My grandmother’s middle name should have been “Frugal.” She ran the dishwasher only on holidays. She reused small yogurt containers for drinking cups. All of her meat purchases at the grocery store were labeled “reduced for quick sale” or “manager’s special.” She sewed much of her clothing, and mine as a child. Her splurges were few and far between; the only mortgage she had on her home was for $6,000, and half of that went to carpet the house, and the other half paid for my uncle’s college tuition at Montana Tech.
I needed these lessons in frugality when I was young. I have known poverty; I remember being a regular at the “discount bread store” and buying unsliced bread loaves because they were half the price of sliced bread. Then I would purchase margarine because I couldn’t afford butter. I ate pan-fried bread for days at a time, usually days 10 through 14 in a two-week pay period. I worked a full-time minimum wage job and barely made ends meet. While I don’t have much nostalgia for those lean times, time spent broke was responsible for inspiring me to go to college and to work two to three jobs at a time to pay for college versus taking out debt.
I have the luxury of not needing to be frugal now, yet my frugality remains, much to my family’s chagrin. I wash and reuse Ziplock bags and tinfoil. My Tupperware consists mainly of reused sour cream and butter containers. I use a marker on my shoes and my furniture to color in scuffs extending their use. I hate car payments, and in the winter, I drive a 1998 Ford Explorer. In fact, I spent less on my vehicle than I did for my kids’ first cars. I use coupons for virtually everything. I refuse to pay full price for anything, earning me the family name “Clearance Aisle Tammi.” I do splurge on stuff that means the most to me, primarily vacations and anything of sentimental value. I also use the savings from my frugality to donate to those less fortunate. And giving feels much better than a new car and its associated monthly debt payments.
There is value in frugality being a constant, even when the economy returns. For those of us who have incomes sufficient for our needs, exercising frugality and distributing the savings to those less fortunate is rewarding. One of the best lessons I learned from Grandma was how to be frugal, and I know my kids will (eventually) find value in learning the same lesson from me. Either that or they will continue to think I am nuts. Let’s hope for the former versus the latter.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.