Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style

By Marjorie Harris
House of Anansi, November 30, 2008, $19.95

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a home where being thrifty was second nature, thanks entirely to the creative talents of my mom. Although we had enough money to buy things new, Mom thrived on finding deals at flea markets, garage sales and church bazaars. My mom was so skilled at repurposing someone else’s old items as cool new treasures, she turned it into a business.

But somewhere along the line my own love of finding something that was a great deal became, well, an obsession. Thanks to Craigslist, Value Village and generous back alleys on garbage day, my home overflowed with neat knick-knacks and not-quite complimentary clothing that served only to fill space in our small house. I had clearly lost the true meaning of being thrifty.

Marjorie Harris’ new book, Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style helped me see where I’d gone off the rails. Weaving concrete advice from her own life with stories and ideas from many of her frugal friends — including Margaret Atwood who encouraged Harris to write this book — Thrifty offers encouraging, entertaining and eclectic ways to live a frugal life with style.

Harris’ book is divided into chapters, focused on helping people frugalize their home, their fashion and the food they eat. She also has chapters with advice on being a thrifty citizen, gardener and traveller. I was pleasantly surprised that Harris’ idea of being frugal does not mean being stingy or going without. Rather, Harris’ philosophy seems to be that spending money on things that truly make you happy — and are within your budget, of course! — is the cornerstone to living a frugal life. And, that living a frugal life will almost undoubtedly lead to living a happier, more fulfilling life.

Here are some of Harris’ Thrifty tips that are especially relevant this time of year:

Wasting money on gifts that people won’t adore, don’t need, or worse, will feel burdened by is not frugal! From the chapter, The Frugal Home, Harris recommends: “Don’t ever give anyone a present that they have to live with — i.e. an object they can’t eat, burn or drink — unless you are absolutely certain that they desire it.”

From the Frugal Foodie chapter, Harris addresses mastering the art of using left-overs — something most of us will have to deal with this season — by suggesting, among other things, serving left-overs to guests! She also provides two lists of must-have pantry items and some mouth-watering recipes for the frugal kitchen.

Planning to travel over the holidays? Advice for the Thrifty Traveller includes how to be frugal but not a freeloader, seven rules for packing (including her own and her husband’s personal packing lists!), and where the frugal traveller should splurge and when she should save her money.

Thrifty manages to achieve something few advice books pull off well: it’s both a helpful resource for people who are new to the idea of living a frugal life and who need concrete ideas for changing their current shopping and spending patterns, and it’s an engaging story that will provide several a-ha ideas to even the most seasoned (but imperfect) thrifty shopper.–Donna Barker