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When does thrifty become stingy?

I miss the Queen Vic market. Every time I go to the supermarket for fresh fruit and vegetables I am somewhat appalled at the price of the fruit and vegetables, unless it's a super, super special and I just can't bring myself to spend the money - on - for example - red peppers. Normally I always have some kind of capsicum in my fridge, but not for ages now. They're just too expensive. Well in the sense of not being a bargain. I can certainly afford them. I just don't want to. This morning I bought potatoes and resisted the urge to buy the cheapest ones and bought some mid price ones. The cheapest ones were quite easy to resist as they were in a big bag and there's only two of us and owing to David's mild aversion to potatoes - yes another newish aversion - we don't eat potatoes that often. The most expensive were the kipflers but they are not as versatile as others, so then it was a choice between the varieties on offer, and I think I did make myself buy some that were slightly more expensive. It hurt a little bit because I know that those I would have bought at the market would have been much cheaper. But I didn't buy any kipflers. That was a step too far for me.

But really what got me going on this topic was the sight of a very long queue for bread from the Old Europa bakery.

As the people in the queue were all dutifully 1.5 metres apart the queue stretched most of the length of the shopping centre. Now I'm sure their bread is great - I have tasted it and yes it is - well the baguettes anyway. Their croissants at $5.00 a pop always look marginally burnt to me. But it's expensive. And Coles, just a bit further along has delicious bread from Laurent at half the price. Possibly not quite as good but really not very far off and also made from long fermented sour dough - well admittedly not all of it, but some. Yes it's made in a factory and not by a husband and wife team, but if it tastes good why not? Indeed in some ways it's a more noble enterprise - excellent bread for everyone, rather than excellent bread for the rich few. Besides David makes super bread at home. So why would you spend the extra? Is it the best available in Eltham - probably yes. And as I can easily afford it why wouldn't I buy it?

You know I just can't bring myself to do it. Which is rather the story of my life really.

I grew up poor - well not poverty stricken but pretty poor, and also in a time of food rationing which was to continue for most of my childhood - well into my teens. My husband was even poorer - we have little fun contests about who was poorer. But we fortunately benefited from the beneficence of the government and the ambitions of our parents, and were able to get a free university education which allowed us to ultimately become very comfortably off.

And yet we both find it difficult to spend the money we have, particularly on the everyday things of life. We wait for specials before we buy staples like butter, or pasta or flour. Ditto for the fresh fruit and vegetables, although that is more understandable because they are cheap when they are plentiful, and therefore in season and therefore at their best. That makes sense. Even so I find myself shopping around at the market for the cheapest plums, the cheapest tomatoes, and so on. I'm not quite so bad that I will buy fruit or vegetables that are below par in quality, but by the same token if I just spent a little more I would probably have better quality stuff. Not always, but definitely sometimes.

As to clothes, well, when young I always dressed in hand me downs - my uncle used to send us parcels of second-hand clothes although I don't know where he got them from, or I made my own with material bought in the local market. And I continued to make my own for a very long time. Probably until I found myself working full-time, with two growing sons and a house to run. I justified it by saying that this way I had unique clothes, and I did, but they weren't always that great. And even now when I could afford - if not Chanel - then Cue, say - I still can't bring myself to do it. Old habits die hard, to quote another cliché. Indeed in our household they don't die at all. They continue.

It spills into every aspect of spending money. One shops around and one goes for the cheapest - or almost cheapest. So much so that I think we, perhaps my husband more than I, are becoming stingy. Being thrifty, or frugal - sort of the same thing - has definitely enabled us to accumulate wealth to a certain extent - not über wealth, but enough not to worry about where the next meal is coming from. So now we should be splashing it around, if not on ourselves then on good causes, or at the very least on our family. After all we can't take it with us when we go - another cliché - sorry.

I would not like to think of myself as stingy. Shopping in large supermarkets and stores is not helping small business, people like the Old Europa Bakery, which is passionate about what they are doing - well they say they are and they probably are. But then again the large supermarkets employ a large number of people, and help keep the economy going so it's still difficult to see where best to put your money.

Maybe when all this is over we should splurge the lot on a trip for the whole family to France for one last experience of la vie en rose. No I don't think we shall be able to make ourselves do it. One never gets rid of that feeling of needing to be very careful with money. I have friends who say they don't really look at the price of things. If they want it they get it. It sounds enormously selfish - but secretly I do wish that I could feel that way too. Maybe this current crisis will make me be a bit less cautious in the fruit and vegetable aisles at least.

It's always so easy to justify being frugal. If you don't look at the price the sellers, whoever they are will be exploiting you, if you save on this you can spend on that (it never happens), you might need this money in your very old age ... And if we did just go for quality, whatever the price, would it mean that overall quality improved anyway? I don't think so.

Should I even try to be less frugal? I just don't know. I really don't want to think of myself as stingy though.


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