Some people get a bit miffed by the term “tight arse” and see it as a put-down.
Last time I used the term on SAHM, it had people up in arms declaring war. But me? I wear it as a badge of honour.
I’m not an ultra-frugal person… that takes a lot of self discipline and commitment to saving money that I just don’t have. I can’t re-use teabags or live without air conditioning and heating. But at the end of the day, I don’t like to spend more than I absolutely have to.
There are lots of reasons people have for watching every dollar carefully. They might be saving for something big. They might not have a lot of money and need to stretch it as far as they can. They might know what it’s like to have had no money and be saving for a rainy day. Or they might just like sticking it to “the man.”
For me, it’s probably the last two. My parents were always broke, broke, broke. As in “let’s take your birthday money from your grandparents to pay for your mother’s pack-a-day cigarette habit and the electricity bill” kind of broke. True story. I’ve worked since I was 15 years old, put myself through university, coughed up a lot of my hard-earned dosh every time ‘the olds’ had yet another self-inflicted financial crisis. So, I know how bloody hard it is to earn money, and I don’t always like parting with it.
I am my grandmother’s grand-daughter
My late grandmother was a colossal tight arse, if the truth be told. She had grown up during the Depression and always squirrelled away every last cent that she could. She knew all too well what it was like to have absolutely nothing, and she always instilled in me the value of a buck. She worked all her life, even when it wasn’t the norm for women to do so after getting married and having kids, because she got a taste for earning her own money during the second world war.
She still referred to things in pre-decimal currency a lot of the time and she would say to me: “My father always told me that your own shilling is your own best friend”. By this, she meant saving whatever you could and not borrowing.
When I was about seven or eight she set up a bank account for me and we started putting money in it together. This was usually my tooth fairy and birthday money, and a few bucks I got for doing chores for my grandparents. In the beginning, I thought she was just being a jerk making me keep the money in the bank where I couldn’t spend it on Cabbage Patch Kids and scratch-n-sniff stickers, but the old girl taught me a lot about savings and I actually started to enjoy watching my money grow and would dream of all the possibilities I could spend it on.
I’ll never know just how far that money would have gone, because after a while, my mother got wind of it and helped herself. She said she’d pay me back, but she never did. I was crushed and my grandmother was too. She decided that putting any more money in that account was going to see the same thing happen again and again. She was probably on to something.
Working for more than the weekend
My very first job at McDonald’s as a 15-year-old earned me a whopping $4.20 an hour. I quickly figured out, after I went nuts with my first few meagre pay-packets, that my blood, sweat and tears (all of these things, literally) didn’t go very far if I was just splurging it willy-nilly.
That teeny little television I put on lay-by when it was on special for $400 (trust me, this was a bargain in 1992 money!) took almost 100 hours of burning my fingers on a hamburger grill or removing pickles and their associated residue from windows to pay for.
So all those designer jeans and things that I had previously coveted before I started working began to look like a big fat waste of money when I worked out how long I’d have to slog away earning it.
My next job, a retail one when I was 17, paid a lot better. Like almost nine bucks an hour, a relative fortune. I started saving and saving hoping to buy a car or go overseas. You guessed it, that money I was amassing caught the attention of my mother and I ended up paying a lot of my family’s bills and even handed over hundreds of bucks so my younger siblings didn’t go without Christmas one year.
I grew quite resentful of working to get somewhere and then finding myself given massive guilt trips to persuade me to part with my cash at every turn. When I started uni, I moved out of home. I worked two jobs, sometimes doing more than 40 hours a week, and did uni full time at the same time. I paid rent, got a car, even managed to do that overseas trip.
I knew what every dollar was worth. When I went out on the weekends with my friends, I avoided any nightclub with a “cover charge” like the plague and happy hour was my best friend. I finished my uni course, started a full-time job immediately and began a career, like people do, working towards various goals. In my case, I wanted more travel, a house, that sort of stuff.
Requests for money for things like “your 13-year-old sister has run up a $1500 mobile phone bill talking to some random off the internet, can you give me the money and don’t tell your dad?” would come through thick and fast, of course, as my earning capacity increased. I learned to push back and start saying no. They started saying I was tight with my money. I didn’t particularly care.
There’s legitimate charity, then there’s being milked dry by people with entitlement issues. I learned a big life lesson, and I won’t be forgetting it.
And that brings me to today…
Everyone has hurdles in life, and my husband and I have certainly had ups and downs. We’re not super rich by anyone’s standards, but we’re not struggling in the poor house either. We have those sorts of bills that just about kill us crop up sometimes like everyone else does (hello, major car repair or kid leaving the gate open so the dog escapes and we get massive council fines!) and we have times where we’re doing better than we expected.
But because I know how hard it is to come by money, and how easily it can go out again, I watch every dollar. I guess you could say old habits die hard.
I work out how to game supermarket rewards programs, look for specials in catalogues, shop around, compare prices, even have a running tally in my head (and my grandmother’s voice in there too) knowing what everything costs and when I’m being ripped off. I don’t buy meat or fruit and veg at the supermarket if I can help it, I get better deals at the butcher and greengrocer. I buy stuff on special in bulk and freeze the bejesus out of everything. I buy generic brands. I get my husband, who is a mean negotiator, to haggle when we buy white-goods, cars, houses, electrical equipment and so on. I stockpile canned goods, toiletries and cleaning products like the zombie apocalypse is coming. I look for deals and specials to take the kids on outings. I do all of that.
All of this stuff might only save a few dollars here and there, but to me, it’s better in my pocket than giving it to “the man” – in this instance the big supermarket chains and other large corporations.
What I know is that I never, ever want to be in the situation where I have to raid my kids’ piggy banks because I couldn’t budget properly or couldn’t give up a pointless, selfish extravagance (like smoking, *cough cough*) and decided taking from my own kids was the better option.
My kids are my #1 priority.
I have no intention of spoiling them, and in fact, I try very hard to teach them the value of a buck too. But I also make sure that they have family holidays. They have birthday parties. They are allowed to do extra-curricular activities and play sport. I grew up without all of these things (well no family holidays from about the age of 9 anyway). Like many parents, I am working to give my kids a better life than the one I had.
So I make sure I penny pinch everywhere else too so they have a childhood full of the basic things I think are important for them to experience.