by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Frugality I have lately discovered is not only about penny-pinching, prudence and economy. Tragically it’s also about abstinence and self-denial. That isn’t exactly what I had bargained for months ago when I first began thinking about thrift and planning to reverse years of unrestrained profligacy. Adding this element of asceticism to the remedial project goes well beyond mere moderation in my opinion; in fact it transforms the endeavour from what I imagined to be saccharin accounting to something entirely different and personal, and not in a good way.

I have unwittingly unearthed this unforgiving truth repeatedly over the past several weeks. It now appears that I was temporarily insulated from this discovery during the first portion of the year when my disbursement was then marked by mandatory cost-cutting measures, or at least the necessity to spend what modest surplus I had on demanding things like capital renovations. It is a thankful blessing for me that abhorrence of disrepair trumps even my fiery passion for personal indulgences. Now however, with those property management responsibilities behind me, I am once again thrilling to the delight of having some loose change. Daily there are unfolding alternatives for its speedy disposition, just like the good old days! It is utterly remarkable how compelling the marketplace can be to those of us who are open to persuasion and materialism generally! The recipe for this catastrophe-in-the-making involves not only the expected prerequisites of capital and craving, but also such extraneous features as the weather and the regularity of one’s bodily functions. Combined there is a sense of unsurpassed bien être, and before long one is either caressing the latest object of admiration or typing one’s credit card number onto a now familiar web site.

But wait! It is at this critical juncture that sobering self-discipline, like a sudden wave of cold water, spills over me. Actually the awakening is far more intellectual than biological; there is an academic supremacy to this business about saving money. It really is as clinical as I had at first visualized! The higher form of analysis conveniently elbows the inferior instinctive appetites out of the way. Such blunt and superlative rhetoric as “Do I really need this?” comes to mind. Before long one is engaged in even more profound scrutiny invoking hitherto uncharted areas of examination, including for example a summary of the electronic devices one already owns or the recapitulation of the number of sweaters currently burgeoning in one’s armoire. The result is the same effect as dissecting a chocolate pie; viz., it all but kills the hunger, not to mention the enthusiasm.

While I admit that the insight is subsequent only (though happily never too late), it unceasingly astounds me how quickly one is capable of racking up a sizeable overhead on relatively unimportant items. As always it isn’t the grains of sand that matter, rather their cumulative effect, which I suppose is a distinction without a difference though the metaphor more readily affords the lesson. I am reminded of the adage, “One can’t have money and things”, a dire warning to the spendthrift!

  Getting oneself into the frame of mind for stinginess requires more than a little adjustment. Overcoming a wastrel’s behaviour is I suspect akin to the alcoholic learning to avoid the drink at all costs. Like most religions, it is uncompromising. Granted the day may come when even economy can bend to the wind of excess, but there is likely as much hope of that happening as winning the lottery. Sadly frugality is a lengthy sentence. Consider, however, the alternatives; namely, being relegated to a lifetime of putting out the fires arising from burning up one’s credit card or line of credit. Eventually that motif becomes more than a bit tiresome. In the end the material world has by definition no attraction or relief. This of course begs the question whether, when all is said and done, is it better to have a fistful of the right stuff or a box with the most toys?

Here the debate becomes decidedly heady, highlighting as it does the dichotomy between the “here and now” and the “there and then”. Who hasn’t heard the arguments on one side or the other for enjoying life today or saving for the future? The question pits the extremists against one another. At times the cause is made the easier for the one by the untimely death of a comrade; at another by the prolonged misery of a destitute vagrant. No doubt there are those who would seek to straddle the boundary by advancing the theory of reasonableness in all things, as though that were somehow a popular commodity.

Having had to come down off the fence in the conduct of my own affairs, I admit there has been a goodly portion of luck at play. On the one hand I was able to indulge myself in the pleasure of my squandering, yet subsequently I was able to exchange the tokens for cash (albeit at a discount). This I interpret as fair compromise. I am keenly aware that not everyone is so privileged to be able to unload one’s misfortunes. Having been given the opportunity, I am now more than ever cautious about pressing my providence. Besides there are new openings on the horizon to which one must be sensitive in order to gain the advantage. Repeating the same blunders year after year is after all hardly advisable. And more than a bit boring.