March 1, 2009

The other day I was waiting to board a flight in New York when they called for upper class passengers.

I've never seen so many wealthy people in one place. One by one they boarded - a steady stream of furs and silks and Hermes handbags.

The stores on Madison Avenue must have been empty; all their customers were on my flight. I know how much it costs to fly in upper class - thousands - and these were not people who looked like they haggled for upgrades with air miles.

I've read reports recently that rich people are afraid to flaunt their wealth. Not on transatlantic flights.

Then again, they did look like they should be on a private jet. Maybe upper class is a way of tightening their belt.

"Haven't you ever heard of a Frugalista?" my friend, Laura asked. I hadn't.

Was a Frugalista a fashionista who cut back on the blow drys?

Unless you're a retired rebel guerilla fighter in Nicaragua, anything with 'ista' at the end of it can't be good.

Everyone is obsessed with being frugal. But there are varying degrees of what this means. I looked up the word Frugalista and the definition is someone who manages to stay fashionable while bargain-hunting and pinching pennies. For instance, Beyonce, not exactly a barometer of understatement, has been anointed a Frugalista because her mother makes her clothes.

But wearing a gown that your mother designed from the fashion line that you own - is that really frugal? I suppose self promotion can be considered thrifty because you don't have to hire a publicist.

The new frugal me is hardly a Frugalista. I think of myself as more of a Fraggle.

The Fraggles were a variation of Muppets that never caught on. But in my mind, a Fraggle is someone who's frugal yet still manages to haggle whenever possible.

I come from a long line of Fragglers. My grandmother would take me shopping but only for things on sale, that I didn't want or like. Then when it didn't fit properly, she'd try to get a discount.

Other times she'd ask me, 'what sort of fruit do you want?' I'd say, "blueberries' and she'd give me a look. "We'll get the grapes, they're reduced."

I never wanted to think like that. But now I don't have a choice. I'm constantly asking myself, 'do I really need this?' and usually the answer is no.

Unless it comes to sushi. I've cut back in many areas but eating out is still a challenge. Before I left New York, Laura and I had made plans for dinner.

There were several emails back and forth about what to eat and where we should go. Eventually we decided on Japonica which, as far as sushi in New York goes, is hardly considered cheap. But we set a goal. The check would be $50 or less. Laura knew the menu by heart and did the math.

"If I get the yellowtail roll, a miso soup and a salad, I can make it." I had another method. I would snack at home beforehand.

Also, the restaurant was within walking distance so the money I saved on the subway there and back was an order of edamame.

I loved that we considered a budget meal was going to an expensive restaurant - and not eating. If only I could use that system in other areas. Like cut back on my mobile phone bill by not talking.