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The New Frugality by Chris Farrell

The New Frugality [3] by Chris Farrell is a new personal finance book that discusses a growing trend in America towards frugality. As we claw our way out of the Great Recession, American families are going back to smarter and safer spending after a near decade at the buffet table of cheap credit. This isn’t a book with a million different ways to pinch a penny, it’s a book that seeks to teach you how to be smarter with your money in actionable ways.

For most books, there’s usually one big idea followed by dozens of examples. Once you understand the big idea, there’s not that much more too it. For example, Automatic Millionaire’s [4] main idea is that if you make something (saving) automatic, then you’re more likely to accumulate wealth. Set your 401(k) contribution when you start work and even if you never look at it again (which is dangerous), you’re going to be better off. The Millionaire Next Door’s [5] main idea was that there are millionaires all around you and they didn’t do anything special, outside of being smart with their spending and their savings, to get there. The flash and jazz of superstar athletes or actors was just that, flash and jazz, but there are plenty of quiet millionaires… living right next door to you.

So what’s The New Frugality’s main idea? It’s actually quite subtle and he reveals it in the first few pages. Personal finance isn’t really about stocks, budgeting, or any of that stuff. Those are just the things on the surface. It’s really about deciding how to live your life, what you value, and then being smart with your money so you can create a good life with the things that are truly important. When you think about it in those terms, it’s easy to see where all the various pieces of the puzzle fit in.

Where New Frugality differs is in the wealth of information he provides in support of that main idea. After years of helping people with real personal finance problems on Marketplace Money [6], he’s acquired a great perspective on the issues that are really troubling those who call in. I hesitate to call it representative of Americans, but I don’t think doing so would be that much of a stretch. As a result, his advice is both actionable and timely.

I connected to one passage in the book that I thought was funny. When Farrell was growing up, his family was both frugal and green. The first was deliberate while the second was accidental. All the things you associate with being green has to do with consuming less, because it helps you save money. He said his mom never turned on the dryer and always used the clothesline. Growing up, we didn’t even own a dryer!

Overall, it’s a good book about frugality that doesn’t focus on pinching every last penny. It establishes a good framework for a healthy and sustainable way to be smarter with your money, including being frugal. I especially liked the idea of how frugality establishes a greater “margin of safety,” which enables you to take intelligent and sensible risks later. Finally, and I hope you take this idea away with you, personal finance is really about living a good and fulfilling life, part of which means avoiding the bad mistakes that could derail your quest to that end.