In a tight spot

MICHELLE LAW IS A PENNY-PINCHER, AND PROUD.

Frankie - - SOMETHING TO SAY -

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.

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