll end up going without. But if you put some thought into using your money effectively, you can spend less without feeling deprived. In fact, your frugal choices may end up enriching your life (as I discussed in my Associated Content piece, “Saving Money Isn't About 'Sacrifice'”). I'm pleased to see that there are at least a few folks in the corporate world who take the same view.
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