Cheap versus frugal

A year ago to the hour, I was having knee surgery. Today, my application to an experimental drug study for people with severe arthritis was accepted. I feared it might not be because, after all, how severe is severe? Surely, there are people who are worse off than I.

I upgraded my order for a new bike, putting it at $1,700. If my father knew I was spending that much on a bike, he would declare me a fool. The difference between us is that I am frugal whereas he was merely cheap. It’s a distinction that few people make. I rarely eat out because I place no value on eating out and because I can eat more economically at home, but when I do eat out, I order a cheap entrรฉe. If the cheap entrรฉes cost too much, I order a cup of soup or even a cup of coffee. I know plenty of people who think nothing of spending $30 on a meal but would turn pale at the prospect of a $1,700 bike. Few of us have unlimited money, so we must either prioritize or spend until we run out.

My father took another route. He carried thousands of dollars in his billfold (he never much trusted banks), rarely bought anything he didn’t have to have, and spent as little as possible on that. Even his carpentry tools were chosen more from a standpoint of price than of quality. But as I see it, he could have done worse. He could have said to hell with tomorrow and lived in debt. If he had, I would have pronounced him the fool, although being a fool in one area doesn’t disqualify a person from being brilliant in others.

Peggy and I share what I suspect are the two most important values to a happy marriage. We value money about the same, and we value housekeeping about the same. She’s a little freer with her spending than I, and I’m a little more opposed to clutter than she; but at least we’re in the same ballpark. We also excel in that each of us encourages the other to loosen the purse strings from time to time—as with this bike. If Peggy had balked about the price, I wouldn’t have ordered it, but the only time she balked was when I returned to the store to make an alteration, and she somehow thought I was going to cancel the order due to the cost. When I came home after spending hundreds of additional dollars on a stronger and more versatile frame, she was as pleased as I with my prudence.