If you read the Wall Street Journal, you may have noticed an article last week entitled New Frugality Worsens Downturn.  It talks about the perils of individual frugality for the larger economy.  (If you want entertainment, sample the response of WSJ readers who commented on the online article – let’s just say they have little sympathy for the argument that it’s our patriotic duty to spend!)

I won’t jump into that particular debate right now. Instead, I’ll share an insight I got a few years ago about money and what happens when it’s in shorter supply.  Some readers may know that after 10 years with a consulting and training company, I decided to quit in April of 2003.  Our family had saved a cash cushion and I decided to take a sabbatical of up to one year.

The sabbatical was a great experience on many levels and I probably learned more in that year than in most 12 month periods of my life.  One of the biggest lessons I learned was how many problems I had solved in the past simply by throwing money at them.  A little bored with what’s in the cupboard? Go out to dinner! Have a friend who’s down? Buy them a gift! Curious about a book or movie? Click on amazon.com!  Sick of the normal family vacation? Go to Spain!

That all changed when I took the leap out of the corporate world.  Of course we still spent money, but we started to look for other, more ingenious (dare I say frugal) ways to meet needs and wants.  I took up cooking again.  We discovered our local library.  We had fabulous family vacations camping in the north woods.  I mowed my own lawn again.  I even dug out dandelions by hand.  And while I was very happy to see cash flowing back into the family, I must say we had some wonderful times learning to solve our problems creatively during that year.

Here’s my point: perhaps as a country, as companies, and as non-profits, we have over-depended on money to solve our problems over the past 20-30 years.  Frugal people aren’t necessary less happy – but they are more ingenious!  They find ways to solve problems with no (or less) dollar signs attached.  They work together to solve a problem ingeniously (how about sharing a snow blower or lawn mower instead of everyone owning their own?).

Necessity can be the mother of invention and a downturn can be the mother of ingenious, “hey, we did it!” solutions.