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I thank my lucky stars for lessons in frugality

I doubt there is anyone who's sorry to say goodbye to 2008 and all its economic woes. If we started out not understanding why we, the taxpayers, were getting stuck with the bill for bailing out Wall Street, we soon got it when we stepped up to the checkout counter.

Just the other day I was at T.J. Maxx and overheard a clerk apologizing to a shopper because her credit card was declined. The woman standing in front of me turned to her friend and said, "They say that kind of thing is going to happen more and more because of the banks."

The cold reality is setting in: Americans are having to relearn the fine art of frugality. Well, some of you are. I'm already way ahead of the game.

I guess everyone didn't have the benefit of growing up with two Virgo parents. Virgo, in case you don't know, is the tightwad sign of the zodiac. To Virgos, practicality is a religion, and every purchase needs intense mulling over. Virgos are champion mullers.

The only area where Virgos tend to be extravagant, ironically, is appliances. Any machine that lets a Virgo clean, organize or eliminate better or faster is as cool and coveted as a Wii.

I, on the other hand, came into the world a luxury-loving Libra. Libras adore indulgence, especially if it tastes good or makes the world a prettier place. For most of my life, I saw frugality as a big, hairy hand putting a choke-hold on my inner Martha Stewart.

To retaliate against what I considered to be my parents' unreasonable attempts to mete out goodies, I became a hoarder. While my three brothers polished off their chocolate bunnies and Peeps in fits of sugar-induced ravaging, I kept my stash safely hidden, taking bites a day at a time. I could nearly make it to the next Easter on one giant-size coconut egg.

I used this same tactic for everything that might be considered an excess distribution of wealth in our house: Christmas stocking goodies, birthday money, weekly allowance. I even admit to occasionally stockpiling packages of Tastykakes that were like chocolate gold to me and my siblings, just in case we ran out before the next grocery shopping day.

So frugality to me is nothing new; it's simply become the new "in" thing.

This makes me suddenly feel really hip, and a green proponent to boot! My secrets for living well with less come from a lifetime of self-denial and, of course, the fate of my birth to two astrologically cheap parents. If a hoarding Libra can do it, so can the millions of Americans who now find themselves having to bite the bullet of unrestrained spending.

Going without, for many, is a radical concept. I know a lot of kids who have been raised only in an atmosphere of plenty who are probably going to suffer irreparable mental damage when mommy and daddy put spending limits on their charge cards, or take them away altogether.

I imagine therapists across the country are giddy with the prospect of treating thousands for thrift-related panic attacks. If you feel yourself slipping into an apoplectic numbness at the idea of going frugal, I would strongly suggest you find yourself a Virgo. They've got it down to a science.

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