Lessons from My Mama, Pt. 1

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“Don’t buy junks!” or: Spend money on people, not things.

Frugality is an Olympic sport for my mother. She wouldn’t dream of buying waxed paper. Why would she, when she can use the perfectly good, free waxed bags that come in cereal boxes? She has an elaborate tiered system of usage for paper towels, which makes one roll last an entire year. They can be used multiple times (by the same person) as napkins. When they’re too dirty to serve this purpose, they graduate to the next stage, at which point they go into an old oatmeal container to be on hand for soaking up excess pan grease. When there’s so little toothpaste left that it becomes difficult to squeeze out, she cuts open the tube with a pair of scissors so that every last bit can be scraped out.

We’ve been chastised by a cousin for letting our mother dress in shabby clothes. She made the vest she’s wearing in the photo out of an old duvet cover and leftover material about a million years ago. It’s been washed so many times, it’s disintegrating. We’ve all begged her to throw it away, and you can bet we’ve plied her with new ones to replace it. She finally conceded that it was time to give it the heave-ho, but the last time I visited her, I blinked my eyes in disbelief when I saw her still wearing it.

“Wait a minute? Are those patches on your vest?” I asked incredulously.

She proudly showed off the new patches she’d sewn onto the most raggedy bits and said, “Now I can wear it until I die!”

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Every time she receives yet another new vest, or indeed any present we or anyone else ever buys for her, her eyes gleam as she imagines how happy it will make the next recipient she’s already planning to give it to.

When she was still living in Korea, my mother would visit me once a year in Virginia. The minute she recovered from jet lag, we’d make a pilgrimage to Sam’s Club,  where she’d spend a small fortune on medicines that would literally fill an entire suitcase.

“You can’t possibly go through all that before you come back for another visit!” I once exclaimed.

She looked at me like I was crazy and explained that she was taking them all back to give away to people, who couldn’t afford them. On that same occasion, I learned that she also regularly gave scholarships to students.

“Hey, Moneybags,” we’ll say affectionately, when we see her giving away money yet again, “Been shaking that money tree in your back yard again?” But the fact is: we all know that money has been extracted out of  toothpaste tubes, alchemized out of  used and reused paper towels, and saved by never spending a penny on herself…

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2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Lessons from My Mama, Pt. 2 | o wonderful, wonderful

  2. Pingback: Frugality as an Olympic Sport | o wonderful, wonderful

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