Monday, August 15, 2005

Are You a Cheapskate?



Just turned on The Today Show, and they are doing a segment called "Cheapskate Week". I have to admit that watching this, featuring people who do things like fill their own jelly donuts, make diaper pails out of popcorn tins, and bring ziplock bags to the movies to divide up popcorn... makes my hair go on fire.

One of my ex-husbands said I would "go across the street and around the corner to avoid a sale", and he was probably right. I've only been to Wal-Mart twice (and couldn't wait to get out), don't comparison shop, and am a firm believer in "you get what you pay for". I know it's irrational at times, but hey...I've never claimed to be a completely rational person.

Why this visceral aversion to bargains? As with most of my other neuroses, I have to blame my parents. As children of the Great Depression, they turned penny-pinching into an artform. My mother made a lot of our clothes, and in doing so made them about three sizes too big so they'd fit for several years. This explains why, in most old photos, we look like refugees from Uzbekistan. She also made clothes for my Barbie doll, which was great except for the fact that she didn't want to have to buy special snaps (you know, the right SIZED ones), so the clothes had closures as big as Barbie's head.

Getting a greeting card from my mother meant (and still means) receiving one that had been previously sent to her, with the inside cut out. All of the food in our house was "Brand X" or awful store brands like "Ann Page" and "Krasdale". Although my father loved ice cream, the best we got was Breyer's Neopolitan, or maybe a Cookie Puss cake from Carvel for a REALLY special occasion.

My father loved electronics and gadgets of any and every kind (we had air-conditioning before anyone else), but I still remember the "brand names" that graced them all... Setchell-Carlson, Bonsonic, Royce Union... some of which, I think, fell off the back of a truck. Since he was a mailman, our house was FILLED with tiny versions of many products (free samples that had been addressed to houses that didn't exist). We used miniature cans of Rite Guard and Arrid Extra Dry, ate from little packettes of Carnation Instant Breakfast, and read magazines that had a big square cutout on the cover. Occasionally we'd score big and get someone's 8 free records from Columbia House, if they moved away before it was delivered. And there was Joe the Dented Can Man, my father's favorite place to shop for canned food.

I guess it's all about priorities. My parents did manage to raise three kids on a postman's salary (although my mother also worked or collected unemployment most of the time), and we always had new cars that they paid cash for. They never had credit cards until they retired and we never felt like they were strapped for cash.

Still, while I appreciate their efforts, it has left me with a psychotic disdain for sales and bargains.

So... fess up. Are you a Cheapskate? Are you the child of a Cheapskate? Or are you, like me, the Anti-Cheapskate?