In Her Words
Cheap Is the New Normal
There’s nothing negative about penny pinching these days
-Myrna Blyth, Blyth times
My father was very cheap. My mother was a penny pincher, too. Dad had gone to work when he was only 14 and though he became a successful businessman, he remained excessively frugal his whole life. In Florida where they retired, my mom and dad went to Early Bird Specials, took home the packs of Equal and the individual creamers. My mother wasn’t above stowing an extra roll or two or three in her handbag. And they shared every course and still managed to take doggy bags home.
Even though I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, where most of the residents were into various forms of conspicuous consumption, my father drove his cars for years and years. Once – this was in Florida – my husband and I borrowed my parents’ car to visit a friend. He was a guy who had just sold his business for millions and millions and was living in an exclusive gated community. In my parents’ car the inside lining of the car’s roof was drooping. They had it stuck up with masking tape in various places. I wondered what the guys doing the valet parking must have thought of that car. But, hey, I remember my father once gave a valet returning that car only a quarter tip. The valet threw it on the ground. My father picked it up and put it in his pocket. I am sure he and my mother were only in a restaurant with valet parking because we had insisted on going there.
Some psychologists believe being cheap is an ingrained character trait. I know both my sons are fairly frugal. I used to think one of my sons had granddad’s gene. He is the one who believes that you never take a taxi, if you can take the subway and you never take the subway if you can walk. But now with the current economic crisis, I wonder if my parents’ thriftiness was as much learned as inborn. After all, my father’s older brothers had lost their money in the stock market crash of ’29. My father had not married until he saved several thousand dollars penny by penny, a daunting task at the time. He almost never bought stocks, any stock, only putting his money in the safest, most conservative investments. And my mother, after my father died, started to sell things – her best antiques, her jewelry – even though she didn’t need to. She had the anxiety that so many very old people have and she needed the comfort of a wad of bills tucked in her drawer that she never spent but would just finger for comfort.
We are all going to learn to be a lot more thrifty now. And it may be a lot tougher for us. My parents had so few expectations that taking less never bothered them because they didn’t imagine more. It will be a lot harder for us to accept that being cheap from now on is the new normal.