Friday, July 20, 2012

Cents and Sensibility

Sometimes, people will say things in a comment that set me to thinking, and Laura Jane did it this time. She said, "One day you will overcome your thrifty self and spend a few dimes more on that kind of soap, and lather up in memory of your mom." I spent the day pondering my thrifty self. Is there such a thing as being too thrifty?

I'm a very practical person. I grew up in a family where self-indulgence was considered a shameful thing. I grew into a woman who did not have the opportunity to spend on herself. Money was very tight. The children came first. Now I am 55, and I am in a strange place. I am at a place in my life where Tim and I are comfortable. We do not have to worry about every dime. We don't worry about every dime. At work the other day, I listened to a woman explain that she works because she needs the paycheck, and for the first time, I realized that is not the reason that I work. It was quite a moment.

Tim and I are not rich, not by any means, but we are comfortable. The reason that we are comfortable is due, in part, to the fact that we have been very careful stewards of whatever money we had. We were careful in our spending. We don't buy new, for the most part. That has been the backbone of our financial success, and it never ceases to amaze me what people sell. They sell a perfectly good couch because they are going with a different look. Or they rip out a perfectly good kitchen because they want  a new kitchen. They upgrade their cars when the cars are in perfectly good shape. And yes. When one bath soap is 20 cents cheaper than another, I buy the other soap.

Being thrifty can be a bad thing, I suppose, but I really do have a good time with it. I stop into the op shop a couple times a week just to see what they have. I may not buy anything, but sometimes, I find quite remarkable things that are just what I needed.

One of the things that I've been needing for some time is a cushion set for my wicker furniture. (Yes, it is the same black painted wicker furniture that was sitting in a yard with a free sign). I've been loathe to spend $50 on cushioning, and so I haven't. But I went into the Goodwill and was shocked to smitherines to discover just what I needed, a settee cushion and matching chair cushion.  I have never seen such a thing in that store before, but there it was. For a total of less than $4. I got what I'd been looking for right along. I love the thrill of discoveries like that, and it was fun to find accessories to match the cushions because they were not the color that I'd been looking for, and that required a few changes. Because I'd only spent four dollars, I felt entitled to spend the extra for the accessories. Total price of that entire little reading nook? About $35, including the white 5 x 7 rug, the wicker furniture, the cushions, and the white paint we sprayed that old furniture with. I already had most of the pictures for the wall, and a friend, knowing that it was meant to be a quiet place to read to small children gave me another picture of a small boy in a big chair sitting in a large open room engrossed in a book. It was the perfect final touch. I love that little space.

I'm assembling the other rooms like that too, seeing things that will fit. The guest room upstairs is slowly coming together, each purchase bringing it closer to completion. Tim's 'man cave' is done, with the exception of maybe a buffalo skin rug for the floor. We're still good naturedly arguing on that point. He's excited about his buffalo head, and he wants the rest of him on the floor. Me? I think they're ugly, and can you even vacuum a buffalo hide?

We've had a fun time, filling the house with things that we have searched out and bought carefully. Tim's as involved in this process as I am, and it tickles me because I never would have guessed that he was like this. He is though. I realized it when he painted the kitchen three times until it was just the color he wanted. The lines of a antique chair will draw him, and he will be the one who nudges and cannot bring himself to leave it behind, especially if the price is right.

Because we are careful, it allows us to be very generous with the kids on holidays, and we are. It allows us to help others, and we do. It allows us to go out to dinner once a week now. It allows us to plan for a trip to Australia. It allows me to buy the expensive soap, if I want it. Sometimes I do want the expensive soap, and I will buy it.

I guess that I look at it like this...if I have always had those things, it would not feel as remarkable to have them now. I would not be 55 and thinking myself the luckiest woman on the face of this planet. I would not marvel at my good fortune each and every time that I walk in the door of my house. I would not do my job for the pure satisfaction of it. If I used lavendar soap each and every day of my life, it would become ordinary and unremarkable.

Cara came home yesterday for a few hours. She's just gotten her first 'very own' apartment, a studio. She's very careful about what she wants. Tim and I are giving her a desk for graduation, and she knows exactly what she wants. As soon as she actually finds one that meets her exacting standards, we will buy it for her. But we went out and did some shopping. Bought some rugs. A toothbrush holder. Got more ideas than stuff, actually. It was a fun afternoon.

As she was leaving to head back, she went to drop something in the garbage. "What's THIS?!!!" she exclaimed. "It's a one dollar coupon for toilet paper! THE GOOD TOILET PAPER!!" She was getting louder as she fished it out. "Gees, you people get your fancy house, and your fancy stuff, and suddenly you're throwing away dollars in the trash can!" It made me laugh.

Thriftiness is a tool, one that has opened doors to things that I never would have dreamed possible. I suppose that it can be overdone, as Laura Jane pointed out. Thriftiness could suck the pleasure right out of life, but after thinking it through, I realized that I never have truely deprived myself. Sometimes I defer my small pleasures, but in the end, I lead a very pleasant life.


Laura Jane said...

yep! Thats exactly what i meant. Not that thrift is a bad thing AT ALL. We've always had mostly only one income, luckily a comfortable one. I shop in Op-shops too, and LOVE a bargain.

I would never wish to be a person who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Its just that I could see you two were at a phase where the extra 20c per cake of soap would be well spent, if it reminded you of your Mum.

And if you get to Australia. . . .look me up (except I'm on the other side from BB)

Mikey said...

Excellent post. You summed it up beautifully :)

jeanie said...

Being still very much in the stage of thrift required to balance it all, I truly understand the holding back 20c.

True, the occasional 5c scrimp here and 10c save there can afford a 20c luxury if it brings a beautiful memory to the fore - but when the 5c scrimp and 10c save is required just for the get by at any point along the way, it is akin to going WILD to lash out on the 20c when you can have the memory (somewhat diminished) for nix.

I am looking forward to the day when I am thrifty for fun.

Scotty said...

You're planning a trip Down Under? If you and Tim make it to my neck of the woods, I'll buy you guys dinner :-)

Bob said...

My friend Dave would be proud. I wish I had been wiser with my money as a younger person.

MAPS from GA said...

Loved this post!