4/04/2007

Whatever Happened to Frugality?

My family traveled extensively throughout my childhood. But my parents always placed a premium on spending time with their parents. Because of this, we lived in close proximity to one set of grandparents, and spent at least two months each year with the other set.

One grandfather, particularly, was incredibly frugal. When he retired, he took over the household management for my grandmother, under the guise of giving her her own retirement. But really, it was because he wanted to shave as much money as possible from the family budget.

To this end, he had a circuit of three grocery stores. One for the staples, one for the perishables, one strictly for milk. The family joked about his 'milk store', incredulous that he would take the extra time to pick up milk from a third store.

His explanation made perfect sense. It was directly on the path home from his second store, and stopping there for milk saved him a quarter per gallon. He could rattle off the savings in a heartbeat..."Fifty cents a week, two dollars a month, twenty-four dollars a YEAR!" he would finish off in visible glee.

When he purchased the Sunday paper from the vendor outside of our church, he liked to point out that the paper was paying him. After he finished clipping coupons and doling them out on double- or triple-coupon days, this was in fact true.

While my Baby Boomer parents and their siblings mocked my grandfather's grip on his money, I think they overlooked his earliest financial impressions. They had never wanted for a thing, and this sense of being 'well-off' led them to pay a premium for shortcuts. It didn't ever really click with them that my grandfather had lived through the Depression...an event that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Similarly, spending so much time with him as a child made its own impact on me. My grandfather liked to bastardize various sayings and cliches, making them his own. The one I remember most clearly was truly his own economic compass. He would look at me and say, "A penny saved is BETTER than a penny earned, because you don't have to pay taxes on that one!"

I'm indescribably grateful for the example that he set. When I learned that I would be responsible for paying for my college education, his lessons became that much more important. By working two full-time jobs and living on the cheap, I was able to pay for my private university. The discomfort of the situation catalyzed me to graduate as quickly as possible, and finished a dual-degree in three years.

I'm not sure when it started, but I myself have three grocery stores. I switch back and forth between two stores for the staples, depending on what's on sale during any given week. I round this out with a trip to Trader Joe's for the 'gourmet' items and wine.

I get a strange thrill out of compiling a crazily cheap meal. It's the same feeling of accomplishment that I have after completing a project or a fruitful day of work. I have been known to call friends and rattle off the contents of a dinner plate, complete with a cost breakdown.

This past week, for example, presented a fantastic array. Here's a sample of some favorites.

The priciest meal of the week:
scallops, $2.50 on sale
brown rice, $0.18 per portion
fresh asparagus, $0.87 on sale
Total cost: $3.55

Another favorite:
mahi mahi, $2.26 on sale
brown rice, $0.18 per portion
frozen corn, $0.10 per portion
frozen green beans, $0.10 per portion
Total cost: $2.64

Veggie burritos, a quick and easy regular:
whole wheat tortilla, $0.11 per portion
brown rice, $0.18 per portion
black beans, $0.20 per portion
homemade salsa, $0.10 per portion
shredded lettuce, $$0.15 per portion
Total cost: $0.74 !!!!!!!!

If you open my pantry right now, you'll find at least a six month supply of my favorite mineral water. Normally $3 per bottle, I stocked up when it was on sale for $0.99. It won't go bad, and I know it will be consumed at some point. Hopefully the store will run another sale as I start to run low.

The frugality shines through in other elements. I go out of my way to live in places that have a variety of shops and services within walking or biking distance. Not only does this exponentially increase my quality of life by reducing the amount of time spent fighting traffic, but on average, I use less than one tank of gas per month. Most months, actually, it's about a half-tank, but other months are obviously higher.

These small steps in my life make a huge difference. And that's a good thing, because I have expensive hobbies. I love to travel; and I believe that the highest and best use of 'extra' money is spent having a spectacular meal and gorgeous wine with my best friends. Whether this means going out to an incredible restaurant, or inviting people over for a lovingly-prepared dinner party, the cost of these events comprise the majority of my recreation and entertainment budgets. It is the one area where I don't take shortcuts.

Even when I travel, I'm an off-season traveler. This is in large part a survival tactic. I despise crowds. By traveling off-season, I get to enjoy a much more leisurely pace to my days, receive attentive service, am far more likely to be upgraded on my flights/hotels/cars, and spend anywhere from one-half to one-third than if I traveled during peak times.

I know that in our world, there is such an emphasis on various shortcuts to wealth. But I have to tell you, I'd love to see some of those crazy financially-based reality shows (Flipper Nation and the like) replaced with some good common sense application of the FUNDAMENTALS of wealth building.

29 comments:

David Kimball said...

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In a strange and bizarre twist of irony, you're actually doing a recreation of Casey Serin's real estate career. Add back some sweet cash back at close and a few illegal shell corp's and you're right there!

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