“You did it again.”
I probably did.
I always do.
I just didn’t know what I did, so I had to ask.
“You bought generic,” my wife said, holding up a store brand can of soup as evidence. She hates the very notion of generic, for her it is a synonym for poor quality.
“Weren’t you planning to retire this year?” I asked.
“What does that have to do with it?”
“It means we need to economize.”
“We have coupons for that.”
You wouldn’t believe how many we have. Coupons litter the kitchen island and clutter the counters. They scatter like leaves across the living room floor and poise a hazard to cats running through the dining room.
My wife loves to collects coupons – so that I can ignore them.
The thing is, she is not particularly thrifty.
Face it; few people really are. We often manage money the same way we diet. After ordering a salad off the senior menu, we chase it with a big piece of cheese cake.
Life is full of mixed messages.
I remember once when we were traveling with her parents and my father-in-law chastised me for buying a newspaper at a drug store counter rather than at the news box outside.
“It’s 50 cents either way,” I told him.
He held his tongue for a few moments, perhaps to reconsider whether I indeed was worthy of his daughter, then spoke like a parent to a child, “At the register, you pay sales tax – but not at the box. Everyone knows that.”
I hadn’t thought about it.
Nor did I care.
We then got back into his $200,000 RV and motored away.
The story may reek of absurdity, but I respected his penny pinching ways because he earned his quirks the hard way. He grew up dirt poor during the depression, yet amassed a fortune by eyeing every penny the way a hungry hawk watches gophers.
Most of his generation did.
A friend of mine had parents like that too.
After they had returned from a trip to Las Vegas, he told me how they had walked over a mile in 110° heat. They couldn’t find a bridge over a freeway, so they hopped the fence, dodged four lanes of traffic, scrambled over the median, dodged four more lanes of traffic, hopped another fence and hiked another mile – all to get a free bowl of soup.
They were in their mid-80’s at the time – and oh, did I forget to mention they flew to Las Vegas to gamble?
So is it really about thrift? I think not.
Rather for that generation, pinching pennies was more about waging an endless war against demons long since vanquished – but who were always lurking just around the corner.
Or perhaps, it was nothing more than a coping mechanism to excuse extravagances.
Or just the love of getting a deal.
“When you retire,” I reminded her, “you will have all day to clip coupons and chase deals.”
“Until then,” she said, scooping up a wad of coupons, “at least use these.”
I looked them over.
“These are all for store brand items.”
I thought I had her.
“I know,” she said, “but who can pass up a deal like that?”