The Art of Thriftiness

It seems that no matter how old we get to be, we are never too old to be taught a lesson by our parents. At the top of my mother’s list is the art of thriftiness.

Hardly a visit goes by without a small lesson in this art. I’ve tried to explain to her that with the fast pace nowadays, saving time can be more important than saving money, but she doesn’t buy it. She makes a remark here and there, telling me how much she saved at a sale, or what a bargain she found, and she tells me that when I get to be her age, I’ll see how important it is to be thrifty. But no matter how she starts the lesson out, she usually ends by saying, “Well, it’s none of my business really. After all, it’s your money.”

I recently took Mom shopping at Walmart. Within minutes, she found the best bargain there: clip-on earrings reduced to 50 cents a pair. I watched with amusement as she rummaged excitedly through the large bin. It wasn’t long before she had 12 pairs in her basket and was so elated by the bargain that she wanted to go right home and try them on.

On our way to the check-out line, I stopped for my single item, a bottle of hairspray.

She picked up the cheapest hairspray she could find and held it out to me. “Look,” she said, “this one is on sale. You could get two bottles of this one for the price of yours.”

I told her I realized that, but the one on sale made my hair look like cotton candy.

“Well,” she said, reluctant to put back the bargain, “I guess it’s none of my business really. After all, it’s your money.”

I paid for the hairspray and the earrings and took Mom home.

The next day she called to let me know she needed to return a pair of the earrings. One of them kept slipping off her ear, and she just couldn’t stand paying good money for defective merchandise.

I resisted the temptation to say that I was the one who had paid the good money, and I didn’t care if she threw my 50 cents away. Saying such words would have revealed my lack of thriftiness. So, I drove the 20 miles from my house to hers, and we went back to the store. The clerk gave Mom my 50 cents plus tax, and it quickly disappeared into Mom’s purse. She was set on having a dozen pairs of new earrings, though, so back we went to the display to pick out another pair.

My mother’s worst nightmare had come true. There, atop the earring bin, the sign now read “REDUCED – 25¢ A PAIR.” Struck speechless—though only for a moment—she stared.

“I can’t believe it! I just can’t believe it! I paid twice as much for those earrings yesterday. Good money down the drain!”

I resisted the temptation to say that it was my good money down the drain, and that, quite frankly, I didn’t care a bit that they were now a quarter a pair. Such a remark would only prove I don’t have a shred of thriftiness in me. Instead, I reminded her that 50¢ had been a real bargain the day before, and if had she waited another day, she probably wouldn’t have found any earrings left that she liked. But it was no use; she couldn’t take it. It was obvious that we would have to return all of the earrings.

On the ride back to her house, I heard her mumbling under her breath, and every now and then I caught a few words: . . . “who they’re dealing with . . . no dummy . . . show them.” She charged back into her house with a vitality she hadn’t known in years. Without a word, she snatched up the other earrings and, doing a perfect about-face, marched back to the car.

The Walmart clerk handed Mom my $5.50 plus tax—and it quickly disappeared into her purse. A few seconds later Mom grabbed my arm and said, “Look! That girl is putting the earrings back. Let’s go!”

The instant the clerk dropped the earrings into the bin, my mother pounced. Grabbing the 11 pairs of returned earrings, along with an extra pair to make an even dozen, she triumphantly waved them at me. “That’ll teach ‘em to try and take me for a ride!”

I resisted the temptation to say I think I am the one being taken for a ride. All I could manage was a feeble, “That’s right, Mom … that’ll teach ‘em.”

On the way to the check-out counter, I stopped to pick up a compact of face powder.

“Oh my goodness,” said Mom, shaking her head. “Would you just look at the price on that. This brand over here is less than half that price. But it’s none of my business really. After all, it’s your money.”

I smiled weakly as we approached the counter. The clerk proceeded to ring up our purchases, remarking what a fantastic bargain my mother was getting on the earrings. If that clerk only knew how right she was, I thought to myself. I had paid more than $9 for those 25¢ earrings, spent a considerable amount on gasoline, not to mention 3 hours of my time—all on Mom’s “bargain.” My mother, on the other hand, had 12 free pairs of earrings and had made over $6 to boot.

She glanced at the new compact as I put it into my purse. “You know, you really should try to be a little more thrifty with your money. Otherwise, you’re going to end up in your old age like me, without any. But, it’s none of my business, really. After all, it’s your money.”

I looked at the innocent expression on her face and thought of my money in her purse. “Mom,” I told her, “if I end up like you, I will be rich indeed.”


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