Monday, July 20, 2009

Bargain Betty

I was thinking the other day about a friend of mine from college, who we sometimes jokingly called Bargain Betty. She came from a very frugal family, and never seems to have felt any need to rebel against that aspect of her upbringing, as some might. She sometimes thought her parents went a bit too far, as in buying the rotten fruit from the mark-down shelf at the supermarket, but otherwise she kept up with all their frugal habits and still does as of the last time I saw her.
It's interesting to look back on it now-- when I was in college, most of my friends were from middle-class families and paying for school was significant, and in some cases a huge burden. None of us had money to burn, but we still had trouble being as frugal as Bargain Betty. I particularly remember that she used very rough generic tissues, while I insisted on the softer Kleenex or Scotties brands. And she always ate whatever food was on her plate, while the rest of us felt free to leave behind any part of our ample buffet meals that didn't please us.
Here's a funny detail: this was back in the days when women wore pantyhose much more frequently. Bargain Betty mentioned that she wore "Rock Bottom Pantyhose," which I'd never heard of. It turned out that Rock Bottom was a discount drugstore chain, but I thought it was someone's clever tagline for some kind of figure-shaping control-top. You know, like rock-hard... bottom, rock bottom... ok, whatever, but it was funny at the time!

Anyway, I always suspected it back then, and the years have borne it out thus far: Bargain Betty will probably retire a lot richer than the rest of us. She put herself through grad school, and helped put her husband through business school. They bought a house in the suburbs where they could send their kids to a good public school. They've had the same car forever and still seem to use a lot of the furniture they've had from their first apartment . Whenever I've eaten dinner at her house, all the leftovers are saved or sent home with the guests. Bargain Betty doesn't worry much about fashion and always buys classic clothes on sale for work. She's not into jewelry or manicures or dying her hair. Her one extravagance was hiring a nanny to take care of the kids before they were in school, since she and her husband both work full-time. And I'm sure she has great discipline about saving and investing, as she once asked me, with a look of concern, whether I was making sure to take advantage of my 401k. Compared to Bargain Betty, I am a raving spendthrift!

It's funny, I suppose all of us have someone in our lives who makes us feel like we could do just a little bit better. That we could try a little bit harder to be as disciplined as they are. And despite loving the person, there's this tension: we wonder if they slightly disapproves of us, and we want them not to disapprove, even as we might also sometimes want to tell them to lighten up and have more fun! For me, I think Bargain Betty may always be that person...


Ashie said...

Wow, she does seem like the kind of "too good to be true" person you want to be like - I especially like the bit about hiring a nanny! That ties right in with my mentalities - I'd totally hire someone to look after kids/housework if I ever got to the point where I felt I couldn't devote enough time to them. But... I would like to start dying my hair soon... I know how you feel about her! Although I don't even know her :)

Anonymous said...

My ex-husband was extremely frugal, much more than my own family was. I strove to be like him, and it served us well - we were able to put ourselves through grad school on a graduate student stipend and my summer jobs with minimal student loan debt (our parents also helped a bit, such as when we finally bought our first used car).
The sad thing is that now that I have more money than we did then, I have a much harder time being frugal - it was much easier for me to not spend what didn't have. Sometimes I feel a little defensive when I wonder what he would think of my spending habits now!

Anonymous said...

To my group of friends, I am "bargain betty". Often times they mention that they wish they could be more like me. I do not judge them or their actions. I do my best to let them know that we are all different and so are our finances. With this in mind it is expected that we have different priorities, goal and we value things differently. None of us are right or wrong in our efforts as long as they are in line with our individual goals.

I encourage everyone to spend money on the things that they value the most.

Gord said...

We live very frugally. While we do not need a nanny yet, we do have a cleaning person coming in every 2 weeks or so. My wife told me before we were married that she was a lousy housekeeper, and she has kept her word. I am not much better. The cleaning person is a necessity for us.

Mind you, my wife went to a great deal of trouble to find someone who will work hard for 2 hours for $25. Now that is frugal.

business said...

I love the "Rock Bottom Pantyhose!" I thought I was frugal but compared to Bargain Betty, I'm definitely not. This story just inspires me to be better at saving money. I do feel the possibility of disapproval but I have confidence in my ability to spend wisely.