March of the Miser

piggy bankWhen I told my son Noah that this month at our house would be the March of the Miser, and that therefore we wouldn’t be buying anything, he looked at me evenly and said, “We never buy anything.”

We are, in many respects, a frugal family. The kids know that “new books” come from the library and that eligible grocery store purchases sport little yellow sale flags. Takeout Chinese is an occasional treat; takeout sushi is . . . for visiting dignitaries. My clothes-loving child makes do with hand-me-downs from stylish friends and sporadic sprees with Grandma; my Broadway-musical-loving child has yet to see a show on Broadway.

But the thing is, although we are relatively frugal, we are not absolutely frugal. Or, as I recently explained it to a friend, we always find the absolute best price—plus free shipping!—for the thing that we don’t really need.

We recently spent hours on the Internet, for example, chasing down the best deal on a computer for Noah. Could he get by with something basic and/or refurbished? Of course! We started with a frugal mindset, but then we lost our minds. We got sucked into getting the most for our money, toggling back and forth between detailed specification lists, while steadily increasing our price limit. This one’s no good: it has only 2 gigs of RAM. (I don’t know what RAM is, but I sure as hell know 2 is less than 4.) That one has Windows 8, not Windows 8.1—what are we, cavemen?

Ah, the allure of value shopping: I can’t resist it. And I’m an even bigger sucker for sale shopping. Matching coupons with store sales isn’t quite earning money (so I’ve been told), but it’s definitely winning. So although I know it will go on sale again and I already have 11 extra boxes of cereal in the basement, I have to buy 4 more boxes of Chex for $1.77 each. And with bacon this cheap, why not put another 6 pounds in the downstairs freezer?

(Yes, the “downstairs freezer”—I also have one in the pantry, plus a regular fridge freezer, a pantry, and spillover larder in the basement. Come to my house when The End Is Nigh: you will be well fed as you contemplate the apocalypse.)

For frugal people, we also do an embarrassing amount of recreational shopping, browsing the sale rack at Target or Marshalls while Jesse’s in rehearsal or Noah is at his piano lesson. And then there’s reward shopping: craft supplies for the kid who wants to spend Saturday morning making things while I sleep,  sheet music for the kid who’s decided to tackle Chopin’s etudes, new yoga pants for the mom who’s started resolved to get more exercise . . .

Finally, the senseless spending to compensate for the craziness of life with kids. After running Jesse to school early for practice for the fourth time this week, dammit, I’ve earned a stop at Starbucks for my coffee. Lena—fetched from school and headed for piano—needs a snack, so . . . how could you get much cheaper than a McChicken for a dollar?

Sorry, kids, but the answer is: with a 19-cent banana brought from home.

March of the Miser is dedicated to the 19-cent banana. To the perfectly edible beef and barley soup languishing at the bottom of the downstairs freezer. To suggesting new uses for the art supplies we already have and pointing out all the sheet music we already own. In March, when I’m trapped near a shopping center with an hour to kill, I’ll read a book. In March, a sale at DSW will not necessarily be a sign that I need shoes.

Maybe in April, we’ll go crazy with pent-up spendergy.

Or maybe we’ll just truly relish that takeout Chinese . . . until we start to take it for granted all over again.

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