Penny wise and pound foolish, the old saying goes. This proverb questioned whether people who think they are saving money might actually give away the game in some other way. Everyone loves a thrifty person, but nobody likes a miser. Where one begins and the other leaves off depends upon personal perspective, of course, but a number of these choices most people would consider crossing the line.
One of the defining characteristics that separates the frugal from the mean Scrooges of the world is intent. Is the reason they are saving money more important than the item or the cause to be paid for? Will the insistence on thrift for its own sake actually be more damaging to the person or the family saving money? When does a wise strategy become an irrational reactionary response? When does careful spending become meanness?
The questions came to the forefront when a well-known self-proclaimed tightwad author appeared on a popular TV show. She airily proclaimed that all her children’s clothes came from a thrift store. Someone in the audience asked if by clothing she also meant their shoes. “Of course,” she said. The audience reacted with obvious disapproval. The tightwad author seemed taken aback by their reaction. She insisted she wasn’t concerned by her children wearing used shoes. When the audience member pressed her for a reason, the author admitted that she hadn’t ever studied the topic. She had just bought the used shoes because it was frugal to do so.
The admirable author in question has nurtured her frugality enterprise into a money-making business. She isn’t poor or even middle class any longer. Yet she chose to buy her children used shoes as a matter of course, without thoroughly investigating whether they might be damaging to their growing feet. The goal became buying cheaply and not buying good shoes. Whether used shoes are just as good as new isn’t the point.
The point is her automatic decision and the intention behind it. To the author’s credit, she later looked into the topic and admitted there was mixed evidence as to the relative orthopedic effect of children wearing used shoes.
Another proponent of frugality once heralded the fact that she had persuaded her children to drink non-fat dry milk by fooling them with a store-bought liquid milk container.
Why so is the question.
The niggling ethical violation involved might be understandable if the family needed to save money or if the mother wanted to encourage her children to drink a healthier form of milk that costs less. If they drink it thinking it is full-fat milk, does it make them enjoy it more? Perhaps that’s understandable. The little milk-white lie might be worthwhile.
Still, the question of trust and self-worth must be raised by children who live in such a family. If a parent lies about one thing, will he fib about another? Is the quest to save an extra $100, when one already has a lot of money in the bank, more important than the health and welfare of their child? Is it more important than the simple happiness of their child? Those are just some of the issues we face.
Yes, frugality teaches us good ethics about conservation and what truly matters in life, but if the end does justify the means, then what is the end? What is the point of saving that extra dollar? The answer to that question is the ultimate solution to the problem.
Ryan knows what it means to be frugal most of the time and indulgent the rest. His latest frugal venture is trying to find cheap auto repair services.