I get my penny-pinching ways from my father. He grew up in the Depression and never escaped his childhood habits. If bananas were cheaper at one store than another, that’s where he’d head. He saved rubber bands, string (pieces tied together and wound in big balls), children’s clothing passed down from one to another, magazines. He wasn’t a hoarder; his things were fairly well organized, and he didn’t purchase for the sake of the buy. He was a saver. Once he recycled an old lounge chair into a bed for my little brother’s overnight visits. He pinned the fraying, interlaced webbing to the frame when it began wearing out. Another time he used a rope as a belt. Fortunately, although I was humiliated in public, this wasn’t with a business suit but over the weekend.
Now I’m somewhat the same. I’ve washed, saved and re-used small plastic bags and dutifully accumulate the larger ones for groceries and trash. At restaurants I pack home the bread that accompanies meals and bits of leftover meat and vegetables destined for soup. I excuse myself by claiming to be a conscientious environmentalist, tender of the earth.
I can’t blame these habits simply on my environmentalism though. I often compare prices on menus to see if ordering à la carte is cheaper than ordering the dish as it’s listed. The other day I discovered if I asked for eggs, toast, and hash browns separately, I’d save almost two dollars! When I pointed this out to my patient granddaughter, she simply nodded and murmured “mmm-hmm.” My thrifty ways embarrass her. When my family was poverty level, I prided myself on cost-cutting. It was a game to see what I could save.
Now that I no longer am broke, I still pride myself on my parsimony. But I’m beginning to wonder why. What am I saving things, including money, for? Shouldn’t I allow myself to enjoy it? This idea occurred to me when I caught myself wanting to scold my husband for writing the items he wanted me to buy at the grocery store ON A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER, not on my original list! Didn’t he know he was wasting paper? Even I had to admit this was going a little far. After all, I make our scratch paper from sheets with one blank side rescued from the trash.
More importantly, I may be denying myself opportunities to delight in my life by focusing so much on saving. Let loose and have some fun, I tell myself. Buy a new coat since the old one is threadbare (I did). Donate the broken futon to someone who will repair it, and buy yourself another (I did that, too). Go out to dinner once a week. Pay someone else to paint the living room. Take that cruise now that I can afford it. After all, the value of money lies in freeing me to experience different things and to relieve me of the tedium of poverty. As long as my income is five dollars more than my expenses, I’m rich.