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Monday, April 30, 2012

Frugal, or Cheap?

One of my friends and former co-workers once observed that a piece of coal shoved up my nether-regions would shortly be returned as a diamond. It was a coarse observation presented in more common vernacular to point out that I am frugal. Perhaps even cheap.

The observation was correct no matter what term one would choose. I strive to be frugal. It is a value I learned from my parents, and one I value as a value. Frugality seems good to me, and I am content following such a course. Unfortunately, I can also sometimes be cheap. Not always, but way too often. Cheap is the less honorable and dignified sibling of frugality. Not the better company to keep.

As an illustration, I shall bring my wife (unwillingly) into the blog. We were in the market for some new cookware. I looked around and found a set of cookware of admirable quality for an even more admirable price. Just under two hundred dollars. A good price, since this stuff would last a long time. Good metal. No high maintenance inner surfaces to worry about. A nice variety of pots, pans and covers. They had a good structure and form. Practical. Dishwasher safe.

My wife did not want to spend two hundred dollars. I quite understood, but argued for the investment. She shopped a bit more, and found a hundred dollar set on sale for half of that. Using a coupon or some other combination of discounts, she got it for less than twenty bucks. Now that was frugal.

Unfortunately, it was also cheap, at least by comparison. The set we bought has a high-maintenance non-stick coating. The pots and pans have serviceable structure and form, but are not nearly as versatile as the set I wanted. The metal is a light aluminum, not my favorite for cooking. The variety of pot shapes was not quite as good. They are not dishwasher safe, as the dishwasher may cause the outer surface to discolor.

Who was right? Well, I don't see it as an issue of 'right.' The lesser expenditure allowed us to keep some of our money, and the cookware is working out fine. Since a lot of my cooking is simply high aspirations, good intentions and little action, perhaps the lesser investment was the wiser. Frugal? Yes. Cheap? Probably.

I will never be a label shopper. I shall not be a slave to fashion. Those practices tend to part me from too much of my money just for bragging rights and to please people whose pleasure I don't particularly care about. Still, a label can sometimes point to good value. Something that wears well over a goodly span of time.

I will never be a political or philosophical shopper. I once had a philosophy professor who admitted that she shopped with unbalanced diligence to obtain a tooth powder that was not advertised in any way, and payed far too much for that 'freedom' from media manipulation. Some avoid a particular store, or another, because they are off-shore or use slave labor or indirectly kill baby Panda bears and innocent whales. I will go for the best price for the best quality, period.

Why so unconscionable in my shopping? Because it is a bit much to expect for me to weigh the issues and sift the facts from the feces just to buy toilet paper or a new pair of shoes. Because frugality is my dominant philosophical position. Because, in the end, I am cheap.

Anyone want to buy a fresh diamond?

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