Dear Mr. Zaslow:
I raised three daughters in a nice middle-class, haimish home. My youngest daugher is a real schnorrer — a cheapskate.
She flaunts her frugality. Her home furnishings are “dumpster décor,” and sometimes, she’ll go to Costco and eat her lunch by sampling food served by the various demonstrators. Recently she told me, “Forget about dry cleaning a dress; that costs more than $8. I just donate it to the Salvation Army. They launder it, dry clean it, and I buy it back for two bucks!”
Is there something wrong with being so cheap, or his her extreme lack of materialism something that should be commended — especially in these difficult economic times?
MOTHER OF A SCHNORRER
Jeffrey Zaslow Replies
Dear Mother, I wish I had gotten your letter earlier. My wife and I recently hosted our daughter’s bat mitzvah. We didn’t realize we could have bused everyone to Costco for the hors d’oeuvres hour! Seriously, though, your adult daughter’s frugality is her business, even if it may be bordering on an obsession. You may, however, want to lightly remind her that sometimes, there are ethical issues involved. For instance, it likely costs The Salvation Army more than $2 to clean her dress. Monetary donations allow the organization to maintain low prices and serve those in need. So your daughter is taking advantage of a system designed to help disadvantaged people clothe their families. If you gingerly explain it in that light, your daughter may agree that she doesn’t want to indulge her own thriftiness if it negatively impacts others. Our society’s materialism is at the root of many of our economic problems today. So yes, your daughter’s instincts to live a simpler life should be commended. But she ought to recalibrate when she finds herself combining frugality with freeloading.
Jeffrey Zaslow writes about life transitions as The Wall Street Journal’s “Moving On” columnist. Alongside the professor Randy Pausch, Zaslow wrote “The Last Lecture,” a best-selling book based on an uplifting lecture Pausch gave after having been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. The book has been on The New York Times’ Best-Sellers list for 48 weeks.
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