Every cent matters when you're as thrifty as I try to be



A strenuous soul hates cheap success.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My wife didn't feel like fixing supper. She'd worked a long day.

"No problem," I said. "I'll hit a drive-through. Tell me what you want."

She did. I left.

I like it that way. I tend to make more economical decisions than other family members. It's not because I'm cheap, I tell people.

I'm thrifty.

Only one vehicle in front of me at the fast-food place, an SUV of large proportions. It's a warm night, so my window's down. I hear the woman behind the wheel order.

And order.

And order.

My first thought is it must be a large family. My next thought is it's possibly a trailer park wedding reception.

She (finally) pulls up, and I take her place and the mechanical voice asks whether I'm ready to place my order.

"Sure," I say, with a laugh, "but I'm thinking it's going to take you about 20 minutes to cook all that food."

A male voice laughs back, and says, "Naah ... she's always like that."

I place my own minimal order, meaning something for my wife, something for my son (though not as much as he'd asked) and nothing for me. At these prices, I'll go home and fix myself a bowl of cereal.

I move up behind the SUV in the tight drive-through line. Time passes. The sun goes down. A couple of babies are born at local hospitals. Somewhere in Washington, a congressman breaks a promise. On a field in San Diego, a Braves pitcher gives up a run or two.

The SUV's order is finally filled. Despite the delay, I'm still in a good mood.

Then it all changes.

The SUV pulls away, I move up to the window, and the parade of cars that has now collected behind me advances.

I have my money. I have my change, almost exact. I hand it to the young woman who is handing me a bag of food.

She doesn't see the change, but I do as it slips out of her hand, hits the pavement and rolls under my car.

I'm in a fix. I can't back up, and if I move forward, the line of impatient cars behind will take my place. I can barely open the door.

"You still owe me some change," the young girl says.

I can't believe it.

"You have my change," I say firmly. "You dropped it and let it roll under the car."

She looked at me as if I'm speaking Portuguese.

"You still owe 12 cents," she said.

"And you dropped my quarter," I repeated. "It's under the car."

She paused.

"OK," she said curtly. "Just go on. I'll take care of it."

"No," I said. "You have my quarter. So you still owe me 13 cents change."

She doesn't respond.

By now the line behind me was even longer, and I figured their families were just as hungry as mine.

Regretfully, reluctantly ... resentfully I give her a farewell glare and slowly drive away.

I'm sure she and her young co-workers all got a good laugh about old people and their fascination with money.

"Who would care so much about a quarter?" they all probably snickered.

Who, indeed?

Well, I can answer that question. It would be the same old guy who went by the closed fast-food lane the next morning and not only found his quarter but a couple more.

It's not that he's cheap, his friends say. He's thrifty.



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