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Cheapskates don't buy happiness: A mildly depressing essay experiment.
I've discovered that I like being around people who spend money. Like, people who spend money freely and buy things because they like them. People who spend six months planning what they're going to get others for Christmas.
I like people who spend money because I am a cheapskate.
I practice cheapness in many ways.
1. I never do the math to calculate tips because I'm afraid it will add up to more than I want to add to my bill, so I just guess and round up to the nearest round number, like $15 on an $11.95 pizza.
2. My inner cheapskate gravitates toward thrift stores, but I don't have the browsing, take-chances, open to possibility mindset necessary to be a good thrifter. I do not go out and buy clothes for fun. I approach clothing shopping with an air of grim fatality and a hit list containing six black socks (plain), a white t-shirt (plain), and something tasteful with sleeves I can wear over blouses in cold conference halls. My trip begins at Goodwill "just to check," but I am a picky cheapskate so eventually I wind up in the fitting rooms at Kohls, turning around and around in front of the mirror and staring down the price tag for five minutes like a deer in the headlights.
3. I don't go out to eat because I can get food for free when I go home for the weekend. I don't go out to eat because I know the second thing I look at on the menu will be the dollar signs, and so I will order "just water, please" and one entree and bring every last scraping off the plate home in a Styrofoam container, even if the only thing left is the butter and salt smell of the restaurant. My inner cheapskate is oddly proud that I don't like seafood and that I eat chicken at steakhouses. I order burgers without bacon and get the plainest thing on the menu because if I never develop an appetite for anything that costs more than $15 before the tip, then I can tell myself I am saving myself a lot of money. Is that because I truly don't care for fancy food? Or because in my head I'm already adding up the bill and thinking that $20 sounds like a lot for one plate and endless refills of "just water, please"
4. I am a binge spender. For a week, I don't go to see movies. I don't purchase yarn. I don't buy ice cream. I don't browse Kohls just to see if they've finally decided to carry a style of denim jacket that I would actually wear. I do not spend a dime, and I think about money, how much I will spend on insurance and gas and tuition and rent in the next two years and what I will have left when that is done and whether it would be enough to live on until I had a job. And then there will be a day when I buy tickets to a concert and a play and make a trip to a little restaurant with round tables and deep buckets of ice cream just so I can spend thirty minutes eating two scoops of my favorite flavors. Afterward I will go shopping and walk in circles and hunt through the New Arrivals racks looking for the joy that others find in shopping.
5. After a binge, I always feel guilty. I will think about returns. I will leave the tag dangling down the back of a jacket, even though I wear it every day for a week, just in case I decide to take it back. I feel guilty and promise myself I'll stick to a budget. I rededicate myself to a money diet.
6. This is why I like being around people who spend money without feeling their debit card watching them. Who can drop $200 on tickets to a show without agonizing over it for a week and then battling buyer's remorse right up until the show begins—and maybe after, if the show is underwhelming.
I am envious of these people and the freedom they have with their money and from their money.
And I like these people because they are my crutch. I would not buy books for myself, but they will. I would not buy myself a deck of Harry Potter playing cards or a new water bottle or a eight-inch stack of Post-Its or the dozens of little things I now own that are totally superficial and unnecessary but make me feel like a real person and not an empty shelf.
I like them because they will spend six months thinking about what would make me happy without spending six more months thinking about what happiness costs.
Aren't those people great?