Among the handful of blogs I read regularly is that of Frugal Scholar, an articulate university prof who is (her term) "pathologically frugal". She's written a from-the-trenches post, "Is Frugality Fun?"
Spoiler alert: is is for her.
Frugal (We have corresponded personally so I am privileged to use her first name) makes a bit of money re-selling thrift finds and scores nifty gifts for her young children and their friends. Very occasionally Frugal hints at the dark side of frugality, a tendency to buy just because something is such a deal. (She often spots this and resists.)
I am the child of a Depression-era, penny-pinching woman who had little of Frugal's zest, and heaps of the self-righteous judgment some uber-frugal can display.
Every blessed time she saw me, Mom asked how much I paid my hairdresser and would then upbraid me; she never met a MagiCuts she didn't like. One day, I shot back, "But see what you get for $16?", which spun her into huffy silence. But, I felt, she asked for it.
I am dismayed when frugality tips from responsible, value-conscious consumption into anhedonic self-denial that sucks joy out of life. A childhood with just such a mother formed us.
My brother lives large (and made sure
he could fund that). My sister, who died years ago, married a man
so cheap that he permitted them to own but one set of sheets at a time. My modus operandi has been to closely observe consumption—including its rationale and results—while rejecting frugality as a paramount principle. Dad's bon vivant genes mitigated Mom's.
I'm especially annoyed about freeloading. The community agency where I take French class sometimes places bags of free bread on a bench for clients to take; one of their programs is food security for families in need. A classmate takes a bag each time, saying "I only eat bread when it's free." I know she has a very comfortable financial situation. (For that reason, Dad forbade Mom to shop at charity thrifts; we had to sneak as if visiting a shooting gallery.)
And yet, inside me is a frugal woman screaming to get out. Sometimes, I let her. As Frugal says, a Goodwill score is terrific fun, and you've rescued a garment (Frugal finds Chloe!) to live another day. But mostly I'm frugalish, reheeling shoes the second they begin to tilt, refusing overpriced, logo'd goods, avoiding out-of-season produce: the usual good habits, nothing fancy.
Mom's influence is never far, so when I buy something at full price—even if I urgently need it—I see her pursed lips and practically hide it from myself as I carry the bag home.
Frugality relates to self-worth, security, and our reaction to the rapid running of life's hourglass. Like other virtues, it can't exist without its opposite pole, so let's splurge occasionally—a fine bar of soap? a box of ruby raspberries?—and enjoy every last morsel with vibrant, intense pleasure.
Morning, Mom; call if you want to go to the Sally Ann.