What’s behind the picture of four coffee cups?

Post college, I worked in a low paying retail job, the same as got me through college. Frugality was forced on me.

I lived on my own in a “dinky” apartment with second hand furniture, paying off my student loan, trying to decipher life after graduation. There ought to be a course taught on that topic: Successfully surviving senioritis and transitioning to the real world. 

I survived four years taking up neither pot smoking (The drug du jour in the late seventies.) or coffee (The legal drug du jour of 95% of students, at least until Red Bull.) I progressed to adding scoops of instant coffee to boiling water, inhaling the bouquet. Does that count as snorting caffeine? Hmm, that never occurred to me before. I loved the aroma of coffee from childhood, awakening early and hearing the percolator as my dad got ready for work. The scent of brewing grounds would waft down the hallway to the room I shared with Jackie and all was right with the world.

Having begun tentatively sipping coffee to actually wanting to drink it, I found I needed proper, pretty cups. Wandering in the store after another grueling twelve-hour day in retail management (masochists apply), I spotted this foursome on a shelf. The whimsy of the birds struck my fancy. I put one in my cart.

I was attempting to negotiate a pay raise with my female boss, asking how anyone was expected to live on my wage, carrying the responsibility of running a store. She responded, “Ask your parents for help.” My jaw dropped at the same moment one a gasp of shock escaped my lips. I blurted out, “You’re kidding, right? I’m a college graduate and you expect me to ask my parents for help?”

Thriftiness Ended Up Being Easy

It took four pay periods to add one cup per market trip to my kitchen. They cost less than $3.00 a piece.

Not too long after I’d accumulated these gems, a casual friend was visiting. We were, surprise, having coffee before work. She hadn’t finished hers and announced, “I’ll just take this with me and return your cup later.” I said, “No, you won’t. Those are my good cups.” I yanked a random mug from the cupboard and dumped her brew into it. She was affronted, but so was I. It was an attitudinal trait in each of us. I had been supporting myself for ten years, eking by. She had married rich and spent her income on whatever stuff she wanted.

Every time I pull one of these bird-decorated cups from the cupboard to make tea—perfect for a cuppa—I smile. Thirty years later and they still strike a cord of pleasure in me. I love them not just because they’re pretty, but also because my small investment lasted all this time.

The cups remind me that I’d rather spend less money on possessions, tending what I own with care, keeping items for longer rather than buying new ones. The money I’ve saved over the years has gone instead to spending time with family and friends and traveling adventures.

Learning Money Management Equals Frugality

Around 1995, I read a great book—How to Get What You Want in Life with the Money You Already Have. It’s out of print and some techniques are dated. However, I’ve used the same principles of logical frugality over the years. They’ve served me well. The first year I put the practices into play, I took a three-week vacation ninety percent paid for in advance. What a relaxing way to travel!

While husband never read the book, he has the same outlook toward money that I have. We agonize over spending five dollars on something fun but unnecessary, preferring to save for a trip to Hawaii. When you compound that five dollars on store jaunts every week for X number of months, it has an impact on that vacation.

I’m not always frugal, I promise. Years ago, I indulged in Mikasa brandy snifters and wine glasses paying $25 for each. As my income grew did I spend more on treating myself? You betcha. When one of those goblets shattered, I didn’t bother replacing it. At my parties I put out an array of wine glasses—different shapes, sizes, and colors—for guests to choose from.

Lest you think I’m always thrifty, I admit to some rash choices that served me well. #money #budgets Click To Tweet

I hate clothes shopping (that dreaded retail environment), and never got into designer clothes. I can’t tell a Claiborne from a Dolce & Gabbana from a Versace. Yes, Fashion Week in Milan was lost on me. 

Once in a blue moon, we play the lottery. I have an ongoing list of philanthropic enterprises should we ever win. Wouldn’t it be fun to drive around with a seat full of umbrellas, handing them out on a rainy day? Maybe I could buy an old warehouse, turning it into a writer’s retreat, hosting free events. How about giving bags full of socks and food gift cards to homeless people?

A Favorite Win-the-Lottery Idea

How about starting a chain of female-owned auto repair shops, catering—with bias—to women. This was prompted by me calling dad while I was away at college:

“The mechanic says I need a such and such on the car and it will cost this much.”

Dad, “Tell that yahoo your car doesn’t have one of those. If he doesn’t fix it right, I’ll drive there to deal with him myself.”

Women have to be economical as long as our salaries don’t match our careers.

I can’t comprehend at what money level my/our lifestyle would change and we would spend money on miscellaneous whatchamacallits. If we won a million dollars would … If we won five million … thirty. Do you see where this is going? It’s so far removed from my ability to think that way that I can’t get my brain to go there. I’ll keep living this simple life. 

What the bird-covered coffee cups taught me is that I don’t need much to be happy. Frugality isn’t necessarily doing without. I learned that I don’t mind waiting to get what I really like.

What’s your relationship with money? Do you have a balance between spending now and saving for later?

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Read: Friendship & $20