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SAN FRANCISCOMillions of Americans have trimmed expenses because they have had their jobs or hours cut, or fear they will. But a subset of savers are reducing costs not just with purpose, but with relish. These are the gleefully frugal.
"I'm enjoying this," said Becky Martin, 52, who has cut up her 10 credit cards, borrows movies from the library instead of renting them and grows her own fruits and vegetables -- even though her family is comfortable.
Martin is a real estate investor, her husband is a plastic surgeon and their home sits on the 12th hole of a Cincinnati country club.
"It's a chance to pass along the frugal lifestyle that my mother gave to me," she says, noting that her sensibilities seem to be rubbing off not just on her sons but also on her husband. "We're on the same page financially for the first time in years, and it's fabulous."
Americans' spending is down and their personal savings are up -- sharply. The savings rate in the United States, which had fallen steadily since the early 1980s, dropped to less than 1 percent in August. It has since spiked to 5 percent.
"It's huge," said Martha Olney, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in the Great Depression, consumerism and indebtedness. The rapid reversal is even more remarkable, she said, because in recessions consumers usually save less money. Not this time. "It implies a reemergence of thrift as a value," she said.
The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in out-saving the Joneses. The mantra is cut, cut, cut -- magazine and cable subscriptions, credit cards, fancy coffee drinks and your own hair.
All about minimizing
In San Francisco, Cooper Marcus, 36, has started choosing recipes based on the ingredients on sale at the market. Marcus canceled the family's subscription to Netflix, his premium cable package and a wine club membership. He uses a program on his iPhone to find the cheapest gas and drives out of his way to save 50 cents per gallon.
"It seems a little crazy," he laughs, then adds: "I'm frugal and loving it."
"There is no joy in other people suffering, but this validates the choices I've made," said Vicki Robin, author of "Your Money or Your Life," a guide to saving money that was a best seller in the 1990s and was rereleased last year.
Currently, there are dozens of websites and blogs devoted to celebrating conspicuous cutting, like Dollar Stretcher (www.stretcher.com), All Things Frugal (allthingsfrugal.com), Frugal Mom (www.frugalmom.net), and on and on. The website meetup.com, which helps people of like interests gather offline, lists 57 "frugal living" groups around the country, including eight formed in February and nine in March.
One part of the gleefully frugal movement, frugalistas -- frugal fashionistas who refuse to sacrifice style -- may have been popularized in Britain before crossing the Atlantic. But Americans have taken it on as their own.
A Virginia group, the Frugal and Fabulous Moms, tells prospective members: "If you are a coupon-clipping, deal-seeking, stylish and fabulous mom that loves a great deal, then this group is for you!"
A San Francisco group met one Sunday last month for an exercise in fashion frugality: a clothing swap. About 80 women exchanged clothing, shoes and accessories and they are planning another event for April 20 where they hope to have 400 participants.
"When a woman gets a compliment on a dress she got at a swap or the Salvation Army, she feels almost proud," said Suzanne Agasi, organizer of the event and operator of the website clothingswaps.com.
People at the event "feel like they've scored," she said.