I never would have suspected that when my friend Donna bought her new area rug, it would doom our friendship. And yet, sometimes it's these small encounters, when people think they are making innocent chitchat about trifling economic transactions, that can have unexpected ripple effects, upsetting the entire chain of human relationships. Sadly, this is what happened with Donna and me.
I probably should have seen it coming. Telling Donna about any purchase I made has always been a mistake, because she has always felt compelled to let me know that however much I had spent on something, she had got her item cheaper. Usually a lot cheaper.
Take the rug, for example, which is exactly what Donna did for only fifteen bucks from a guy selling them on an empty street lot in town. When Donna discovered that I had bought my area rug from a retail establishment, a pained look came into her eyes. Donna's philosophy of shopping is, if you bought it from a place with a roof on it, you paid too much. And when I confessed that I had performed this very sin in buying my rug, I knew what was coming next. As usual, Donna asked me how much I paid for it. And as usual, I lied. But I only did so for her own benefit. I didn't think Donna couldn't take the truth. What else can you expect from a woman whose hobby is watching the Home Shopping Network and shouting at the television that only a fool would pay that much for a set of ten gutter screws or a four-foot tall lighted deer?
It's always been the same with Donna and me. Years ago, when I showed her my new dining set, she managed to worm the price out of me, then collapsed into a chair. Good thing I had smelling salts around or she may never have recovered from the shock. Naturally, she had found her dining set at a liquidation sale of merchandise seized by the IRS. In fact, all of Donna's furnishings and jewelry used to belong either to drug warlords or tax delinquents who had their stuff carted off by the government, only to have people like Donna swoop down on it in far-flung parking lots, pouncing on the best deals. It was hard to forgive Donna for ever telling me that the price I paid for two of my dining chairs was more than Donna paid for a whole table, two extension leaves and chairs for twelve.
As a bargain hunter, I'll always be bush league compared to Donna. When she saw that I bought my kids a plastic jungle gym from Target, she burst with the information that she had found hers at a garage sale for twenty-five bucks. In fact, I realized that there is nothing in Donna's life that wasn't discovered at a clearance outlet, garage sale, or by the side of the freeway. I once tried to play her game, and thought she'd be proud when I showed her some great fabric sizing and canned green beans I bought at the ninety-nine cent store. But Donna trumped me even here, as she gleefully told me about the little-known existence of a ninety-eight-cent store, where she buys all her non-perishable food items and detergent.
Donna even met her husband through a personal ad in the Recycler newspaper. The ad read, "Original owner. Chassis like new. Great for offroading. Make me an offer!" Obviously this was a man right up Donna's bargain-hunting alley. I mean, how many men come with their own smog certifications these days, anyway?
But the way she rubbed my nose in her area rug, so to speak, was the final straw. I have my pride. And while I like a sale as much as anyone, I also don't think I need to perform hari-kari if I sometimes pay retail, a word that makes every fiber of Donna's being recoil in horror, disgust and loathing.
I bet that Donna's even written up in that book, The Millionaire Next Door. She makes a good living, but she's never paid more than thirty bucks for anything, even a major appliance. Well, I don't think all this competition over bargains is worth it. Besides, I think the Home Shopping Network's price for the gutter screws was pretty darned good. I'm going to go turn on the set now and see if they're still available. And if Donna happens to drop by unexpectedly to lord it over me on some new purchase, mum's the word on where I got the lighted deer.
Judy Gruen is the author of Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout (Champion Press, softcover, $13.93). To subscribe to her free, semi-monthly humor column, go to judygruen.com and enter your email address on the Newsletter page.
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