Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Being Mean

Believe it or not, I do think there is such a thing as being ‘too frugal’. In the States, the term ‘skinflint’ or ‘tightwad’ would be applied, but as I’ve come to use 'tightwad' (as in Tightwad Gazette) affectionately, I think the UK word is useful, particularly as it inherently has other derogatory connotations. Over here they call it being ‘mean’. It usually refers to someone who doesn’t buy their round at the pub or cheats on paying their part of the bill at a restaurant. These people are not very popular; their friends – if they have any – understandably resent them. There really is no excuse for such behaviour.

Bill called me to task about this recently, about being mean in a different way. Actually, he made a ‘polite comment’ but he has so few negatives (apart from the usual day-to-day grumpiness) to offer that when he comes up with one of these opinions, I pay close attention. [Consider this a hint, if you want your complaints to be heard!] It was about a chance to explore a potential new hobby that I was inclined to let pass because I thought it was rather expensive. He thought it was such a rich opportunity that he disagreed with my assessment. I decided to give it further consideration.

The day after this brief discussion a cousin in Oklahoma City sent me this joke.

Giving Up Wine

I was walking down the street when I

was accosted by a particularly dirty

and shabby-looking homeless woman

who asked me for a couple of dollars

for dinner.

I took out my wallet, got out ten

dollars and asked, 'If I give you this

money, will you buy wine with it

instead of dinner?'

'No, I had to stop drinking years

ago', the homeless woman told me.

'Will you use it to go shopping

instead of buying food?' I asked.

'No, I don't waste time shopping,'

the homeless woman said. 'I need to

spend all my time trying to stay alive.'

'Will you spend this on a beauty salon

instead of food?' I asked.

'Are you NUTS!' replied the homeless

woman. I haven't had my hair done

in 20 years!'

'Well, I said, 'I'm not going to give

you the money. Instead, I'm going

to take you out for dinner with my

husband and me tonight.'

The homeless woman was shocked.

'Won't your husband be furious

with you for doing that? I know

I'm dirty, and I probably smell

pretty disgusting.'

I said, 'That's okay. It's important

for him to see what a woman

looks like after she has given up

shopping, hair appointments, and


It seemed to capture something of what Bill was trying to say to me. Not, I hope, about how I smell or look (though I had just decided to go back to having my hair professionally cut -- at least occasionally -- rather than doing it myself or being a student’s practice model); more about how extreme frugality can lead to having an impoverished lifestyle.

Bill is really good about humouring me in most of my daft frugal ideas, in fact he’s a willing convert most of the time. He does seem to worry that I don’t get out enough, even though I have a commitment of some sort that gets me out of the house 4 or 5 days a week. Granted, running isn’t always that sociable; you can talk for a while, but I do like to push myself a bit and that is a solitary activity even in a group. I have tended of late to take needlework to the pub and to drink tea. After a run I’m tired and though I like most of the people there, the conversation isn’t always as much fun as my current project. Sadly, the lady I sit next to at the sewing group has cats for children and what I consider an extremely narrow and predictable set of opinions. As is often the case, the seating arrangements are peculiarly fixed in these kinds of groups. Perhaps Bill sees, better than I have, that I could do with more stimulating conversation.

Another way in which I recognize I have been mean has been in not having my eyes checked recently. I think I see fine with my current contact lenses but as I do occasionally drive, I really ought to have that checked. I have put this off mainly because I am rarely completely satisfied with the results of a visit to an optician. I won’t do further business with SpecSavers or Boots, but there are still others in the area to try, including several independent opticians. Ideally I would like to get new contacts (I’ve been wearing these far beyond their intended use) and new glasses; I might even been seen wearing glasses outside of the house, but don’t hold your breath. I would like to be able to shop for these online. In the U.S. there is a law that the optician must give you your full prescription that will allow you do to this; I don’t know if the same exists here in the UK.

The other way in which I hope to raise my game this year is to dress a bit better. It is too easy to slob about in jeans and trainers when you don’t go out to work. Bill commented once how nice I looked when I got out of jeans. I heard that loud and clear, though it was just a passing observation. I still have most of my work clothes. As they were moving away from suits towards ‘smart casual’, a lot are still useful. I still tend to put together outfits with high heels for social occasions involving a car. The rest of the time I wear flat shoes to walk around in. I don’t think ‘frugal’ and ‘flat shoes’ has to be a recipe for frumpy, but it does take a bit more thought and a lot more editing.

So, I’m thinking that if I want to continue to enjoy being in step with my practically perfect partner and not slide into ‘old bag lady’, I need to be more high-maintenance and less hermit! It will take some effort, but I think it’s he’s / I’m worth it.

Do you sometimes border on being mean?


Frugal Scholar said...

I think frugality is about good stewardship of resources, so cheating your friends is NOT frugal in my lexicon.

Your eyes are a resource--take care of them.

Beth said...

I would like to recommend Rowe Eyecare in Newcastle. They are in Princess Square, next to Trillians if you know where that is, next to the back door to Newcastle Library. Been going there for years and although they rarely seem to run completely on time (I often end up waiting 5-10 minutes), the service is otherwise excellent.

I *think* opticians have to give you the prescription if you ask for it, but some are more helpful than others.

I am mean at times, but extravagent at others. No rhyme or reason as to when I go which way. I wish I was rich and didn't have to worry. Ah well...

Revanche said...

I really do. Too frequently I think, why bother getting gussied up, no one's going to see me?

But the long term (medium term?) effect of being physically shabby 'n' shoddy begins to show in how I think, talk and work.

It's harder to be a go-getter after giving yourself permission to live in your jammies.

Shelley said...

FS -- You are so right about eyesight. I'd be legally blind if my vision couldn't be corrected, so I should really appreciate, as you say, this resource.

B! -- Hi there! Didn't know you read here. Lovely to hear from you. I know Princess Square (great place to window shop at Cruise...I've even gone in and browsed, but with no actual intent!)

Revanche -- Again, welcome! I'm honoured to see you here. Yes, sloppy dress can affect one's thinking. I have the hangover habit from work of standing up when I want to sound more authoritative. I'm just about scared to answer the phone if I'm still in PJ's; the caller would have all the advantage!

Beth said...

I lurk more than comment mostly, but had to recommend the opticians :)

TKW said...

I love the joke!!

I tend to be "mean" with myself but not my kids...I'll spend on them without a second thought.