Tighwad or spendthrift?
When I was a kid, a candy bar was something special, often enjoyed on a long drive.
My dad would purchase a Snickers or a Milky Way, cut it into thirds, and distribute the pieces to me and my sisters.
At the time, this was a wonderful treat.
But now, as adults, we make fun of my father’s frugality. When he asks whether we need anything from the store, we often reply, “Could you buy us a candy bar and cut it into three pieces?” Then we laugh uproariously. Sometimes we follow it up by requesting a single can of soda, which we can all share.
Anyway, I think this little story illustrates where my reluctance to spend money on basic necessities might come from.
My parents were always looking for good deals on groceries, clothing, cars and toys, and tended to be slow to adopt new technology. I still remember the magical day my father brought home a VCR, and my glee when we finally got a Nintendo. Though it’s probably worth noting that a family friend gave us the Nintendo and that without this act of generosity it’s unlikely video games ever would have entered our home.
For the most part, I didn’t care about having the best.
Fashion was of little interest. I was fine with clothes purchased on sale and hand-me-downs. I wasn’t into shoes — I wore my sneakers until they wore out, then got another pair. I was happy with the inexpensive CD player I purchased with earnings from my first job — I saw little need to spend a bundle on a state-of-the-art stereo system. And I was perfectly content to drive around in my parents’ old Ford Escort. I didn’t care that it wasn’t mine, or that it wasn’t a newer, more attractive vehicle — I was grateful that I had access to a vehicle and that I was allowed to drive my friends around in it.
Over the years, my attitude toward money has evolved.
Though I still see little reason to splurge on boring stuff like clothes, I’ve learned that spending more sometimes makes sense.
My first lesson in this area occurred when my summer camp opted to move to a cheaper site.
“Don’t worry,” we were told. “It will be just as good as the old site.”
This turned out to be a lie. The swimming area wasn’t as good and our access to it was severely restricted. By merging with another organization, we lost some of our autonomy and could no longer perform our dinnertime skits and sing our goofy songs. Our staff was downsized and we weren’t able to offer the same quality of programming. As a result, the number of children attending our camp dropped considerably. And I became forever skeptical of people who say they can do more with less.
“Sure, the old site was expensive,” my co-worker John said. “But maybe it was worth it.”
I remembered this conversation last week, when I gritted my teeth and spent $150 on a pair of sneakers.
Trust me, I’ve never done anything like this before in my life.
But I have plantar fasciitis — a painful inflammation of the tissue in the sole of my foot — and I walk a lot, which aggravates the condition. And I’ve been thinking of taking up running, which would require a pair of shoes that can provide extra stability and support.
My friend Kim, who is a doctor, advised me to go to Fleet Feet Sports and get someone on staff to help me find the perfect pair of sneakers. I took her advice and soon found myself trying on a couple of different pairs of fancy sneakers.
I’ll be honest: They both felt great — about 10 times more comfortable than any shoe I’ve ever owned. And about 100 times more comfortable than the shoes I’m wearing now.
Even so, I found it tough to spend so much money on a pair of sneakers. I told myself that it was a good investment — they’re very well made and should last for a long time — and that I had recently saved a lot of money by purchasing my glasses through an online vendor for about $15. And I felt pretty good about my purchase, until a friend pointed out that my new sneakers cost almost as much as the airplane ticket I recently bought for an upcoming vacation.
Of course, it goes without saying that whenever I fly I try to save as much money as possible — that I search for deals online, and that unless it’s absolutely necessary I do not check my bags, because most airlines now make you pay to do that and I’m already spending plenty of money, thank you very much. Though I did opt to spend a little extra and check my bag when I flew with a broken wrist. And it was worth it.
My broken wrist is one of the things that makes me wonder just what people are talking about when they suggest that what patients really want is to shop around for the best deal. I’ve read enough about the health care system to understand that there isn’t always a correlation between high prices and quality of care. But still, does it really make sense to pick a doctor or a course of treatment just because it’s cheaper?
Because of the severity of my break, one of the top hand surgeons in the area ended up doing my wrist surgery. Was he the cheapest? I doubt it. But when you’re dealing with the long-term use and health of your hand, you want the best, and you don’t always have time to compare providers.
I went walking in my fancy new sneakers the other night, and immediately got a blister. But I don’t think the shoes are to blame. It’s my socks that appear to have been the problem — they’re too thin and threadbare.
Clearly, it’s time to spend some more money.
On fancy socks.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.