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Cheap Thrills: The Up Side to the Recession

I have decided to celebrate our doomed economy. It's time to find something positive in that stack of bills I can't pay.

I'm not the first to look for a sunny side to the recession. As proof that you can put an appealing spin on just about anything, the trend police are now declaring that thriftiness is in vogue. This time, I think they're right.

The Joe the Plumber presidential ploy may have missed its mark, but the working class call to arms it invoked was an obvious reaction to a major shift in the mood of this country. There's a reason why so many people found Sarah Palin's pricey new wardrobe distasteful. Riding high on all that sodium and salt in a 22-cent bag of Ramen Noodles, American culture is turning on itself and embracing all things frugal.

Think of this as Time Out from those dizzy years of excessive borrowing and spending. And if you were cheap before, rejoice in the knowledge that now you don't have to hide it. Austerity is in, the Recessionistas say. It's time to flaunt your Wal-Mart underwear. Dig deep and find your inner plumber.

It should be noted that I write this while wiping grease onto my sweatpants from a 30-cent hamburger from McDonald's. And, yes, I'm lovin' it. There's something oddly satisfying about doing your own pedicures, packing school lunches, cutting coupons, drinking tap water and brushing your teeth with baking soda. It's the same stretch-a-buck glee you get when someone compliments you on your shirt and you say, "Oh, this? I got it at Target!"

Aren't I smart? Aren't I cheap? Aren't I cool?

I'm not talking about switching from Starbucks to Dunkin' Donuts. That's for budget-cutting wimps. I'm talking hard-core penny pinching, the kind my mother practiced in our one-income, 1970s household, where plastic bread bags were washed and dried out to line our boots from the snow, tea bags were used twice and bed sheets were hung outdoors on a clothesline. When you crawled into those stiff, air-dried covers at night, they smelled like the grass cut by my brother, not a $60-a-week lawn crew.

If you're having trouble enjoying the credit crunch, just think of it as a chance to return to the simple life. We all know that, in retrospect, it's those years spent truly struggling that remain most vivid – and strangely dear – in our minds. Remember back in those early days on your own when a bowl of cereal or a cold can of Spaghettios would do for dinner?

Think about how wonderful life could be in a Depression. No more ginormous SUVs taking up two spaces in the Publix parking lot. No more suffering through yet another Miami dinner party listening to someone brag about how much his property has gone up in value. You can stop worrying about your portfolio and start spending more time starving with your family. With no money to spend on movies or a night out, you might even have time to read a book. Think of all the great hardship stories you'll have to tell your grandchildren.

Join me in raising a glass to toast a new era of anti-indulgence. A $6 bottle of Pinot noir never tasted better.

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