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Irons in the fire: Cheap ain’t always easy

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 28 September 2021

It will come as a new revelation to exactly nobody that I am cheap, notoriously so. I think I like to consider this particular trait in other terms. Cheap has a negative connotation, even a stigma, attached to it.

Is there even such a thing as a good stigma? I’ve never heard of one. It’s the same thing with cheap. Frugal is admirable. Prudent smacks of wisdom. Even the word thrifty gets a pass. But cheap? Cheap undoubtedly gets a bad rap. The word conjures up no positive images whatsoever. But cheap is an unavoidable byproduct of broke, so naturally, I’ve become quite adept at being cheap. In theory, if you’re broke – but honest and hard-working – cheap should evolve into something more along the lines of frugality, but once you’ve been branded, the mark is pretty much permanent.

Frankly, though, I’ve come to embrace my cheapness. And, dare I say, I may even be better for it? Over the last quarter century, I’ve probably saved somewhere around $25,000 because I’m too cheap to hire a horseshoer. I shoe my own horses. So, if I’ve saved it, I’ve earned it, right? That kind of cheap is OK, I think. Now that I’ve made that declaration, I’ll probably somehow be taxed for it though.

My other versions of cheap may not be quite so honorable, I’m afraid. Cheap is so ingrained into my psyche, I start twitching if I force myself to pay two more cents a gallon for diesel when I know I can use my discount Maverik card at the station on the other side of town. Never mind that it’ll cost more to get there than I’d save – and that’s not even placing a value on my time. And you know those punch cards they give you at convenience stores when you buy a big cup of Coke (for you Texans) or pop (for anyone west of Texas)? I’ve probably spent a good chunk of my aforementioned horseshoeing income buying enough soda water and sugar to get my card punched 10 times so I can get 32 ounces of the nasty stuff for “free.” And, no doubt, it’s done wonders for my health.

My family thinks I’m insufferable when it comes to grabbing something quick at a fast-food joint. My methods take the fast part right out of the equation. My wife rues the day I learned how to download the McDonald’s app on my phone. I’d like to have half the time back that I’ve spent perusing the special deals menu and consequently doing the required math to figure out the best deal. I just can’t seem to force myself to pay full price for any sort of meal when I can save $2.32 and get a large order of fries for a buck. That little glitch in my makeup alone has probably done more for the Idaho potato industry than any government program ever could.

If my wife is going to be away from home for a few days, she’s insistent on my calling her every night. I don’t think it’s really because she feels any particular spousal duty. I think, rather, it’s that she doesn’t want to come home to a house with my stinking corpse rotting at the kitchen table, the result of some form of food poisoning. She was incredulous when she returned from a weeklong visit to her parents’ place this summer to find I’d been living off some 5-year-old freezer-burned Tater Tots (another shoutout to the incredible Idaho potato) and a package of lunch meat that was buried at the back of the fridge behind the Miracle Whip and some generic form of Cheez Whiz. It really is amazing what they can do with preservatives, isn’t it? Even if it had killed me, it probably would have slowed down the decaying process.

No, being cheap ain’t always easy, but old habits die hard. Even if my ship eventually comes in some day, I’ll probably use the lifeboat to row to my private island. I can’t even begin to imagine how much fuel it must cost for a real ship – even with the 2-cent discount from my Maverik card.  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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