Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. It doesn’t matter whether we cut coupons or not, or whether we decide to collect change from the parking lot. We are all miserly of something.
My uncle Chet was the quintessential Scot…tight as the bark of a tree.
Towards the end of his life, he suggested that my mother, his sister, join him for dinner. After decades of treating him to simple and fancy restaurants, she was ready, as usual, to take the check while it sat on her hands… as usual. When he grabbed the tab and opened his wallet, my mother started clapping all over the table.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“I Kill Moths” she smiles. He finally got it, but didn’t think it was funny. How could he? It’s about a man who broke a lawnmower and distributed the parts in his car’s engine to avoid paying duties at the Canadian border – on the way to his summer residence! Duty was probably $2 in the 70s. And he was bragging about it too.
My mother, of the same Scottish DNA, was no exception in the savings department.
For her, coupon clipping was an Olympic sport and she never encountered a sale she didn’t like.
Come to think of it, all of those Depression-era babies won gold in the close-priced final. They leave us amateurs in the dust. Until the end, my mother was still using towels she had bought during the Eisenhower administration. “They’re just the right sweetness now.”
Rather than buying new sheets when she bought her queen bed, she added length to her doubles from other old sheets. “Mom, there won’t be enough cover on your side.” I said.
“It’s okay. I’ll only sleep in the middle.
If you slept in her guest room, the pillowcase may have been patched (that side will be down) but it will be starched, ironed, and will smell like lavender. She was old school Yankee: “Use it, wear it, have it done, or do it without.”
I remember painful Christmas mornings when parcels had to be opened with so much care – to be able to reuse the paper. My mother ironed used gift wrap and ribbons.
When she and I finally arrived in Scotland, she traveled like a real clan girl. Every time she bought entrance tickets, she bought two old people, despite the fact that I was too young. “You have white hair, they will never know.” I guess a little larceny is inbred “thrifty” Scottish
At Edinburgh Castle, the daily cannon is fired at a specific time. The city that adjusts its watch to the explosion understands perfectly well why it does not fire at noon – that saves eleven cartridges. My mom and Uncle Chet were just doing what came naturally.
At this stage of my life, practicing small economy does me good, even responsibility.
I combine the wash loads that I used to separate and reduce the dryer. We sleep in a very cool room in winter, window open, thermostat lowered. I named my puffy duvet National Fuel Gas.
I even stick on old postage stamps. I recently found a cache of some 22 cent stamps from the 80’s and felt like I won the lottery. By the time I added postage to arrive at 60 cents, my bill envelopes looked like quilt patterns. At today’s prices, a roll of stamps is the only item you can close your hands on that costs that much money, unless you leave a jewelry store.
I think everyone has pet savings methods. A friend confessed that she washes her zipper bags in the machine, dries them and reuses them. I would have liked to think about it. And I hate supermarket plastic bags so much (thanks New York – go ahead, Pennsylvania) that I nobly invested in a family of good-sized cloth shopping bags. I feel pretty virtuous on the rare days I remember walking into the market with a stash of empty cloth bags. Putting them back in the car after being unpacked is a bigger challenge.
Another friend smooths out her plastic bags and neatly folds them to the size of a playing card. She stores them vertically in a shoebox while waiting for shopping. I put mine in a hanging cloth shopping bag to eventually be filled with used kitty litter…and some of the retired Fancy Feast that comes with it. Now that’s a proper use for those plastic bags.
By the way, my good Uncle Chet never had pets. When you squeeze a dime until the bison vomits, there’s no Fancy Feast on your shopping list.
Marcy O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]