When does thrift stop making sense?
My grandmother had a drawer in her kitchen with small containers — former stationary boxes, bobby pin holders and the like — which held rubber bands from newspapers, twist ties from sacks of bread and carefully washed squares of tin foil.
Oh yes, my grandmother knew about thrift. And yes, before you waste time wondering, my grandmother raised children during the Depression; her habits were ingrained by years of necessity.
However, her first 20 years were spent as the daughter of a well-to-do merchant and landowner in England, with servants, dressmakers and stablehands.
What influences our attitudes towards money, spending, saving and considering? It's interesting to note that most people associate the word 'thrift' with penny-pinching cheapness, but in fact the word is derived from 'thrive' and its first definition is one of vigorous growth. The implication, when you connect the linguistic dots, is that thrift — careful management of assets — leads to wealth, or at least fiscal comfort.
My grandmother may have grown up the privileged child of a successful businessman but she married a farmer-turned-laborer and thrift soon became of way of life. She coveted brown paper sacks from the store, saved wrapping paper and ribbon from gifts and wrote on every bit of white space in letter stationary.
As a child, I thought my grandmother was nuts, zealous in her dedication to thrift. Later of course I realized how much her careful reuse of things helped her family prosper and I wished I could have inherited that gene.
Thrift, to me, is a fluid thing. I was contemplating that recently as I sat in my garden trimming wildflower heads to carefully glean their seeds for next year. It's a tedious task and my 45 minutes of work yielded a couple of packet's worth of seeds that, if I bought them new, would cost me about $2.50.
Was that thrift? Absolutely. Was it practical thrift? That's debatable. While I'm thrifty enough to save my cotton Q-tips if I only use one end I also purchase $4 fancy espresso drinks when I like plain old coffee just fine. And while I may foolishly spend money on new books and magazines, the same ones available at my local library, I also refuse to buy any clothing unless it's on sale — or used.
That's the quandary. What's practical thrift? Undoubtedly I'd be making a thriftier choice if I used my library more for my reading needs. And I might be showing better thriftsense if I splurged for full-price clothes once in a while instead of choosing to save money and look like an awkward country cousin at work.
Where we use thrift and where we don't tends to be more emotional and instinctual than intellectual, I've decided.
I have a family member who insists on washing and reusing all her plastic food storage bags yet she splurges on trips to Mexico and Europe. And I know others who are too cheap to make sure their car has regular maintenance but they'll happily spend $30,000 on a new model.
Once upon a time thrift was easier to define. It meant wise consideration of all money matters and resource management. Now it means picking your niche where you can illogically cheap out while being a spendthrift everywhere else.
Leslie Pugmire Hole is the the edior of the Wilsonville Spokesman