April 2018

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NL #13: Pshaw. I'm not cheap. Frugal, maybe...

NL #13: When my Grandmother E. was 96, her clothes dryer went on the blink. Dad suggested she get a new one, but she was frugal and said, "Pshaw." (that's a southern expression that discounts whatever you've said as ridiculous.) Dad countered, "Mom, you have the money. What are you saving it for?" Her response: "My old age." She laughed.

Like my Grandmother E., I’m frugal—I’m sure some would say cheap. I once heard my grandmother call someone with a lot of money who didn’t give any away “cheap.” My grandmother, like myself, admired frugal but not cheap. Cheap, maybe, is about the way we treat other people. Cheap people demand a lot of service and tip poorly if at all; like our landlord before we bought our own home, cheap people buy cheap paint for others to paint their home in a gazillion coats; cheap people bring Bud Light to a party and drink Redhook.

Frugal, in contrast to cheap, is about making the decision about how to spend money. I try to take a whole trip on one bus ticket, for example, so that I don’t have to pay the extra fifty cents on the return. It’s not the price. It’s the habit. Recently, I needed to buy extra underwear. When I went online I saw that the ones I wanted were on sale if I bought at least three pair and shipping was free if I bought at least ten pair. I now have ten new pair of undies. I love a deal. As someone who’s frugal, I don’t just think about monetary value. I think about cost. I’m more likely to eat organic foods, for example, because even though they cost more money, I hear they have less impact on the environment. Cheap people consider only monetary cost: other costs to justice and human labor and the environment do not figure into their calculations.

My siblings, in contrast to me, have always been a bit classier and freer with the cash than I am. When my brother first went to college, my dad had a talk with him about how much Brother Matt was spending. Matt seemed mystified. “I’m spending it on clothes.” When Dad pointed out that Brother Matt’s sartorial spending was twice Dad’s, Matt was unimpressed, “Yeah, but look at your clothes.”

The first time Sister Jenn—whose home includes a carriage house, tennis courts and swimming pool-- visited our home in Seattle, she walked in the front door, looked around, and said to herself with some surprise, “We could stay here.” When I went into teaching I had assumed that I would need to live in a storage shed. An old one. Apparently, she did, too.

I didn’t grow up poor. When I was in third grade, our family moved into the 4000 square foot ranch home that my parents designed. My parents still live in that home: each gets 2000 clearly demarcated square feet and, afraid to cross into enemy territory, they holler to one another from one part of the house to another. When I asked why they didn’t downsize, Dad said, “We’d get half the house for twice the money.”

I think it’s easier to be frugal when I’m someone who has options. I’ve noticed that cheap runs the socio-economic spectrum. So I’m sticking with frugal. When (and if) I’m in my nineties, I hope I’ll still think about what I’m going to buy and what can be left unbought.

Excuse me, now I need to do a little online shopping. Mary


  1. Grandmother's response---"My old age." Love it, I can picture that silly grin of hers, too.

  2. Do remember Pat Naumann's story about finding a small box among her grandma's (?) things labeled "String Too Short to Save..." That' frugal!


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