Originally created 12/10/97

I'm a thrifty kind of guy

If you're like me, you read the Monday story in The Chronicle about the travel expenses of Augusta public officials with some alarm.

I'll leave the debate on the merits of such travels to someone else -- I was mostly stunned at the amount of money it costs to make such trips.

As those close to me might tell you, I don't like to spend money.

I've long felt that's why I'm not rich.

If, as they say, one has to spend money to make money, then I'll never cross that lucrative threshold because I don't like to part with what I have.

Thriftiness is a family thing. I grew up pinching pennies. I learned much of this from my father while growing up.

I like to tell the story about how he would bribe us all with a dime to got to bed early. Then, after we were all asleep, he'd slip into our rooms and take the dimes back.

And the next morning we'd get spanked for losing money.

We were the only kids on the block whose allowances were seasonal. In the summer it was 60 cents a week, because the chores we had to do involved a lot of grass-cutting, car washing and outdoor cleaning type duties.

In the winter it dropped to 40 cents because we didn't have as much to do, and spent more time at school and doing homework.

I never went to movie theaters then. We were a drive-in kind of family. On "Discount Night" the folks, brother and sisters would be crammed into the car.

Mama would fix the popcorn before hand, put it in a large paper sack, and fill a couple of jars with water in case we got thirsty.

I thought everyone else was like this. They weren't, I discovered when I went off to college.

While others went on spring break vacations, I sat home and read books provided at no charge by the public library. And in the back of my mind, I could hear my money in the bank, its interest quietly compounding.

Well, not always. During the Carter administration I got so hard-pressed for cash, I had to take some out of the bank. (I've never fogiven him.)

Marriage, I'll admit, has changed me a little bit. My wife is prone to point out that I don't tip restaurant waitresses enough. And she teases me about reading menus by scanning the right side of the page -- where the prices are.

I can't help it. Old habits die hard.

The other day she asked if I had $5 so she could buy lunch.

"What happned to the five I gave you last week?" I asked, "serial No. D00873165B?"

I'm always finding pennies on the ground, particularly in grocery store parking lots. "Don't pick it up if it's tails," my wife will say, "it's bad luck."

"Finding money is never bad luck," I answer.

I guess there are some benefits to being cheap. For example, I am always being elected treasurer of various organizations.

I, like Willie Sutton, know that's where the money was. And I even have a motto: "The bucks stop here."


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