Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lessons from a Frugal Father

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lessons from a Frugal Father

Article excerpt

Thanks to my father, who was 8 when the American economy staggered and collapsed, my siblings and I grew up as honorary members of the Great Depression.

From a kid's perspective, this was a frustrating, occasionally embarrassing, honor. My father proudly eats moldy leftovers. He patches broken things so they never need to be replaced.

He walks out of stores when the price of - milk, tuna, whatever - is higher than he believes it should be. He drives miles out of the way to cheap, off-brand gas stations. When we were kids, all gifts were greeted with the refrain: "I don't need this. Bring it back."

The four of us still talk about the 40 cans of mackerel that our dad excitedly bought for 9 cents a can. Rest assured, no child in our household ever willingly ate one bite. When we ate out, strict spending limits were enforced.

"When we grow up," we used to grumble, "we're going to let our kids order whatever they want." Each of us dreamed of the day we would be able to order the most expensive item off a menu.

After college (paid for by my parents), graduate school, and jobs, this day arrived. But now, having countless times ordered whatever I desired, I appreciate the frugal habits of my parent's hard-working, generous generation. They've made me more resistant to modern consumerism, helping me temper my desire to live "just a little better," that euphemism for buying a larger screen TV or whatever else has caught my fancy on a given day.

We live in a world where shopping is rarely a response to real need, where "needs" are so slight as to truly be rationalizations of "wants." Many of us are losing the skill to discern between what is enough and what is too much - between eight pairs of jeans and two. It's not completely our fault. Rarely a day passes when we are not touched by something that's been specifically created to encourage us to consume more.

Even though there is plenty of evidence that frugality - which means "not wasteful, thrifty" - makes long-term economic sense, the concept doesn't get much airplay these days. Frugality has always bowed to prevailing political winds. At times - after the Revolutionary War and during the world wars, for example - it was popular and considered "practical patriotism. …

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