A Good Deal: The Carefully Curated Life

I love getting a good deal as much as the next person. Maybe even more so, given my roots–my grandfather was a horse dealer in Ireland on a grand scale. Decades ago, when the King of England went shopping for a birthday gift for his daughter Elizabeth’s sweet 16, his advance men turned up at grandfather’s horse farm. They chose his finest chestnut pony. I remember asking my mother if he drove a hard bargain with the King’s men. With her chin held high she explained that smart people mutually understand the value of something. Dickering is not required.

The folks at Nielsen recently released research concluding that consumers are demonstrating a “new frugality” that’s sticking. Spending is shrinking. Saving is the new chic, suggests Nielsen.

Our own research reveals that while Nielsen is correct in some ways, frugality behaviors vary greatly according to level of education and lifestyle behaviors. Americans who read, buy or download lots of music, carry library cards, attend cultural events and hold museum memberships are constructing a new value equation. They are finding ways to “curate” their lifestyles to maintain those elements that symbolize cost cutting, while re-assuring them that they’re not on a forced march to the poor house. They are tapping into free cultural events: concerts, poetry readings, festivals and the like. They are using their public library rather than walking into Borders. They do so to make room in their budgets for “must-have” experiences.

Frugality is one of those cultural dimensions that suggests slow adoption rather than stark change. Our research shows that some people are living carefully curated lives to survive these times. That’s a good deal.