Column: Being ‘frugal’ is easy to differentiate from being ‘cheap’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 16, 2002

I am not cheap. I am frugal.

I used to think my father was cheap. I loved him, but the only time the leather of his wallet ever saw the light of day was when it was still on the cow. Every time I wanted something, he told me that I couldn’t have it. This happened even when it was a toy that I not only wanted &045; it was a toy that I needed.

His reason was always the same. We didn’t have the money; we couldn’t afford it. That made no sense to me. If he didn’t have any money, he could always stop at the bank and get some. It was that simple.

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I kept asking for things. Hope springs eternal. I was like my dog, Gus. Gus chased cars. It was a bad habit, but it was the thing Gus really enjoyed in life. Well, that and eating dead chickens, but I won’t get into his dietary habits. Gus chased a lot of cars, but never caught one. They were always a little too fast for him. Cars got smaller and smaller as Gus got older and older. He kept chasing cars even on his elderly legs. The smaller cars looked like they would be easier to catch. The smaller cars kept Gus optimistic. Gus kept chasing cars and I kept asking for money.

As a child, I thought grown-ups had money without end. I learned later that Dad really couldn’t afford most of the things I desired. But for years, I thought my father was cheap. Hartland had a lot of folks known for their ability to pinch a penny. The copper wire was invented in Hartland. The invention came about by accident while two residents were fighting over a penny.

My father lived through the Depression. This would be a life-defining moment for anyone. It was a time when you couldn’t get things even if you had some money. And my father had no money during those years. This, I was sure, was what made him cheap. He was tighter than bark on a tree. He ate his Wheaties at breakfast with a fork and then passed the milk on down to the other members of the family. When Kentucky Fried Chicken opened, he took the entire family there and we got to lick other people’s fingers for 15 minutes. They were finger licking good. Yes, I was sure my father was cheap.

When he did reach for his wallet, my father’s hand moved like a herd of turtles stampeding through a field of fresh peanut butter. On the other hand, money burned a hole in my pocket. I saw no good in money except for the things I could buy quickly with it.

Then it happened. There is an old saying that states, “Parents, do not worry about your children, for sooner or later, they will become you.” It is true. I have acquired a number of my father’s characteristics. Am I cheap? Oh, no. I may be like my father, but I am not cheap. I am frugal. I realize now that my father was not cheap &045; he was frugal. How can you tell if you have become frugal? There are definite warning signs. Here are a few things that you or your family can look for that are definite signs that you have become frugal.

If you have found that an old, moldy shower curtain with the torn eyelets makes a great tablecloth.

If you feed your kids a lot of onion and garlic and then turn the lights off. You reason that you can save a lot on the light bill while still being able to find the children in the dark by their breath.

If you use the napkins you take home from fast food restaurants only when you have guests for dinner.

If you have found that those little ketchup and mustard packets from restaurants make excellent stocking stuffers at Christmas.

If you no longer put any hot water into your coffee because you have found that you drink less when you have to chew it.

If it makes you so mad that someone is charging you $75 to tow your car, that you keep the brakes on the entire time you are being towed.

If you have ever put plastic flowers in your garden so you won’t have to buy real ones.

If you buy so many things in bulk that you have to build a pole shed to store it all.

If you practice secondary gift giving. That means you give gifts to others that have been given to you.

If your father thinks you are cheap.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.