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Ketchup Confessions: Diary of a Cheapskate

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As God is my witness, I have never set foot in the ketchup aisle of my supermarket.

That’s not because of a food allergy, or because I belong to some weird cult that shuns direct eye contact with tomato-based products.

It’s because I’m cheap.

Oh dear, did I say that out loud? What I meant to say, of course, is that not purchasing ketchup is one of the fundamental tenets of a groundbreaking school of economic thought I subscribe to as a way of maximizing my condiment intake while minimizing my cash outflow.

Now does that sound like someone who’s cheap?

Don’t answer that.

Instead, come along with me as I describe, in detail, my personal philosophy when it comes to money: having it. And, well, having it.

It’s not that I refuse to part with a nickel. It’s just that I insist on Mr. Nickel having a good long stay with me before he goes. And when he does, I expect him to already have his replacement in my wallet all lined up.

Sound tough to pull off? Don’t despair. Over the next few months, I’ll generously share my secrets for saving on the little things so you can afford the bigger things that really matter. Now, you, too, will know the thrill of self-delivering your own furniture (bonus thrill: re-setting your own dislocated shoulder); you’ll also see how minor economizing is the gift that keeps on giving.

Or as a friend of mine recently remarked, taking a good long look around the home I’d somehow managed to purchase in one of Atlanta’s most historic, exclusive neighborhoods: “This place is way too good for you.”

Compliment accepted. Especially since you brought the wine, hee, hee!

Two important points I need to make before going on: First, it’s incumbent on every woman to take responsibility for her own financial well-being. From staying out of debt to planning for the long-term future, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you. And you can’t blame some other party if things go wrong.

Second, this is all my father’s fault.

Seriously, I come by my frugality honestly. My Dad is eighty-three, and I swear he still remembers everything he ever spent his allowance on as a kid: nothing. Okay, maybe that’s not fair. I’m sure he occasionally purchased a piece of chewing gum or took in a movie. But I guarantee he comparison-shopped at every Bazooka outlet in New York City first—and mostly went to half-price matinees. Packing his own popcorn and Yoo Hoo so he could sail right by the highway robbery concession stands with that “Sorry, suckers!” smile on his face.

Even now, he has two freezers, one entirely filled with butter and other precious foodstuffs he’s purchased on sale. Growing up around him, the first words I learned weren’t “Mama” or “Dada,” but rather, “You’re hungry? Just give me a couple of hours to defrost.”

But … he and my mother, a woman of exquisite taste and infinite patience, also managed to send three children to the best universities in the country. They still live in the same gracious home in the tree- and swimming pool-filled suburb of Manhattan where they raised us. Why, I just spoke to them yesterday. Mom wants a new Oriental rug for downstairs. Dad’s sure he still has some of the “perfectly good stuff” (translation: scraps) left over from the last time they recarpeted. Also, he wondered, was this the absolute cheapest time I could be calling?

When it comes to fiscal philosophy, I like to think I inherited something from each of them. As my mother always reminds me, I work hard for my money. I shouldn’t deny myself a taste of the finer things in life. But according to Pop, only an absolute fool looks a gift horse in the mouth.

Especially when that gift horse is handing out free packets of ketchup like a cop with a speeding ticket quota to meet on the last day of the month.

Who among us hasn’t spent time in a fast food restaurant? The fact that I may spend more time there than others has everything to do with sound economic theory and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I enjoy downing cheeseburgers twice the size of my car, especially if there’s extra pickles under the hood (Hey, you define the “finer things in life” your way, I’ll do it my way).

Where was I? Oh, right. Ketchup. They’re almost desperate to get rid of it in those places. No matter what you order—fries, diet soda, the key to the bathroom—they always, ALWAYS ask if you want about a dozen packets of ketchup with that.

Repeat after me: “Yes.”

Laugh all you want, but imagine never again having to plunk down any of your hard-earned cash on Heinz. Or whatever else is the pricey condiment equivalent in your current stretched-to-the-limit budget.

It’s not wrong. It’s not cheap. It’s simply about finding ways not to spend money so you can spend money.

I like to think of it as getting to have my (day old) cake and eat it too.

Just give me a couple of hours to defrost it first …




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