My son and I were reviewing the SAT vocabulary list he'd brought home to study. Right in the middle we hit the word "miser."
"Do you know what that means?" I asked. Without missing a beat -- or a chance to be a typically snide teen -- he turned to me and said, "Yeah, you."
Now, I thought that was rather harsh.
Clearly the boy's too young to appreciate the rewards of economizing; the thrill of the hunt for good deals; the lure of maximizing savings; the delight of rebates; the certain knowledge the emergency $20 bill tucked in the bottom of your bag will remain safe and unbroken yet another day, thanks to the buy-one-get-one-free iced tea offer rescued from the recycling bin earlier that very morning.
My need to be "careful" with money runs deep. I learned a lot about stretching a dollar from my mother, a woman who successfully managed a household of up to seven people, and a continuously evolving array of pets, on a cop's and a crossing guard's salaries.
In addition to those early lessons in economy, I have a painfully practical nature and enjoy a good challenge. I simply don't get the point of paying more for things than I have to, or laying out money just because I can.
For instance -- I've been known, much to my kids' chagrin, to go out of my way to use as many McDonald's mailer coupons as possible in one visit. After a quick, often heated consultation on how best to combine offers so everyone gets what they want, coupons and cash are divvied up and we each take our place in line. Like a big-game hunter who's just bagged a lion, a tiger and a bear, I smugly savor my trophy frappe for just a dollar -- the spoils of a carefully coordinated campaign.
Finally, there's the undeniable fact that I am a woman, and how many of the gentle sex can resist a bargain? What female is immune to the adrenaline rush of standing in line at 12:53 a.m. on an Early Bird Spectacular Saturday, heart pounding in her ears as she watches the three shoppers in front of her reap the benefits of those precious discounts she may lose forever if she doesn't get checked out before the registers automatically stop making their special deductions at 1 p.m. on the dot? Phew! I have personally known the agony of defeat as markdowns vanish mid-ring-up.
Am I wrong in my quest to save money and live within a budget when and however I can? Does that make me a cheapskate, a skinflint, a miser? I prefer to think of myself as a woman of purpose, principle and discipline as I proudly thrust my tight fist into the air and invite all my thrifty fellow "frugals" to do the same as we band together not to just pinch pennies, but squeeze the living daylights out of the little buggers!
Susan Writer writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com and is one of The Frederick News-Post's board of contributors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.