In a tight spot
MICHELLE LAW IS A PENNY-PINCHER, AND PROUD.
Hello, everyone. My name is Michelle. And I’m a cheapskate.
It’s remarkable that it’s taken me so long to admit this – the signs have always been there. Just ask any of my childhood friends who rudely refused my requests to shove their pockets full of free bread samples any time we passed a Baker’s Delight; or any boyfriend who’s waited patiently on a bench while I spent hours in a dollar store, only to emerge empty-handed because “nothing was on sale”. Have a rummage through either of my two bags (I have more bags, but they were expensive and are therefore kept in storage, to be used only for special occasions like my wedding day or funeral) and you’ll find them filled with fistfuls of serviettes from Mcdonald’s, or packets of crumbs that were once complimentary biscuits from a Qantas flight. (Note: I only fly Qantas for work. Normally you’ll find me on Tiger, the airline-of-choice for flaming bags of trash like myself.)
People have ridiculed me over my cheapness. So, if you’re going to judge, I strongly discourage you from reading the following list of cheapskate activities in which I’ve engaged, including but not limited to: stealing teabags and toilet rolls from hotels; cutting open empty toothpaste tubes to access the paste that gets stuck to the edges; stopping in the middle of the road to pick up five cents; strapping my laptop to my body like a drug mule so airline staff won’t include it in my cabin luggage weight; eating a questionable kebab that gave me gastro for two weeks instead of chucking it out, because it cost me $7; and only throwing out underwear I’ve had for 10 years because the elastic is so worn I have to tuck it into my arse-crack for it to hold. I don’t get the appeal of brands and status; my favourite boutique store is Chemist Warehouse. Recently someone asked me which high-fashion labels I liked best, and I had to google ‘high fashion’ because I’ve only just broken the habit of exclusively buying clothes from the sale section.
So, why do I subject myself to these cost-saving measures? I’m certainly not poor. I mean, yes, I have lived below the poverty line for most of my adult life, but I’m privileged as hell: I’ve never been without a roof over my head, and relatively speaking, I’m basically a millionaire compared to most people in the world. I just can’t stand seeing things go to waste, and I hate being ripped off. As the kid of migrants who lived through poverty, the value of things was instilled in me from the get go, and those habits are hard to shake. My sister still only uses one light when she’s home to save electricity. My grandma uses the foam trays from pre-packaged meat as coasters. When my mum snuck into the business lounge, she stole half a dozen boiled eggs and stuffed her purse full of bread rolls.
People may snigger and call this behaviour undignified, but I’ve only ever seen it as resourceful and practical, and sort of impressive, to be honest. I’ve never felt like I’m being mean to myself, and my cost-cutting measures have led to long-term benefits. I’ve been able to indulge in other more significant ways, like paying for private health insurance and buying a new car and phone outright. I’ve put together care packages for my friends when they’re sick; I can afford treats for myself when I’m having a bad day, and I think massages are worth every penny. Maybe one day I’ll have saved enough to feel like I can stop stealing toiletries from hotels, or even book myself onto a Qantas flight for leisure. However, that seems pretty unlikely. This trash bag never forgets her roots.