Saturday, November 15, 2008

One Way Ticket to Frugal

What do you call that place where mothers tell their children that the brown spots on fruit are just "the sweeter parts"? Where otherwise reasonable people actually spend time washing out Ziploc bags and hanging them to dry so they can be re-used? Or the land where fathers rush to save a paper plate from going into the garbage can because "it only had toast on it!"

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.
All in all, Frugal isn't such a bad place to be. I have noticed, though, that it's getting a little crowded. Of course, just about everything is cheaper here and with that duct tape, stuff tends to last a long time. There was never so much interest when the economy was good...

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


  1. This post made me laugh... especially because I always teased my mum for calling overripe fruit "extra sweet". Now I do the same. 8-}

  2. I roared when I read this post. I have a large family and could identify one relative for each 'category" you posted.

    BTW the new theme looks clean and crisp. I like it. There are many others that you could try out too if you are so inclined.

    Be careful not to get sucked into posting all kinds of sidebar "tat" (useless crap that has no reader value). Every widget, link or "thingy" we place on our blogs should meet the "readers will use it test" or it shouldn't be there.

    I really appreciated your political forum contributions. This past 8 months on the BC forum has been a learning curve when it comes to American politics and the pervasive negativity of the Republican contingent.

    So long and best wishes for happy blogging. :)

  3. Anna -- Thanks. That part came from my mother, too. (But honestly, I heard my husband saying the same thing to my son the other day... He used a brown banana as an excuse to make banana milkshakes. Needless to say, now my son doesn't mind the brown so much.) Thanks for visiting the blog!

    Timethief -- I'm so glad you came by. Thanks for the advice on the sidebar and the comment on the new format. It is much more flexible than the pink I used to use. I like that I can change it with the seasons and that it has a nice open feel.

    I'm glad to hear your input on political issues, too. Sometimes it can be a challenge not to get drawn into the negativity. The election results sure give me a reason to remain hopeful -- even though I am aware that there is much work to do.

    Best, MM

  4. Oh this is a great post, maybe my favorite yet! Thanks for the great entertainment!

  5. I know some of these people--heck, I am some of these people!

    Very cute post. :)

  6. I came back to read it again.. it is so funny because I know or am at least one person of each catergory you write about.

  7. "These days"...I find myself in every category. Wanna split a blog? LOL

  8. i'm definately a 'saver' i drove the same hunk of junk until i got hit by a drunk... who dunked? (sorry couldn't help myself)

  9. To think I used to make fun at my father for washing used paper towels and hanging them up to dry. I see the wisdom of his ways now! If there's a bright side to this country's current mess it's good to see people driving less and making do with things that they just plain don't need. Just think of the resources we're not wasting and the pollution we're not generating. Here's hoping we all learn that less can be so much more!

  10. Laurie, I can't believe you came back for more! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Truly, I'm poking fun at myself more than anyone. (The secret is that I've actually said or done more than one of these things -- Grandma would be so proud!)

    Tricia (papercages), Thanks for coming by, and as for being these people... me too, sweetie, me too. :)

    Me-Me (haven't I seen you somewhere before?), These days it's great to have readers with a sense of humor. Thanks for splitting a laugh. :)

    Court, Actually the Corolla belonged to my husband (he is also, by the way, the Scavenger and mad duct tape user.) Honestly, I think he's allergic to new car smell... yeah, that's the ticket!

    LostLandscape, You win the prize. I have never heard of someone laundering paper towels... But you're right to say there was more than a little bit of wisdom in some of those depression-era habits. We are such composters, recyclers and re-users that our family of five rarely puts out more than one bag of trash on trash day. I must say, I like it that way. (Besides, if "these days" keep on the way they're going, a person might actually be able to make a living as a repairman again!)

  11. LOL! I see myself in the saver and a bit of the clucker even! LOL!

  12. Do you read Suddenly Frugal? She takes on these characters in a practical way. :) I'm totally the saver and the scavenger. Just ask my coworkers!


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