THIS I BELIVE: FRUGALITY
Vernon G. Elgin
“Tight Wad” could have been the answer my parents could have given the Preacher when he asked them at my infant baptism, “What is the Christian name of this child?” They probably answered, “Vernon Gibson.” Tight Wad” could have been as appropriate. I was probably born tight, I certainly grew up tight, and I passionately believe in this: frugality.
During my adolescence my Mother occasionally called me “Tight Wad.” I asked her what she meant. She responded: “You are so tight, you squeak.” She followed with a tight hug.
A frugal lifestyle is both Biblically correct and culturally advantageous. For me it has been personally profitable and socially utilitarian. It restrains the lion in me, and releases the lamb. It rescues me from being “Scroogishly” selfish or foolishly prodigal. I abhor an “Eat, drink and be merry,” foolishness.
My connections with Scotland might have resourced my frugal creed. I have Scottish blood, I have lived and studied and traveled in Scotland, and I received my Ph. D. in Edinburgh. A Village in Aberdeen Shire bears my surname, “Elgin.”
Frugality intensified in my eleventh year when my Preacher delivered a sermon entitled, “Tithe.” I had no idea what he was talking about till he illustrated his subject: A rich woman went to heaven. Housing Administrator Peter met her at the “pearly gates.” He ushered her down Gold Street toward her final stop. Along the Boulevard, she spotted her former Maid lounging on her porch, rocking in a diamond chaise at poolside. The formerly rich lady was shocked; she snubbed her one-time housekeeper. She and “The Rock” arrived at a modest “studio” cottage. He handed her the keys. She balked: Why was she being housed in a squatter’s shack? St. Peter responded, “Lady, we did the best we could with what you sent up.”
The Preacher hooked me; I signed a card to tithe. And I have tithed ever since. If I had no nickel on Sunday, as the offering basket approached, I cupped my hand into a fist, and did a quick “pretend.” Sometimes I secretly borrowed a Sunday offering from my Mother’s pocketbook, or my older sister’s “piggy” bank. I silently pledged repayment. I lived frugally, and I tithed regularly.
Frugality has denied me few comforts or pleasures. I glory in the creativity it demands. I recycle toothpicks, paperclips, half-burned matches and thumbtacks; even my personal Q Tips. I advocate conservative consumerism: purchase “Previously Owned” Cars; if practical, live in rented housing; dine at “The Double Arches,” instead of on the Seattle “Dinner Train.” Occasionally indulge at a Thrift Store, in the January Sales, and with the Supermarket Saturday Specials. Borrow tools, darn your own socks and wash your own car. If conservatively practical, drive an extra two miles to buy cheaper gasoline. If necessary, use Air conditioning sparingly. Adopt my Grandchild Treating Policy when Eating Out: “You order, I pay, and you eat it all—OR YOU PAY!”
I value frugality for the social benevolence it affords me. I can send money to the poor students I taught last year in Malawi, Africa. I can buy potato chips, hot dogs and cupcakes to help feed homeless men at our Church. I am able to contribute to a fund for prosthesis for a child of a Balinese family in the Indonesian Church where I was Pastor. Besides Malawi and Indonesia, I have done Mission Ministry in New Zealand, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. Yet, I was born and raised tight, I have lived sacrificially, comfortably and charitably. I will be buried by Uncle Sam in a local National Cemetery four thousand miles from where I was baptized, “Vernon Gibson Elgin.”
Edward R. Murrow, pioneer “This I Believe” writer and editor, is quoted in “Appendix A” of the current THIS I BELIEVE publication (Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2006). His social analysis is that clouds of toxic fear were floating overhead in the 1950’s (P. 270). Their choking effect was making it increasingly difficult for society to make clear value distinctions. Mr. Murrow asks: “What truths can a human being afford to furnish the cluttered nervous room of his mind with when he has no real idea how long a lease he has on the future?” (This I Believe, Henry Holt and Co. NY 2006.)
I have a response for Mr. Murrow. At age eighty, I am increasingly aware that my lease on the future is running out. However, I hold a contract more secure than any earthly document. It will never be cancelled. It is eternally affordable and valid. I have survived, and I will continue to survive, severely fumed clouds without choking, in part, because this I believe: frugality.
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