“I think I'm going to get a new computer,” I told my wife. “I've had my old one for seven years, and it's getting really slow. It's on its last legs and we had an okay year. It wouldn't hurt to have a few more business expenses from this year instead of next...”
She stopped me. “You don't have to justify every dollar you spend. If you think you should get a computer, get a computer.”
I'm not sure I can do that. I've spent the majority of my life more or less broke. Not missing any meals, but not flying first class either. I've developed some definite habits. For instance, last week we were in a restaurant ordering burgers and fries. After examining my soul, I could think of no reason I’d be worth the $1.00 upgrade to tater tots.
I don't think of myself as cheap. I give to charitable causes, pick up the tab when dining with family, and have spent serious money on seriously impractical projects. But last week I was going through my closet and found some jeans I haven't worn for a year because the knees were worn through, not to mention they were half a size too small. It took every fiber of willpower I possess to chuck them out.
I come by this honestly. My father grew up during the Depression and among other things, he took a significant amount of pleasure in the fact that all his children had straight toes. Dad’s toes curled and over-lapped, because he was unable to get new shoes until it was literally impossible to cram his feet in the old ones. On the other side of my family, my mother's father lost three farms during the 1930s, which led her to some amazing feats of frugality in her life. She stopped buying new clothes about thirty years before she died because she was afraid she wouldn't live long enough to wear them out.
This thrifty mindset isn’t only genetics. The first year we farmed was in 1976, when the worst drought in a hundred years hit our county. We started the year with nothing and ended with less. In 1980, we bought two quarters of land, and three years later it was worth half what we paid for it. We eventually came out the other side, but for a couple decades there was no chucking out of badly worn jeans unless public decency demanded it.
That's not all bad. Just this morning I read a poem by Carl Sandburg. “...they spend money they haven't earned on things they don't need to impress people they don't like.”
Well, I’m not that guy. I can’t imagine how much money I'd need to have before I stopped noticing the prices on a restaurant menu, let alone spending money trying to impress someone.
It’s a problem. Since 2016, we've added 14 trillion dollars to the national debt and as individuals, we have more than a trillion dollars in credit card debt. Some politician once said, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you're talking real money.” Whoever he was, he'd be rolling in his grave if he knew what kind of charges we've been putting on the national credit card.
Oh, well. I did buy that computer. I also splurged on work jeans.
I'm still out on a limb about the tater-tots.
Copyright 2023 Brent Olson