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So, You Had a Bad Day... Frugal Café Pick-Me-Up Page
Quotes, Anecdotes, Inspirational Thoughts, & Other Uplifting Stuff to Make Your Day a Bit Brighter
Not all frugality is smart. Some frugality, frankly, is painfully stupid.
Saving money and cutting out non-essentials is wise, particularly if you and your family have recently been clobbered with a financial crisis. Even people who aren't in the midst of a financial crisis (and that is far more than those who are) are demonstrating, nationwide, a greater restraint to impulsive buying. We're unsure of how this nation's economy is going to be directed once our president-elect is inaugurated on January 20, so we're taking it slow and cautious for a while. Smart stuff.
However, some people who are in a panic may jump overboard with frugality. Being thrifty is not enough for them. Compulsive, driving thrift, mixed with a bit of insanity, becomes their modus operandi. Because, if a little bit of thrift is good, well then, it goes to follow that A LOT of thrift would be even better.
That Loathsome Square of Toilet Paper
When I was a kid, there were five of us kids. Four girls, one boy, and the latter two were twins. Not expected, and a real hardship for our mother, I know, considering she gave birth to five rambunctious kids in a six-year period.
My mom, except for her rare unsuccessful foray into the black hole of buying and selling Avon products or making homemade doll clothes to hawk at craft fairs, was a stay-at-home mom for most of my youth. She was frugal to the point of anguish—I can't really blame her zeal, because our situation was sometimes just one step away from potential disaster for some of those years. Five kids were expensive then and even more so today. But I can blame her for fixating on bizarre ways to save money. My dad changed jobs when I was 15, and we eventually were doing fairly well, but it took time to get to that point.
My mom wore bright fuchsia-pink lipstick whenever she went out of the house. She'd use a single sheet of toilet paper to blot it after applying it. This was to set it and keep it from rubbing off on her teeth (all women blotted their lipstick in the 1960s and '70s, before lip gloss became the norm). After blotting, she'd carefully place the sheet on the bathroom counter to reuse it. It could sit there for days if she didn't go out of the house.
And it drove my dad crazy.
He hated that square of tissue with its bright pink smudgy lip print just sitting there, mocking his abilities as a provider. They fought over that stupid lipstick-stained sheet of toilet paper a number of times. She fiercely defended it, saying she was saving money to help the family. Dad countered, saying it was false economy. Back and forth, back and forth... that sheet took on a life of its own. Even to this day, 30 years after they divorced, Mom brings up that pitiful sheet of toilet paper, nearly waving the memory of it as her weird, proud flag of confirmation that she went beyond the call of duty in thrift, proof of her maternal self-sacrifice to keep our family financially afloat, and how Dad never supported her nor understood.
Oh, geez. Please, please stop reminding me and anyone else within listening distance about that nasty little pink-stained square of toilet paper, Mom, and how it still symbolizes you cutting back on expenses. I know we were struggling back then, but we weren't living in Dickens' England. There were other, better alternatives. Alternatives or compromises that were less volatile or more effectual or more sane. Back in the 1970s, a four-pack of toilet paper probably cost (I'm just throwing in easy-to-divide hypothetical numbers, since I can't locate the actual cost) about 40 cents. Thus, one T.P. roll from a four-pack would have cost 10 cents. With each roll containing anywhere between 300 and 500 perforated sheets, my mom was saving a grand total of no more than 0.0003 cent with that damned sheet. That is three-ten-thousandths of a cent (even less if the roll had 500 sheets). Adjusting for inflation (and today, luxury toilet paper in the United States averages $0.80 per roll), a penny in 1975 had the buying power of 4 cents in 2007. If she had saved and reused 30-plus T.P. squares in this fashion, she would have saved a full penny, or four full pennies in this day and age.
Utterly unbelievable. So much energy and upset over such a pittance. No, they didn't divorce over that ridiculous sheet of toilet paper, but it likely was just one more elephantine brick on the pile of reasons for ultimately separating. I've tried to explain to her over the years how that piece of toilet paper did more harm than good, but she still won't listen or consider it. I had to save everywhere I could, dammit, and no one appreciated my efforts! She still saves her paper square, but is often late on paying bills, racking up a heck of a lot of late fees. It would take a truckload of toilet paper squares to offset just one late fee.
Burnt Savings... Hunka, Hunka Burnin' Food
Despite her best intentions, Mom wasn't usually attentive to what she was cooking. Other money-saving efforts on her part included serving accidentally scorched pasta for dinner (it's still nourishing, even if it tastes utterly horrible), burnt toast (a little burnt bread never hurt anyone), overuse of diluted non-fat dry milk (we kids were ungrateful wastrels for not happily chugging down glasses of the vile stuff). Green vegetables were usually gray by the time they hit the table. Numerous food items that were outside their expiration dates also made it from the stove to our plates.
I know that Mom was doing her best to save money and I love her for her efforts. However, saving a few pennies and nickels here and there came at a tremendous cost to our family's happiness and stability (and trust) at dinnertime. She was often frantic, never wanting to waste anything, no matter what, and would get loudly upset if we didn't eat everything with appreciative gusto. She could have been the world's best frugal-kitchen queen because she thought about it all the time, but sadly she wasn't. Lack of training, lack of patience, lack of attention, lack of culinary instinct. So, instead, my siblings and I still shudder remembering some of her wacky, weird-tasting, overcooked meals and the stress levels they fueled when we balked at eating some strange new concoction. While we never became violently ill, we were usually in a state of dread. In all fairness, she made the world's best homemade turkey soup from roasted turkey bones.
Never let frugality become such an obsessive quest that it tears at and destroys your objectivity, your sense of fun, and your relationships with others in the home. Yes, being frugal is important, cutting back and cutting out wastefulness is important, but when does the savings wipe out the benefit? When is the cost too high?
If your quality of life is unduly undermined, sacrificed, or destroyed, there is little (or no) comfort or joy in being thrifty. It's more of a burden, more like a prison sentence. Tighten the belt, yes. Strangle with the belt, no.
Finding That Magic Line and Not Crossing It
Where is this "magic line" and how do we know when we've crossed it?
When is it THEM, not us, who are being unreasonable and wasteful, and when is it we who are being unreasonable or obsessed?
Not an easy question to answer, because the definition of quality of life is unique to each of us.
Sacrifice has its limits, and if it doesn't, it should. My own rule of thumb for family sacrifice is "Cut back until it hurts, then cut back just a tiny bit more." This is like exercise. When you first start a regime, it's difficult. However, the mantra "no pain, no gain" has merit. So, get tough and endure that extra bit of pain for greater benefit. If you push it too far, you'll overwork your muscles and won't be able to exercise for days. This negates the benefit you would have had, if you'd used a bit of restraint. And, good grief, reward yourself, with NO guilt, once in a while. This is, of course, totally contingent upon the direness of your situation and the cost of the reward. Keep it small, but significant to you. Want that small block of creamy brie cheese to nibble on after the kids go to bed? Get it. Want to buy a pair of smooth designer pantyhose instead of the scratchy dollar-store version? Do it. But, remember: all things in moderation. Save here, spend there. Balance.
Being frugal is incredibly smart. But it can slide into wackiness or stupidity.
Panic and fear can do that, make us behave in odd, irrational ways, make us hurt the situation rather than improve it. Pick your battles, analyze your tactics, and keep track of your savings and expenses. Take a deep breath whenever it overwhelms you. And, if something you're doing to save a few bucks is driving a loved one nuts, consider stopping it or at least, discuss compromises. Keep it all in perspective and always, BE RESPECTFUL.
Because there is nothing—nothing at all—that I can think of that is worth losing over a flimsy reused sheet of toilet paper with lipstick smudges on it.
Remember, frugality can be stupid.
This Week's Pick-Me-Up Songs: Week of January 5, 2009
Left-click to play, right-click to download (select 'Save Target As' to save to your computer). To play from the site, file will take a few seconds to load and then your audio player will open in a new window. All files are mp3 format.