Are frugalistas scroogey and mean?

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Cartoon of Ebenezer Scrooge

One thing that people often say to me when I tell them that I espouse a frugal lifestyle is that they are all for saving money, but they can’t abide being with people who are stingy or scroogey.

I am sure you know what I am talking about. It’s that work colleague to calculates down to the last cent in group meals or insists on splitting the bill when they have had cocktails and steak and dessert and you had a salad. It is those people who promise to pay you back but never do. Or the ones who steal things like hotel towels or packets of sugar – not just complimentary things but raiding the cupboards and grabbing fistfuls.

It’s also usually these types of people who, while they have money, don’t contribute much to a community or social cause. Have you ever tried to sell raffle tickets? I have, and it is often intriguing to see who buys and who doesn’t.  “Oh, I never win anything,” is often the cry from your super-stingy friend who earns way more than you do. If you never buy tickets then of course you will never win anything.  Duh!  And it is harsh when you know that that same friend has just been down to the cafe and spent $10 on coffee and doughnuts yet won’t spend $2 on raffle tickets or a donation.

It is because of people like this – the ones who are scroogey with other people but who are magnanimous with themselves – that the frugalista lifestyle gets a bad rap.

You can still be a generous person even if you don’t spend a lot of money.  This is because generosity comes from the heart.

Consider where the term came from – Ebenezer Scrooge was a character in Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol.  He had a lot of money, but he was mean to his workers and to other people. He didn’t allow love into his life. He wouldn’t see family at Christmas. He refused to donate to help those who ar doing it tough.

I am a huge fan of Charles Dickin’s work.  I believe what he was trying to show was that Christmas is a time to demonstrate the generosity of spirit when we should demonstrate goodwill to other all including those who are in need.  Somehow this has morphed into a need to get ourselves into debt to buy presents for people that they don’t want or need at Christmas time to prove that we are not like Scrooge. But the message was more than money. It was also one about community and relatedness – witness Scrooge sitting down and eating Christmas lunch with family.

Earlier this week I had two close girlfriends over to dinner.  They came to celebrate some recent achievements, to inspire each other and to chat and chat and chat – as women often do when they come together.  Over our meal, the topic of frugality and meanness came up.

“I understand being frugal, but I just can’t abide people who are mean,” said my friend.

I agreed with her.

Our meal was simple. I had made pumpkin soup.  This is usually a cheap enough meal in Autumn and early winter when pumpkins are plentiful.  This was even cheaper for me because the pumpkin was home-grown and gifted by a good friend.  It was a beautiful deep, dark orange and, because it was grown without pesticides was truly special.

I served it with toasted soy and linseed bread that I got for free from my church.  UnitingCare Kippax has a food bank programme that supports disadvantaged people in Western Belconnen and elsewhere.  Every five or six weeks, my kidlets and I help collect end-of day leftover bread from a bakery.  We take it back to church, repack it and then leave it for people who need it.  I often take a few loaves home as well. No, this is not stealing but I will get to that. It is also a really good way to teach my kids about generosity and helping those people that don’t have a lot of money.

Because we had things to celebrate, I opened a bottle of ALDI French Champagne to serve with dinner.  It wasn’t expensive, but it was so bubbly and fun.  One of my friends brought chocolate to share, and another brought a quiche and strawberries.  It was quite a simple yet fun potluck feast.

I know many people who no longer entertain because they worry their house is not good enough, or that they can’t host a proper dinner party without serving several courses of expensive food.  They go to restaurants instead, or more usually, they just don’t have people over at all.

The last time I went to a dinner party, in  January, it was sort of a potluck affair but on steroids.  The entree was four plates of cheeses, meats, olives and dips. The main was more meat on the BBQ than anyone could finish (being full from entrees), and the wine just kept coming. (My contribution was a simple home-baked limoncello cake, served with homemade limoncello.) It was a fun night.  But at one point I realised that the young couple who had brought the entrees did not own their own house and despaired that they ever would.  Their contribution was yummo and generous – but was it any better at the end of the day than pumpkin soup made with love?  Was it worth getting into debt for?

What I am trying to say is that generosity has NOTHING to do with money.  It might be being there emotionally to  listen to a friend who has just broken up with the love of her life (thanks all my many friends), it might be helping someone proofread a job application, dropping off food to a friend who is sick or who has just had a baby, or just even asking someone how their day has been (and really listening rather than just talking).  Contrast that say with a friend of my mum’s, who used to get expensive perfume every year for her birthday.  Fine except for the fact that her husband had no idea what she liked and would send his secretary out to buy it.

As to those people who take things like towels from hotel rooms because they are ‘frugal’.  This is stealing.  Yes, there is no other word for it. It is taking something that is not yours.  It is not okay to think that the hotel can afford it – it is still stealing.  Something like leftovers that would be thrown away anyway is different, but even then it is best to ask if in doubt.

Why does this matter?  Surely no-one notices?

In the karma of the universe, you are doing something negative and there are always repercussions. You are also sending out the message that you need to steal and that you are not worthy of affording things in your own right.  This is the opposite of generosity and love.  People notice, even if you don’t think they do, and it does impact adversely on their opinion of you. Is your reputation worth so little that you would throw it away for a few containers of cheap shampoo you probably don’t even really want?

As for me, I am not always the best friend, sister, daughter or mother.  But I try to be.  “You are surprisingly generous,” my Dad often says to me.  On our recent holiday to the Gold Coast my sister (rather to my surprise) agreed with this.  My family likes to make fun of my frugal ways, but they know that it is my secret weapon that has given me the resilience to transition to being a single parent without accepting handouts.

Can you be frugal and generous?  Do you know any stingy/scroogey people?  What do they do that really annoys you?


    1. Thank you for your comment. I think it is a case of doing a bit at a time, becoming more mindful with your money, rather than all at once. It’s a practice that takes time to develop.

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