Okay, I am officially “crazy”. I know that is not a politically correct term, but yesterday I did something so obsessive that I realized for the first time in my life that something is seriously wrong with me…I bought make-up that did not match my skin color BECAUSE IT WAS ON SALE!!!!!!
I have always been a “frugal” person, coming from a long line of “frugal” relatives. (Alright, actually only one, my dad, but he goes way back to my childhood so it is considered a long line to me.) My father was so “frugal” that is retrospect I realize he obviously had obsessive compulsive disorder. Although we were a middle class family, we NEVER went out to eat. (Well, there was that ONE TIME we did go out to an ice cream restaurant on their 25th anniversary, but other than that we did not eat at restaurants.) He did not want to spend money on heat, so we used a wood stove. (We live in NEW ENGLANG!) He did allow us to have electric blankets, but we could only turn it on to warm the bed, shutting it off when we went to bed. So, I’d fall asleep all warm and cozy with happy dreams and wake up in the middle of the night dreaming of Antarctica. He also did not want to spend money on hot water, so he devised a type of solar hot water heater by threading water pipes on the roof and then into an unplugged water heater. If it was a very sunny day, we could have a warm bath at night, but only once a week because he didn’t want to waste water. We were fortunately to live on a lake so I did a lot of swimming to get clean.
We ate only what was inexpensive and on sale: lots of rice, pasta, mashed potatoes and canned vegetables. Not so much fresh vegetables, fruit or meat. My father was not a vegetarian because of moral concerns, but because of the cost of meat.
For the beginning of school in September, I would be able to choose 2 outfits at the nearest discount store. I would wear them alternate days during the week…all year! If I happened to grow during the year, (as of course often happened,) they would get a little tight. Fortunately, my mother planned for this by buying them extra big at the beginning of the school year! She loved buying her and my father’s clothes and shoes at the Salvation Army. In fact, everyone got a good laugh at my wedding when my mom came up and knelt down for communion and there was $1.99 written in black marker on the bottom of her shoe. (You’ve GOT to laugh at stuff like that…)
My mother would cut my hair, usually crooked. When I became a teenager, I tried to let it grown. I put it up in a “bun” like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, but it was so thin and uncontrollable that I usually ended up looking like Pebbles from the Flintstones!
We did go to the drive-in every Friday, and I was allowed the 25 cents to get popcorn, which was a huge treat for me. During those days, you had to pay per person for the drive-in. My father had me scrunch down low in the back seat so they would think I was under 12. One day, when I was about 15, the person in the admission booth questioned my father about my age. Because he would never LIE, he told them I was 15 but that he would not pay for me, and what difference did it make if he paid for 2 or 3 because they would still get some money. The man in the admission booth dug in his heels…and so did my father. To my huge embarrassment, my father made the long line of cars behind him waiting to pay BACK UP so that he could leave. That was the last time we went to the drive-in.
Of all of the effects of economic frugality, the biggest one was that I never got a real Barbie doll. I yearned for a Barbie doll! I asked for one for birthdays and Christmas, but I always got the cheap plastic imitation Barbie dolls. When I went to play with friends, they would take pity on me and let me play with their Midge doll, (Barbie’s “friend”,) but it was never the same as playing with my own real live Barbie. I think it is ironic that this is the one memory that has caused permanent harm to my psyche!
In retrospect, except for the doll, I did not know anything different. I did not feel cheated or poor or economically deprived. I learned to live with what I had and be happy. From an early age, probably because I had a brother who was severely disabled, I was empathetic with people with disabilities. Although I did not see many children with physical disabilities in those days, there were many developmentally delayed students in the schools. I would go out of my way to be friendly and helpful. I had little tolerance for ignorant people who would fun of these valuable human beings, and I was known for my protective nature. I was fortunate to have had many friends in school. They were not necessarily the most popular or the most fashionably dressed friends, but they were down to earth, friendly, and they appreciated their friendship with me. I was confident with myself, and I thought nothing of going up to a bully and telling them to stop picking on someone. Just like that, I’d have a new friend! Sometimes I’d even make friends with the bully! I had a great time in school! My values were vastly different than other teenagers. This difference actually led into what I think is my best quality, the unwavering caring and acceptance of others. Without this trait, I would not have become a social worker, and I certainly would not have adopted 4 children with disabilities!
Although one would expect I would rebel in the other direction, the one thing that could not help but rub off on me is frugality. I started working at the age of 14 and paid 1/2 of my pay to my parents as room and board, (of COURSE.) I finally had some disposable income and you would have thought I would spend it on clothes, haircuts and such. NO. I was a compulsive saver. I saved to buy my own car at the age of 16 and I saved enough to pay for college at the age of 18. I am definitely not as frugal as my father, (who, by the way, died and left my mother with several hundred thousand dollars with which she happily used for the next ten years to travel to exotic locales.) I do, however, get a big thrill buying things on sale with deep discounts! I’m the type who would go to JC Penny’s or Macy’s and buy the seasonal items on sale at 80% off with an additional 20% off coupon. Who can resist shirts for $3 or pants for $5? I clothe my 5 children in this manner, always buying the year before for clothes they would need the next year. Once, when a local department store went out of business, they were selling children’s clothing for 50 cents each. Who could turn THAT down????? I bought 4 RACKS of clothing! Fortunately, I was in the process of adopting our daughter from Guatemala, so my mother and I stuffed all of the clothing in 8 large suitcases which we took with us to Guatemala. We each put our own clothes into backpacks which we carried. The orphanage which had so tenderly cared for my daughter was thrilled to get such an assortment of new clothes. The director actually cried because she said all they ever got were dirty and ripped hand me downs.
I no longer do the grocery shopping in my house because, like my father, I would only by items which were deeply on sale. My husband is not a canned vegetable kind of guy. In fact, I was lucky enough to marry a cook, so he does all of his own shopping, regularly visiting the local farm for fresh produce or the local meat market for fresh meat or fish. My cupboards and refrigerator are always full of great food and I never have to worry about how much it cost!
Which brings me back to my drugstore sojourn yesterday when, browsing the aisles, I noticed that some of the make-up items were 75% off. (PLUS I had a $5 off coupon for the store! What could be better?) I picked out the marked-down items and proudly brought them to the register. I was happy! I was frugal! I was an idiot! When I got the items home and tried to use them, I was horrified to learn I had bought powdered make-up such an ugly color that when I put it on I looked like I had pancake make-up on my face. (I’m not talking about pancake make-up they were in the movies, I’m talking about make-up that actually looked like I was wearing pancake flour on my face!) I tried the blush and it was so red that my cheeks looked like a clown. The lipstick was brown. (UGH!) The mascara was not waterproof, (something I HATE because by night time I being to look like a raccoon.) And WHY hadn’t I noticed that the nail polish was green??? For the first time in my life I looked at my white powdered, red cheeked, brown lipped self in the mirror and I thought “I am officially crazy!” Oh, well, its a good thing that I think I am pretty on the INSIDE!