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To All the Penny Pinchers

Please, allow me to confess. I am a recovering penny pincher.

It’s true. I first recognized that about myself in junior high. I would work odd jobs for cash, and then I would stash that cash in the drawer of my nightstand. From time to time, I would sit on my bedroom floor and count everything I had accumulated.

For me, watching my cash pile up – literally – was fun. It pained me to spend it, which I occasionally did, usually regretting it later.

To be fair, my frugal ways came honestly. My parents passed it down – genetically, I suppose, but certainly through their actions.

We lived in the country when I grew up. Despite that, we had the good fortune of having a restaurant a half a mile from our house. Good old J’s Place.

But it might as well have been a four-hour drive away because we rarely ate there. I remember smelling the good aromas floating from J’s Place on summer evenings when the wind was just right. That’s usually about as close as we got to the food there. We couldn’t taste it, but we could smell it. For free!

I guess the habit of thrift is hard to kick because anyone who knew me in college could probably tell a story or two about my frugal ways.

But here’s the thing. Being cheap is relative. What seems lavish to me may be another person’s frugal. It’s not a bright-line distinction.

For instance, my grandmother used to save the wax paper from cereal boxes to use when she baked cookies. Is that being cheap or just plain savvy? And who doesn’t know someone who saves Cool Whip containers to use for storing leftovers?

I’ve heard of others who take frugality to new levels. Like, saving the wrapper around sticks of butter and using them to wipe frying pans before cooking. It saves on oil.

There are some real doozies, too. Many of which revolve around activities in the bathroom. Like, peeing in a cup and using it for a compost pile to avoid flushing a toilet. Or when nature calls, holding it until you get to someone else’s bathroom. It saves on water and buying toilet paper!

How about reusing dental floss?

Compared to those extremes, I’m not sure I was ever a cheapskate. Again, it’s all relative.

Over time, however, I’ve discovered there are certain joys to loosening the purse strings, to an extent. There is a saying: Everything in moderation. That applies to saving money, too.

What I’ve come to realize is that watching pennies isn’t worth your time. When it comes to money management, it is far more important to get the big expenses right. Buying a new vehicle. Purchasing a house beyond your means. Going on extravagant vacations. That’s where the real money is lost.

For example, buying a $450,000 house and putting $90,000 down means annual mortgage payments of around $18,500. If everything else remains the same and you buy a $350,000 house instead, the annual payments amount to $13,500. That creates $5,000 in savings – every year, for 30 years. Not to mention lower property taxes, smaller insurance premiums, decreased decorating costs, reduced heating and cooling expenses, and less maintenance.

So, go ahead and buy that coffee every morning if it makes you happy. There’s no need to control spending that tightly. If you are prudent with the big expenses in life and are diligent about saving, it’s okay to spend on things that make you happy.

Frugality has its place. But don’t let it consume you.

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