How to Embrace Your Inner Cheapskate

Katy Wolk Stanley

Two or three times a month, Nicole Ladera of Norfolk, Va., gets together with other moms to talk bargains. "Before, it was a faux pas to discuss trying to save money," said Ladera, the founder of FrugalAndFabulousMoms.com.

As the recession rages on, however, Ladera has seen a boom in area moms interested in joining her penny-pinching group to seek out the best deals in town.

In the wake of the economic crisis, Americans are becoming cheap and, increasingly, proud of it. Instead of bragging to friends about luxury purchases, the new U.S. consumer takes pride in being frugal and is no longer self-conscious about saving.

"There's been a culture shift here in attitudes about thrift," said Barbara Whitehead, director of the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the nonprofit Institute for American Values in New York. A recent Gallup poll showed 59 percent of Americans now say they enjoy saving money, compared with 48 percent in 2001.

"It's no longer socially unacceptable" to want to save money, according to self-proclaimed "Coupon Mom" Stephanie Nelson. "Couponing used to be really nerdy. I know that look people used to give you at the store when you took out your coupons … now everyone else in line has them, too."

The trend is prevalent across the economic spectrum.

"People that I know that spend money like there's no tomorrow … are coming to me for advice," said Kristen Krause, who writes TheFrugalGirl blog.

This new love of thrift is likely here to stay. A survey by the business advisory firm AlixPartners found Americans plan to save 14 percent of their total earnings once the recession ends (Americans saved 1.6 percent of their total earnings in 2008 and 1.4 percent on average for the decade prior). Now that it's officially OK to embrace your inner penny-pincher, how on earth do these people do it? Here are the top "expert" tips to the frugal life:

Be Flexible:

From the brands you buy to the stores from which you buy, open your mind to avoid opening your wallet. Americans are increasingly learning that it's OK to buy used.

"I'm no longer getting the reaction of, 'Ew, that's gross, I can't believe you do that.' Now, it's, 'Oh, where do you go?'" said Katy Wolk-Stanley, the "Non-Consumer Advocate" who vows to only buy used items (with a few exceptions).

Higher quality items bought used will often outlast the cheaper brands purchased new. Used items are also a particularly great way for parents to save money.

It's OK to Buy Used

"With kids items, it's especially OK; I mean, they are just going to wreck them anyway," said Gina Lincicum, founder of MoneyWiseMoms.com.

Think Locally:

Check out local opportunities for swapping goods. Sites like Freecycle.org or Freepeats.org make it easy for one person's trash to become another person's treasure. Advertise what you need on these sites and more often than not, someone in your local area may be looking to get rid of just what you need.

Looking to clean out the closet? These sites are also great ways to get rid of your used items while also giving back to others. "It goes back to that basic sense of community," said Lincicum, who uses the sites often.

Libraries are also an amazing source for saving money on everything from books to movies and music and may be a good place to turn for family activities as well.

Step Away From the Mall:

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