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?