You're not likely to see me buying any lattes

I was born frugal. I was also born clean and orderly. My dedication to the last two items has sometimes left people speechless because, as I suppose, they consider me neurotic and don’t want to risk setting off a crazy man. But have people ever given me hell about my frugality! Some of my happiest childhood memories are of taking my 25-cent allowance down to the polished marble of State Bank where hot-looking tellers treated me like a man. What do my detractors remember? Throwing away money on crap they didn’t need and didn’t even want a week after they got it, and that's assuming they didn’t break it on the way home?

My father-in-law, Earl, overlooked my drinking, my atheism, and my hippie fro. Likewise, he said nary a word about my screwing around; was silent regarding my inability to hold a job; didn’t flinch when I put my marijuana pipe in the sink for his wife to wash (although he flinched a little when I played Back in the USSR just for him); and never complained about me being kicked out of the Air Force after he had pulled strings to get me the assignment I wanted; but he has harangued me for 42 years because I save money. He had another son-in-law who declared bankruptcy, and I sometimes wonder if Earl ever bitched at him. The last time he was on my case was the last time I saw him, naturally, when he looked at me quite somberly in the presence of four other people and suggested that a lead coffin wouldn’t protect my money from the fires of hell. Okaaay! He’s a Baptist deacon, and I’m pretty convinced that heaven isn’t where most of them are going, so I’ll just have to bow to his expertise.

Given her father’s attitude, you’re probably wondering how Peggy feels about my frugality. Well, she’s frugal too, which makes it a little odd that Earl never criticizes her. She makes noises every now and then about splurging on something, but she doesn’t have it in her to truly go overboard—knock on wood. Like me, if there’s something she really wants, she gets it. Also, like me, she buys better than average quality (it’s seldom sensible to buy the very best), but we’re people with simple tastes. We’re also people who tend to anticipate bad things happening and to prepare for them. Money is a great protector from much that can go wrong in life—it’s literally a lifesaver in America where the government and insurance companies have no problem with allowing people to die by the thousands in what politicians call, “the most generous nation on earth.” If Peggy and I weren’t frugal, she couldn’t have cut back to working part-time several years ago, and she sure couldn’t be planning to retire in two years.

The biggest difference between us regarding money is that Peggy is more likely to buy something on the spur of the moment (“I’m going to treat myself,” as she puts it), whereas I usually think about a purchase for anywhere from a few days to a few months. The usual result is that I lose interest in buying it. When I do buy something on the spur of the moment, I regret it more often than not. For example, I bought a scented oil diffuser last month. If I had thought the purchase over for a few days, I would have remembered that Peggy and I often have opposing scent preferences, but as I stood there in that shop, I made a decision to allow myself to ride a wave of emotion. I justified this by telling myself that I was being childlike when what I was really being was childish. Now, I’m sorry I abandoned my usual prudence, and I regret owning something I don’t want but don’t have a great way to get rid of. My country is facing bankruptcy and my species is burning through the earth’s resources like there’s no tomorrow (which might be true given how we behave) because most people are improvident, and my purchase, small though it was, exemplified that.

I suppose Earl must think I'm denying myself too much, but I actually have no desire to spend money on anything I don’t already own except for a few items that cost so much they’re no brainers. For instance, I wouldn’t mind having a new van to camp in and a new car for Peggy to go to work in simply because I would anticipate them being more dependable than our old ones, but our ’93 Chevy and’98 Camry look good, run fine, and have less than a hundred thousand miles on them. I would also like to build an addition onto the house so I could maintain a resident masseuse to massage me in the middle of the night when the pain wakes me up. Travel? No, it’s too much work; there's no place I want to go that I haven't already been to; and I would miss my house, my cat, and my dog. I wouldn’t mind an occasional train trip maybe, but there’s no place in the world I had rather be than the Oregon coast, mountains, and deserts, and each of those is within a two hour drive....

I just thought of someplace I would like to go. I would like to have a private pilot fly me to cities with world-class gardens, museums, and plant conservatories. A chauffeur would pick me up, take me to an elegant hotel, and then drive me back and forth until I had seen everything. Too bad I can’t afford a live-in a masseuse or luxurious trips to art museums. As for new cars, I wouldn’t pay what they cost. Other people do, and if they think a new car is worth a year’s labor not counting interest, that’s fine with me, but to put it out there in all its bluntness, I would feel like an idiot.

Something else that strikes me as so outrageous that I can’t imagine doing it is gambling. I drove through Vegas once and stopped long enough to take a look at the inside of a casino. While there, I thought, what the hell, I might as well gamble, so I put a quarter into a slot machine, cranked the handle, and lost my quarter. I grieved for that quarter all the way to Fresno because I violated my integrity by gambling with it. Of course, I’ve known quite a few responsible people (hi, KJ) who liked casinos, but they seriously weird me out. Gambling is sort of like paying someone to hit you over the head and then feeling like a winner whenever they happen to miss. That’s what happens in casinos; you lose, lose, lose; then you win a little; and then you brag about your winnings to all your friends as if to suggest that you outsmarted the bastards. Yeah, sure you did.

When I started taking money out of banks and putting it into mutual funds, Peggy, remembering how bummed I was over that quarter, worried that I would freak-out completely if we should lose thousands. Well, we’ve lost entire years of income a few times by now, but it wasn’t me who freaked out. I handled it better than Peggy simply because I’m less of a pessimist than she, which is really saying something. Anytime we lose money, I try to hold onto the thought that it’s a temporary glitch, whereas Peggy concludes that it’s the first day of The Great Depression II. Now that she’s planning to retire in 25 months—right when the nation, if not the world, seems poised to go down the drain financially—I must admit that losing money hurts more than it used to.

There’s no getting away from the fact that you can do the very best you know how and still get screwed simply because life isn’t fair. Like turtles crossing a road, some of us come to a much worse end than others, and it’s not always because we behaved worse. The advantage of frugality is simply that you better your odds (sort of like a turtle who crosses the road quickly versus one who takes his time). I’ve often been told that I can’t take it with me when I die, as if a person’s goal should be to spend his last dollar on the day he stops breathing. No thanks; I had rather leave a little to charity. I donate some money already to civil liberties, animal welfare, public broadcasting, and environmental groups, but hardly enough to hurt. Since it looks like charities will still be needing money when I’m gone, that’s when they’ll get the bulk of mine. Until then, I might need it myself.

I guess I've made it clear that Earl isn’t the only one who’s judgmental regarding money. It’s just too bad that the only thing he and I agree on is that it’s better not to gamble, although he would argue that the stock market IS gambling. Now that I've become convinced that this country is racing out of control atop a highway paved with greed and stupidity, it is starting to feel that way.

The photo is of me with my fourth most expensive possession (after the house and vehicles). It cost $1,900 several years ago, and that was money well spent.

20 comments:

Myrna R. said...

Sounds like your frugality isn't depriving you of anything pertinent. Be frugal. But don't be cheap. I read somewhere that money is a way to make things happen. It's like an energy flow. So let it flow enough. Maybe, buy Peggy some flowers sometime.

This photo kind of represents what you chose to do with money - enjoy some exercise in nature, with your dog and feel rich.

Take care Snow.

SQT said...

Isn't it funny how spendthrifts will mock you for being responsible with money? My mom gave me grief for years, telling me that I was "so tight I squeaked."

My parents are the extreme end of how you can spend yourself into oblivion. They even took so much money from my brother, to try to bail themselves out of debt, that he ended up bankrupt. They don't speak much to me because I wouldn't let them live with me (and go on our health insurance as my dad not-so-subtly suggested). Their situation got so out of hand that they ended up in Thailand because they could live on Social Security and disability insurance and still have a decent standard of living.

Long story short- I save my money.

Strayer said...

I can't take casinos. Stopped in once, with someone I was driving with (they owned the car). I told her I could not psychologically throw away money, so she gave me a $5 and said "Then throw away mine, have some fun." I couldn't do it, but I did come home $5 richer!

Frugal people are cool. I pinch pennies tll they are flat to care for so many cats here. But it's a stupid endeavor I suppose, when I consider the economy is tanking out and how will I care for them in the future. So does Peggy have plans for staying busy once retired? I bet there will be no problem staying busy.

The Elephant's Child said...

Both the smaller portion and I are frugal. I don't think that either of us are cheap.
He spends his money on travel when he is well enough and I spend mine on books and the garden.
Many charities get money from me each month and selected ones will get one last lump sum from me when I am dead. It works for me.
Interestingly, being careful with money would have been the only thing my father approved of in my choice of partner. And he would never have admitted to it.
I loved you and your bike in that photo but was a bit distressed by the glow in the dark eyes of the dog. Which shows I have read too much horror/fantasy.

The Tusk said...

reads like this may have not been a one off written piece. reads like you have organized the flow to this entry.

time and patience makes this an easy read.

well done.

...soaring debts here in the new england states...

rhymeswithplague said...

Dear Sir: A little editing can be a good thing. Your first sentence stopped me in my tracks. I'm thinking you meant frugal, but I will keep reading.

rhymeswithplague said...

All right, I read all the way to the end, and I am amazed at how alike we are. My 2000 Camry has 275,000 miles and still runs (knock on wood) like a top. I once spent a quarter in Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City and grieved over it for months. All the money in both of my 401K accounts is gone. We could be twins.

Your post has inspired me to begin taking steps to have myself turned into a 501(c)(3) organization ("operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, to promote the arts, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals." -- I mean, does that describe me, or what?) so that the next time you get an unexpected charitable wild hair somewhere where the sun don't shine you can add me and the missus to your will.

Carolyn said...

You are a very sensible man. I admire good sense. Mine has often gone with the wind, only for me to realize too late my stupidity. No wasting money on lattes, casinos or such though. I have to walk the financial tightrope but its not so hard to do. Does an abundance of STUFF make one happy? I don't think so; not in the least. Good post Snowbrush. I'm loving the frequency of your writings.

All Consuming said...

I take great pleasure out of being what others would describe as 'tight'. Hubby is absolutely crap and so leaves all that side to me, so no rows occur. Like you, I wait when I'm thinking of buying something, I often scour the web, read reviews, it can take weeks,but then I usually do buy said item. And if I've got a bargain, (which I must have done or I wouldn't be buying at all) I'm very chuffed indeed. The only area I go wild in is presents for other people, but I try to make them useful or home-made and they generally go down well. I can't stand folks who moan and whinge about having no money and being in debt when they are clearly on a good salary and spend it all on rubbish they think they need that they'll throw away in a year because a newer shinier 'thing' has come out. I could go on about this for days so I'll shut up. But I'm with you on this as ever, and Peggy too. Lardy mind you would sell her soul for a bag of biscuits.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

My mother was born right before the depression and is as frugal as they come... she will go out to dine in a restaurant (something we can afford and enjoy) with the rest of us and sit there sipping water and complaining.

But she adores casinos... it is her only social outing and she often gets enough free food, she doesn't cook for weeks on end. And she claims she usually comes out on top money wise. Not me... I've lost every dollar I ever put in a slot machine to appease her. I would seriously rather have a new blouse or something that would last a little longer. But once on a trip to Vegas to appease Mom (I rarely saw her because I walked around looking at architecture or stayed in the room or by the pool reading) she talked me into wandering down to a smoke free casino (I'm allergic to smoke and have a built in excuse to stay out of casinos!)

We got there and they had penny slots. OK... I'll spend a buck to please Mom... We played for close to 8 hours on that dollar and was the most fun I've ever had in a casino... we got up five bucks at one point and had so many pennies... It was a great time and deliberately lost it all not wanting to stand in line to cash in pennies.

But the noise, the light and smoke of a casino make me crazy over all.. I hate them with a passion!

Marion said...

Well, I'm frugal to the point of cheapness, but I don't do without. I get my movies/books from the library, grow lots of vegetables and herbs and recycle cardboard for my art projects. I do buy art supplies with coupons, a few dolls and stuff for my grandchildren.

But I'm with you...it's more fun to have money in the bank than not. I've lived paycheck to paycheck in my wayward youth and it was a horrible feeling. My older sister has worked her whole life and has nothing to show for it but a mountain of debt (they gamble often). We own everything we can see around us and have savings for emergencies. Great post, Snow.

Kerry said...

I was coerced into visiting a casino just once ("cheap food" they said) and I thought if there is a purgatory then this is it: people biding their time mindlessly waiting for something great to happen under the fake lights and freaky sound. And the food wasn't worth it!

Your bike looks like a lot of fun.

Putz said...

there is a downsize to frugality<><>people who are and people who are not end up exactly the SAME.,. dead and leaving either a lot or a little,.,.my dad's inheritance to me personally because of a wicked step mother 2nd wife was a tennis trophey, his underwear mormon garments, 2 dollars in a cridit union in my name<><><>when ever i see barbara i say moses left flocks, lands, etc etc to his posterity and usaually stood with them and said""""all this my son i leave to you<><><>it is your inheritance, don't fritter it away like the prodical son""""and she says to me""""harold wanted me to have it all, not YOU"""""

Snowbrush said...

"I loved you and your bike in that photo but was a bit distressed by the glow in the dark eyes of the dog."

I know, and it makes me sick because the photo was made right before she killed all those children. I can't understand why I didn't it see it coming, especially after her eyes started shooting forth a red beam that looked like flames. She always a weird dog, killing people one moment and cuddling the next.

"Frugal people are cool."

I'm surprised by how many people expressed similar sentiments. I'm also surprised that no one mentioned that this post was humorous. It's ALL true, but I laughed writing it, and if people got that aspect of it, they didn't say so. As for Peggy's retirement plans, she wants to spend a lot more time with her button-collecting hobby (clothing buttons), and to travel some.

"Your bike looks like a lot of fun."

It's a folder that was made right here in Eugene.

"I once spent a quarter in Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City and grieved over it for months. All the money in both of my 401K accounts is gone."

Let me get this straight. You had a total balance of 25-cents in your two retirement accounts, and you went out and gambled it away?

"Your post has inspired me to begin taking steps to have myself turned into a 501(c)(3) organization"

I'm afraid the work your organization would do might be in conflict with my values. You and I seen to cancel one another out on many issues.

"Does an abundance of STUFF make one happy? I don't think so; not in the least. "

Money does promote happiness to a point, but after that point, you don't keep getting happier the money you have.

"I'm thinking you meant frugal, but I will keep reading."

I just love it when people point out errors. Thank you.

"people biding their time mindlessly waiting for something great to happen under the fake lights and freaky sound."

Not to mention the cigarette smoke.

"My older sister has worked her whole life and has nothing to show for it but a mountain of debt (they gamble often)."

Whoa! My sisters are nothing like me either, although the older one is at least responsible. Your sister sounds like an addict.

"reads like this may have not been a one off written piece."

I wrote and posted it in the same afternoon, which is very fast compared to the days and days I usually spend editing if not rewriting.

"she claims she usually comes out on top money wise."

If there's a small chance of something happening to someone, somewhere, then it will eventually happen to someone, somewhere.

"Lardy mind you would sell her soul for a bag of biscuits."

Dogs aren't knowing for thinking ahead, so they won't tank up on water before a hike, and this makes it necessary for me to carry extra for them. Of course, with one dog dead, one dog blind, and Peggy and me arthritic, it's no longer much of a problem.

"there is a downsize to frugality<><>people who are and people who are not end up exactly the SAME.,. dead"

How is this a problem with frugality more than with anything else that human beings do?

lotta joy said...

I've been wanting a bicycle like yours for years. The day I got to ride the neighbor's, I joyfully made it to the street and back. I was laid up for a full week over that 20 yard feeling of "wheeee".

My sister could never understand my frugality. I'm described as 'tighter than the bark on a tree'.

When my sister gave me a fashionable red coat, I looked at her with confusion and said "But I already HAVE a coat." (it's a hunting jacket)

I have always lived the credo that 'enough is plenty'.

Like Peggy, when I lost most of our retirement in a mutual fund downturn, I nearly choked to death. In fact, it took me several years to recover emotionally.

But, I still have enough, and enough is plenty.

Helen said...

Hello Snow!
The late Andy Rooney could have read this post as a close to 60 Minutes ~ we should all take a page from your book. My sister and b-i-l have every excuse known to man to justify frequenting casinos when they have the opportunity ~ I just roll my eyes and tune them out. They never come out ahead and seem to feel the free rooms and booze make it up. My almost 50 year old son is a frugal guy, single, house and truck all paid for. My 51 year old enjoys many of the finer things in life and does spend money .. both are happy and that makes me happy. I fall somewhere in the middle! (tell Peggy how much you love her hair today)

Charles Gramlich said...

My parents were very frugal and would probably grouse at me for not saving more.

The Blog Fodder said...

I'm living in Ukraine because it is cheaper than Canada. And because I like it here. All I have is my pension and odd consulting jobs so even if I wanted I couldn't afford to move back.

PhilipH said...

What a good photo; seems as though you could have been in one of the leafy lanes around Mellerstain here in the Scottish Borders.

Frugal I am not. Impulsive I am. I read a review of a book: I buy it. Then I find it not good enough; it goes to a charity shop.

I gamble now and then. Not in a casino but on the nags when racing is on TV. I know it's madness but I still have a punt. Not big money but just a tickle.

You say you are NOT a gambler. Don't believe you. The way you try all these narcotics is gambling - and you try to win with them. Good luck to you Snowy old bean, but you DO gamble. But you seem to win insofar as it hasn't killed you yet.

But then I guess you would not call it gambling as death would at least rid you permanently of all the pain you suffer. Good luck again dear friend.

Cheers, Phil

The Bipolar Diva said...

Snow, come sit. I'll buy you a latte, or just a cup of coffee and we'll talk.