Not Such a Bargain?

A thin line separates a prudent shopper from a miserly consumer.  I fear that I sometimes straddle this line. Over the past few weeks, a number of events made me re-examine my shopping habits.

My favorite clothing store, Coldwater Creek, announced that it is closing. Considering that my closet is packed with clothing purchased via their physical or online store, this news was most unwelcome. I love their selection, ambience and customer service—and yes, I appreciate their sale prices. Could it be that those very sales helped bring about their demise? Did those regular sales and discounts accustom their customers to wait for the prices to go down and only purchase then?  Had they charged more and had I been willing to pay more, would I still have a store to patronize?

An article I read added another twist to my education. It pointed out that I (and others) benefit from the existence of a local, Sabbath-observant supermarket that carries a plethora of kosher items, many of them specialty ones. Its bakery, meat and fish departments are under Rabbinical supervision, supplying our family with an incredible array of kosher choices.  Often, their prices on standard items are higher than at the regular chain stores. It is tempting to go into that store for specific kosher items while picking up flour, canned goods and other daily fare for less money elsewhere. Yet the store that supplies so many bonuses I appreciate is closed one day a week and on Jewish holidays, meaning that they need to make their profit with fewer hours in which to do so. If I value their being there, shouldn’t I show my gratitude by happily paying a bit more even if I can get those things for a little less elsewhere?

The third prick to my conscience was an offhand comment by one of my daughters. She mentioned that a small, local boutique she frequented had accidentally neglected to apply a discount on one article. She decided not to return and show them their mistake. As she explained it to me, she knows how hard it is to run a business today and she wants them to succeed. She chose not to be persnickety over the few dollars they technically owed her.  

She is right. Intentionally or not, government today makes starting, having and staying in business incredibly difficult. Entrepreneurs face formidable obstacles.  Many people happily pay a little extra in order to ‘buy local,’ indulging their belief that buying locally grown produce is more virtuous than buying superior produce trucked in from another state and sold for less.  Similarly, many people purchase certain expensive cars because they promise to be ‘good for the environment’.  It is not uncommon for us humans to pay for things we consider important.  

The temptation to look online for the lowest possible price is ever-present. While I like getting the most for my money, I benefit from start-ups, from marketplace competition, from innovation and from niche providers. I need to appreciate those things with my money as well as with my words. Being frugal and thrifty is admirable; I needed the reminder not to be tightfisted and cheap.


Do you think of yourself as frugal? Do you ever spend more than you need to and consider it money well-spent?

8 thoughts on “Not Such a Bargain?”

  1. Excellent comments as usual. I hate to shop therefore I do most of my buying online. There are many retailers that only have an online presence mostly due to the problems of a brick and mortar store. I like to help them out when I can.

  2. Hi Susan:
    How nice it was to read your musing today.
    I prefer to refer to that noble character quality called frugality with the term good stewardship. Conversely, I characterize those opposite-extreme out of balance spiritual conditions called miserliness or being a spendthrift as poor stewardship.
    What or perhaps more properly, who is a steward? A steward is one who is charged with the responsibility for maintaining his master’s property. A wine steward, for example, is hired to look after what may very likely be a treasure trove of vintage whose despoliation could easily be the result of his negligence.
    As I see it, everything ultimately belongs to God. It is therefore our responsibility as His servants to steward His belongings in a manner commensurate with His desires. In order to be successful as God’s steward, we must possess some measure of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, those foundational character qualities that constitute natural morality. This, however, is not enough. In addition, godly stewardship requires faith, hope, and charity. Without the latter three theological virtues, we will surely fall into error as regards God’s will (which equates to His Word).
    My wife and I happily pay $5.00 a dozen for eggs at our local Farmer’s Market each weekend. We could buy “free range” eggs for at least 20% less any day of the week at the supermarket. We prefer to pay more for what we believe to be a physically superior product, and I’ll spare you the biochemistry lesson as to why. Our local farmers take great pains to provide a better product. As we see it, spending 20% more on eggs is wise stewardship of the resources that the Lord has graciously provided to my wife and me.
    How much more should we recognize the value of a spiritually superior product? For your local Sabbath-observant supermarket to have gone to the trouble of providing Rabbinical oversight of those several departments is tremendous! Wow! What a wonderful, dare I say godsend of a service to the observant-Jewish community in your area.
    The New Testament has a scripture that hangs beautifully framed in a prominent place along the corridors of my heart. It reads as follows:
    “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”. Galations 6:10 (KJV)
    There’s a very basic economic principle in play here: Whatever we tax heavily, we will get less of. On the other hand, whatever we subsidize, we’ll get more of. By patronizing (or subsidizing) the organic farmer and the Sabbath-observant grocer, they are not just serving us and we them, but we are also “doing good unto all” of our neighbors by helping to provide more, not less of the same tomorrow.
    Now that’s good stewardship!

  3. My father owned and proudly operated an independent business, and his wife and offspring gladly worked with him. This experience molded us for life. Appreciating the challenges that a small business owner must face taught me to honor and support the small local businessman. As a matter of principle I support the local hardware store instead of the mega-giant retailer, unless of course the giant retailer has items not available elsewhere.
    But you are right, Ms. Susan, that Big Government seems intent on tightening its stranglehold on the small business and the entrepreneur, with mighty superstructures of forbidding and controlling regulations. All the while crony capitalism enables the grinning mega-giants to survive, thrive and prosper. I dearly miss those old days when America was a “nation of shopkeepers.”

  4. Thanks for the reminder, Susan. I consider myself frugal, but I have worked harder more recently in my life to patronize places I want to succeed.

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