My Mom, a homemaker for as long as I can remember, handled the daily budget, shopping and taking care of our family of four…not always an easy task. Dad was a car salesman whose monthly income was a combination of a small salary and commissions based on the number and models of the Buicks he sold that month. Because of this, Mom’s budget varied from month to month hence turning her into a class-one coupon clipper and an eagle-eye for sales.
She combed the papers every Sunday clipping coupons and marking on her calendar upcoming sales especially at Gimbels and Lit Brothers. These were two of her favorite stores. Why? Because they were within walking distance from our home. Very important since she didn’t drive and public transportation didn’t go in that direction. The main reason however were their sales. She could purchase three pair of shoes for $10, get cloths for all four of us at a fraction of the price of a Wanamaker’s or Strawbridge & Clothier and she usually found very pretty costume jewelry to stock her ‘gift closet’. She mainly purchased earrings and pendants but avoided the bracelets. They were pretty but left a pale green stain on your wrist if you wore it too long.
One thing Mom never compromised on was food. The quality was always good while the quantity depended on what was on sale at the neighborhood corner butcher shop, which was run by my Uncle Frank, and how good Dad’s commission was that month. If the month was really slow we had spaghetti. If it was an average month, she added meatballs and sausage and if it was an excellent month, T-boned steaks or, even better, lamb chops were the meats of choice with two sides, a salad and dessert.
My parents weren’t frugal just careful. I’ve known many frugal people in my life. I admire their persistence in getting the most out of every dollar and their logic or justification behind their financial and purchasing choices. Hands down, the most frugal person I’ve ever know is Al Taylor, my father-in-law. To the penny, he can tell you the balances of his accounts and the interest he’s owed, the cost of a specific bolt from three different stores and how long a fan belt should last before it needed to be replace. If the belt broke earlier than he calculated, he’d bring it back to the store and gets a new one – for free. He planned for almost everything including the births of his three sons. Jerry, Jeff and Roger who were born seven years apart. Why? So Dad would have three years to save between one graduating college and the next one starting. A good plan that worked.
Dad’s ‘planning’ didn’t always work and sometimes, it even backfired. He was a dispatcher for the MD transit company. His schedule was fluid, shifting between days and nights. Regardless of what time he got home, eight at night or two in the morning, Mom had a hot meal on the table waiting for him. One day, Mom told Dad that she’d like to get a microwave. This was in the late 1960s when microwaves were still fairly new. Dad, of course, said “no”. After all, it was luxury item and the oven worked just fine. Mom said, ‘okay’ and dropped the subject. Time marched on. Many months later, Dad returned home in the wee hours of the morning, looking forward to a hot meal. He sat down and Mom place a frozen dinner in front of him. He looked at her and said, “It’s frozen. How am I supposed to eat it? Mom smiled sweetly and replied, “Put it in the microwave” turned and went to bed. That week, a spanking new microwave found a home in the Taylor kitchen.
According to Jason Chaffetz, “A dash of frugality is a good thing for everyone.” However, if you squeeze a quarter and the eagle cries, perhaps you’ve gone too far!