That odd place is the little-known American town of Frugal. And my family is living there right now. It's one of those places where many come to visit, but few stay on. If you're wondering how to get here, it's about halfway between You-Get-What-You-Pay-For and Good-Enough-For-Government-Work. If you start seeing signs for Savvy and Thrifty, you're getting close. But if you get to Miser, you've gone too far.
The residents of Frugal are an odd sort. They started out normal, but trying times and anxiety about the future have caused a strange transformation. The longer one lives here, the more likely his or her personality is to morph into a strange mish-mash of all our grandparents' depression-era habits. We call it frugality.
To understand what frugality is all about, you need to understand the types of people who take up residence here.
- First off, there's the Splitter. Splitters often declare that they are dieting or otherwise "cutting back." But really they just have a terrible habit of only ever being willing to take half of something. They'll split a doughnut or a pizza, even a beer or a smoke. Splitters make a big deal about refusing what is offered to them and then relent with little coaxing. "Okay. I'll split it with you," the Splitter will say, as though you would welcome the idea of them biting off half of your cookie or slurping from your coffee mug.
- A cousin of the Splitter is the Halver. They're a bit different. The Halver believes that half of any good thing is just as good as the original. They make a practice of using half of the recommended amount of laundry detergent, for example. They dilute even non-condensed soup. They only fill their gas tank halfway on a regular basis. "No really. It's just as good! Really!" is their motto.
- Also in that family are Dutchmen. These are people who pretend to be generous, asking you out to lunch as a treat when you've just been complaining about your lack of ready capital. You think, how kind. That is, until the bill comes. The words "Let's go Dutch" are uttered before the glossy black folder containing your lunch tab even hits the table. A true Dutchman will magically pull out exact change for his half of the bill -- to the penny -- while you are forced to put your half on your already-maxed-out credit card. That's when you notice that he only had half a sandwich and a glass of water, while you ordered a steak.
- Then there's the Martyr. The Martyr makes it her practice to always give away the last of something. And then, just as the grateful recipient is relishing the last morsel, the Martyr will sigh. "I'm glad you're enjoying it."
- A pair of brothers, the Saver and the Scavenger are next. They are the ones who cut the mold off of a piece of cheese in the fridge because "cheese is really just mold anyway." These two also have no qualms about consuming something after it has hit the floor. They often invoke the "five-second rule" even if the dropped item was something sticky dropped on the floor at the barbershop. "Blow the hairs off of it! You'll be fine!" they say encouragingly. The Saver is the one who will drive that 1989 Toyota Corolla until it falls into a pile of rust dust with four tires around it. The Scavenger is the one who will crawl the junk yard for spare parts to keep it running as long as possible. Both use duct tape to make stuff last longer -- so much, in fact, that all their stuff is silver.
- As I do my errands here in town, I often come upon the Clucker. The Clucker stands in front of the dairy case loudly bemoaning the astronomical price of milk. She loves to use the phrase "these days" in conversation. As in, "I don't know what they're thinking these days! People can't pay $4.00 for a gallon of milk these days! What are they thinking, charging an arm and a leg for yogurt! These days, people just won't pay that!" The Clucker usually says these things quite loudly as people smile uncomfortably and reach around her for the expensive products she is complaining about.
- Finally, there is the Scrimper. The Scrimper walks around the house all day shutting lights off to save electricity -- even when there are people who need the lights to see what they're doing. They also make it a practice to turn down the thermostat to near-freezing while they mutter, "if you're cold, why don't you just put on a sweater!" I hear our local Scrimper may be moving to Miser soon. I just heard her telling her son to do jumping jacks because his problem wasn't the cold... it was his circulation. That's what I heard, anyway.
Ah, well... these things go in cycles, don't they?
I've got to get back to my lunch. I've got one apple left -- you want to split it?
- Midwest Mom