The devil lies brooding in the miser’s chest.
— Thomas Fuller
A couple of days ago, I was chatting with my dad on the phone about my new house, and in particular, the virtues of the lovely wood-burning stove it came with. Dad agreed that a wood fire is cozy and pleasant, but then he said something odd: “I’ll bet firewood is expensive as hell out there in California.” (Dad lives in Mississippi.)
“I suppose it is, but only a fool would pay for it,” I replied. I’ve been getting mine from my own yard, and a giant pile of tree trimmings from the local golf course. Of course I have to chop it myself.
Then came the response I’ve been hearing more and more these past few years. “God, Son, when did you become so damn cheap?”
I was tempted to describe an article I once read on Early Retirement Extreme, where Jacob compares the average American, who pays for firewood and for an expensive gym membership he rarely uses, with a more sane strategy of simply chopping your own and getting both the firewood and exercise for free. But I didn’t. I know better than to argue with Dad about such things at this point.
With Friends Like These…
One of the biggest challenges you are likely to face if you choose to embark on the path to financial independence, sadly, will come from your friends and family. Chances are some of the people in your inner circle will have a difficult time accepting the changes you make. They might respond with criticism, ridicule, or even downright hostility.
Theories abound as to why this is so. One of the more plausible ones suggests that people become uncomfortable seeing others do things that they know they ought to be doing themselves, but aren’t. (Ever notice that no one seems genuinely happy for someone who loses a lot of weight?) It has a way of laying bare whatever excuses they may be making.
I know that’s not what’s going on with Dad, though. He sees my new focus on frugality, and is genuinely worried about me descending into cheapness (Yes, they are two very different things. More on that later.)
Dad came from a dirt-poor family in the rural South. He has seen how hard times can lead a person to become a bitter, joyless cheapskate, and stay that way even when the troubles have passed. Naturally, he doesn’t want to see me turn out that way — he wants me to enjoy my life and not worry so much about money all the time. He managed to escape this fate himself, albeit with some struggle. In fact, he is generous to a fault with others, even though he still struggles with spending money on himself.
In truth, I’d really like to be just like him in this regard — generous with others, but conservative with myself. After all, I’m saving up to buy myself the biggest gift of all — my remaining time in this world. I can’t stop him from worrying, though. So whenever the c-word comes up nowadays, I just smile and change the subject.