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June Challenges: Diary of a Cheapskate

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June is the month of important transitions. One day, your neighbor’s adorable child is graduating from pre-kindergarten prep school. The next, your second cousin is marrying some guy she met on the Internet—although why have a “virtual” wedding when she can make everyone troop down to Florida for the real thing, complete with cash bar and her Chihuahua as ring bearer?

People always seem to retire in June. And is it just me, or has every baby shower in history taken place this month? The positive sign hasn’t even faded yet on the home pregnancy test, but so what? The weather’s just perfect for daiquiris and for showing off the hostess’s new in-ground pool!

June may be hardest of all on us cheapskates, since it’s when we have to make our own transition: we morph into Constant Guests, expected to produce the goods over and over again. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not about to start whining about having to buy boatloads of expensive presents. Not yet. Not before discussing the Heartfelt Speech.

As any Constant Guest know, it’s not enough merely to show up for these major June occasions. You also have to say something suitably profound to make the key players feel even more key—and worthy of those Waterford barbecue tongs they registered for.

I’ve got my speech down to a short, cheapskate-worthy science:

“All good things come to those who wait,” I faux-gush, raising my glass towards the honoree(s). “Especially if you’ve got a gift card.”

You think I’m kidding? Well, clearly you weren’t with me when I trooped into one of those hoity-toity “garden” stores recently. You know exactly the sort of place I’m talking about: “dirt” is a four-letter word there. They sell forty-two styles of lawn gargoyle, but not a single rake. The potting sheds all come with maid’s rooms.

I’d always considered its existence a slap in the face of Mother Earth—but then their new catalogue came out and I just had to have that absolutely darling copper plant stand!

 Fortunately, I had a gift certificate.

For you young’ns, gift certificates were just like gift cards, only clunkier. Stores issued them before everything from buying bananas to offshore banking could be accomplished with a quick swipe of a tiny piece of plastic. Maybe that’s why the hipster clerk in the garden store reacted to my gift certificate like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls. He’d probably never seen one before.

Least of all one issued NINE years earlier.

“Whoa, didja just come out of a coma or something?” he sputtered.

Nope. Just waiting for something good enough to come along to spend it on.

To wit: one expensive plant stand, which I essentially got for free. Good thing, too, because June was right around the corner and I had a graduation, two showers, and three retirements/“I got such a better job than you suckers”-type celebrations to attend. Plus, there was one friend’s rather delicate medical procedure about which the less said the better (hint: it rhymes with “schmoze job”), although it still called for presents. Everything in June always calls for presents.

Again, that’s where gift cards come in. The Cheapskate Code of Ethics says that if

you receive a card as a gift, you can’t turn around and use it to buy a present for somebody else—no re-gift carding allowed, as it were. But it says nothing about not using the resultant savings to purchase baubles for others.

Let me put it another way: $100 not spent on a plant stand buys a lovely graduation pen or some really nice earrings for someone transitioning to a new, uh, “schmoze” (Hey, who even knew she had ears with that giant honker?!)

Some people actually pooh-pooh gift cards, saying they’re completely impersonal and soulless. Uh-huh. They’ll seriously change their tune when I waltz into their wedding with that combination rotisserie oven/vacuum cleaner they so desperately wanted and which I could afford once I stopped buying food for a couple of weeks.

Don’t worry. I’m not starving myself. Not while there’s an Entenmann’s coffee cake left in the world and people willing to lavish me with supermarket gift cards.

I’m not sure who gave me my first one—probably that guy who briefly wooed me by bringing his laundry over to my old apartment complex on Saturday nights when there was “no line for the machines” (Okay, so sometimes the people giving the cards are completely soulless). In any event, a few months ago, my local supermarket offered me a very generous gift card for each existing prescription I transferred to their new in-store pharmacy. Three transfers later (What can I say? I have bad gums and itchy skin), I had enough cards stockpiled to keep me in peanut butter and pate for a year … or at least get me through one very “transition”-packed June.

Best of all, I’ve made a wonderful new friend—the pharmacist. I don’t know her name, but every time she sees me in the supermarket now, she waves. Why just the other day, she practically blinded me way over in Frozen Foods, flashing that giant new rock on her ring finger.

Sigh. I should be thrilled for her, but … it’s still June and I just know she’s going to invite me to her wedding.


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