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“The New Frugality” by Chris Farrell – Book Review

the new frugality book coverDifficult economic times are trying for everyone, making a gentle voice welcoming in a media atmosphere of harsh words, finger-pointing, and predictions of doom.

Chris Farrell, author of “The New Frugality,” is the economics editor and personal finance expert for American Public Media’s Marketplace Money. He advocates sustainable, careful financial planning that is also psychologically healthy.

Farrell recognizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and personal fulfillment as they relate to the notion of financial health, and his book reflects this. His tone is respectful and honest, yet gentle, and offers a balanced consideration of various financial choices that many people must make throughout their lives.

A Frugal Mindset

chris farrell new frugalityIf you pick up this book expecting a step-by-step guide to living off wild plants, raiding garage sales, or how to be an extreme couponer you might be disappointed. Instead, Farrell encourages the development of frugality as a mindset that affects how we spend and invest our money in many different contexts.

Throughout the book, Farrell caters to the reader that has money or will eventually have money that he or she can spend or invest. He seems to have written with a specific audience in mind: educated, socially conscious, and middle class.

What Farrell’s book doesn’t do is provide solutions for readers who didn’t attend college or who live in rural areas, far away from industry, business, and jobs. Still, he wisely encourages readers to lower their expectations. For example, in Chapter 10, Farrell notes that while a college education used to be a growth investment, today it more closely resembles an unemployment insurance policy.

Healthy Changes in Life

This book, like Farnoosh Torabi’s “Psych Yourself Rich,” encourages healthy changes in how we think about money, our life goals, and what makes us happy. Farrell gives us a brief history lesson on how American consumers became more and more dependent on credit over the years in an attempt to maintain an unrealistic standard of living. He also treats us to stories of well-known personalities, as well as regular folks, who made both good and bad decisions about their careers, education, and finances.

Interspersed with storytelling, the book includes pertinent facts and solid analysis. For example, Farrell offers a nifty formula for determining whether to buy or rent a home, and ways of calculating whether supposed cost-reduction strategies, such as using a clothesline instead of a dryer, truly saves you money.

Finding some of these nuggets of fact and wisdom takes some digging, however. After a while, Farrell’s yarns can get a bit distracting. But are they merely padding? Certainly not. The anecdotes are relevant, and Farrell presents his stories in a personal manner. However, I often found myself wanting Farrell to get to the point, and almost missed some good information because I wanted to skim, rather than read yet another real-life story. Perhaps Farrell could have been a bit more frugal with his anecdotes to ensure that readers did not miss out on some of his most valuable tips and advice.

save money by being frugal

Overall Analysis of “The New Frugality”

Positive Points

  1. General Insights. Farrell does a good job of addressing concerns common to educated, middle-class people who are working, but who are also uncertain about their financial future. He realizes that these folks need to rethink the way they manage their money and their lives, now that prosperity is not so easily gained.
  2. View on Home Ownership. I really like the way Farrell addresses the issue of home ownership. Instead of painting it as the ultimate “American Dream,” he notes that while it can be a sound goal for some people, it can be a mistake for others. He offers a realistic picture of the expenses involved in owning a house, as well as a nifty formula that readers can use to determine whether to rent or buy a home.
  3. Breakdown of Higher Education. Even better is Farrell’s chapter on higher education, entitled “The College Sheepskin.” Farrell neither makes an idol of the college degree, nor does he downplay it. What he does point out is that while a degree isn’t a golden ticket, it can make a person more marketable. He also offers tips on saving and paying for college, including 529 college savings plans, going to a community college for the first two years of a  four-year degree, and taking advantage of federal tax credits.


  1. Heavy on Stories. Like many writers and commentators, Chris Farrell has the ability to draw on a large cache of anecdotes, and he does so liberally. While there is nothing wrong with this, and many of his real-life examples are quite helpful, anecdotes dominate Farrell’s prose, sometimes obscuring some of the good, practical advice and hard facts that should be the book’s focal point.
  2. The Title. I was hoping that “The New Frugality would include more practical information about frugal living. While there are some good tips for reducing living expenses, and remarkably good sections on taking a frugal approach to higher education and home ownership, a lot of this book is devoted to investing money and managing assets. This information will be helpful for some readers, but for those who got hit hard by the economic downturn, it will not be – at least, not until they get back on their feet.

Final Word

Chris Farrell is a tremendous writer who advocates a sane, responsible approach to personal finance. While his book contains a lot of sound information, it is sometimes difficult to locate because of Farrell’s preference for stories and anecdotes. However, if you are a part of the intended audience, this book can provide you with a sober, yet hopeful view of managing your personal finances to ensure long-term security for yourself and your family.

Have you read “The New Frugality“? What’s your take on Chris Farrell’s book?

Bloomsbury Press, 256 pages, paperback

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen holds master's degrees in Library and Information Science, Theological Studies, and Divinity, and spent five years working in regulatory compliance for a major education publisher. A lifetime Chicagoian, she recently spent almost a year living in the woods of Southern Oregon before deciding to head back home to her family and friends.

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