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By Staff | Mar 4, 2011

It has lately become chic to be financially frugal. This just proves the old adage that if you cling to your fashions long enough, they’ll circle around back into vogue.

This is why my closet still contains bell-bottomed jeans and disco duds and a leisure suit that has lapels the size of a parking lot.

I am not a stingy person by choice; frugality has been foisted upon me by fate. Inside this tightwad’s body lives a wastrel who is yearning to spend free!

For instance, if I were to buy a winning lottery ticket that netted, say,$55.2 million, I would be broke within a matter of weeks.

This is because $55.2 million is roughly the price tag of something I’ve always wanted, namely, an F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter. Just think how quickly your commute would whiz by at Mach 1.7!

And then there would be the unsurpassable joy of buzzing the homes of those you don’t particularly like, shaking them out of bed with a thunderous shock wave.

This is why I should never be put in charge of public monies. If someone were to come to me and declare “I think the government should pave my driveway,” I’d say “Sounds reasonable. Where’s the checkbook?”

And if someone else said “My reading of the laws indicates that I’m owed a new hot tub,” I’d reply “You’re absolutely right! We’ll send one out first thing tomorrow!”

And so it would go until there was no money for snow removal and all the schools were closed due to the dearth of funds. My stint as a public official would likely come to an ignominious end, one that involves an angry mob and a vat of boiling tar and a truckload of feathers.

I would like to say that I’ve been so poor for so long that I virtually invented the practice of poverty-based frugality. I would like to say that, but it wouldn’t be true.

I know for a fact that my ancestors perfected living on nearly nothing long before I came along. I know this mainly because all they ever left me was an instinct for self-sufficiency. What good is that?

Some years ago I had occasion to chat with one of Dad’s old pals. The erstwhile buddy mentioned that he had once dropped in on Dad back when Dad had just started farming.

“Your father was so broke,” said the guy, “That he was living on skim milk and jackrabbits!”

Such high achievement in the field of low-cost living is humbling to an aspiring skinflint such as me. Think of it!

Skim milk was essentially a throw-away byproduct and jackrabbits could be acquired for next to nothing. Dad had found a way to cut his expenses to virtually zero!

Sadly, Dad decided to continue his policy of living stingily after he wed and we eight kids came along. Poverty-driven frugality became ingrained in our psyches.

Some mysterious force constantly compels us to be parsimonious. We can’t ever shake the feeling that it’s not a matter of “if” the hard times will come, but “when”.

Over the years I have been involved in several entrepreneurial enterprises. My very first business venture was a pocket gopher trapping service that I operated with my sister Dot.

Our one and only customer was Dad. We probably could have recruited more clients, but the draconian laws in our state didn’t allow grade-schoolers to drive.

Our trapping business ran like a Swiss watch. I located, trapped, and dispatched the pocket gophers while Dot kept the books and collected the receipts.

Dad paid us a whopping two bits per gopher.

I opted to invest my share of the earnings in candy bars, soda, and gum while Dot stashed her share in a Mason jar.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she still has that same Mason jar with its original freight of quarters.

A good while ago I made one of the most momentous expenditures of my life. It was Christmastime and I decided to give my then-girlfriend a small fragment of crystallized carbon attached to a circlet of precious metals.

She accepted the engagement ring and, after two kids and three decades, we’re still an item. But a recent revelation from her proved quite disturbing.

Turns out that her expectations were much, much lower regarding that year’s Christmas gift. “I would have been happy with a pair of corduroy slacks,” were her exact words.

Just think of all the capital expenditures I could have avoided over the past three decades! Diapers! College tuition! And everything in between!

Oh, well; you can’t take it with you. And besides, it was so enjoyable to watch the kids fill out all those funding request forms.

Jerry Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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