The Definition of Thrifty

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penny pinching


Do you know of anyone who is a penny-pincher? A cheapskate? Or, to put it more kindly – “thrifty?” Well, this column was originally published in the Daily Corinthian on April 27, 2005 after I had a friend, who will STILL remain anonymous, tell me about someone who was the definition of “thrifty” for her.



The Definition of Thrifty

I have a good friend. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call her “Bernice.” Anyway, good ole Bernie once told me she knew the exact definition of the word “thrifty.”

“Bernie,” I said, (condescendingly, I admit) “everyone knows the definition of thrifty.”

She smiled slowly like the winner of a high-stakes poker game. “You don’t know my mother-in-law, Irene.”

Bernie then proceeded to tell me of her first true demonstration of frugality. One day, not long after Bernie had gotten married, Bernie and her husband had driven over to his mother’s house to pick her up. They intended to take Irene grocery shopping that day. They pulled into the driveway, Bernie’s husband honked the horn and they waited.

Bernie looked over at her husband, annoyed. It was raining and she had hoped he would go to the porch with an umbrella and escort Irene to the car. She suggested it but her husband seemed confident. “She’ll be fine,” he said.

Seconds later Irene appeared from out of the house. She looked out at the rain from the safety of her covered porch. She had two Walmart bags — one dangling from her wrist and one bunched up in her hand. The one on her wrist ballooned downward, obviously filled with a few items of which Bernie had no possible idea of what they might be.

After a moment, Irene shook out the bag bunched up in her hand and then proceeded to put it on her head and hold it together under her chin by the handles. Bernie watched with a weird combination of horror and fascination as Irene gingerly made her way toward them.

Some wind got up under the Walmart bag and inflated it so that the bottom ends stood out like points. Bernie said it looked to her kind of like Irene had a bra on her head. Bernie looked over at her husband as she tried to suppress a bout of hysterical laughter. “Why is she wearing a Walmart bag on her head? Will she keep it on all day?”

He replied calmly. His tone was one of tired acceptance. “She’s wearing the bag because she doesn’t want to mess up her cheap, dollar store rain bonnet. She saves that one for rainy Sundays and she’ll wear the bag as long as it’s raining.”

Bernie turned disbelieving eyes back to the little woman who had almost made it to the car by this time. “What about that bag hanging from her arm?”

Same strangely resigned tone. “That would be what she’ll be using as a purse today.”

What? She has a purse! I’ve seen it!”

“She saves it for Sundays. You’re lucky she’s using a Walmart bag today. Sometimes she uses an empty bread bag, turned inside out.”

Bernie almost gagged on her incredulity. Irene had reached the car before she could say anything else. Irene still practices these habits today and Bernie’s teenage daughter begs her mother not to let her be seen in public with her grandmother when it’s raining outside.

Bernie’s stories of Irene and her “thrifty” ways have become legendary, but I will always remember this one – the first one. Funny thing is, according to Bernie, Irene has plenty of money to buy whatever she needs.  I also love Bernie’s stories about how Irene spies on her neighbors. I’ve often wondered it if she needed the entertainment because she was “saving” her television for special occasions.

I feel everyone can rest more peacefully each day now that they truly know the definition of thrifty.

(L.A. Story is a fiction writer and poet. She is a resident of Glen where she uses an umbrella on rainy days and she is not ashamed of that. Her blogs will appear on Wednesdays.)