Money Can't Buy

Throughout my trip, I find myself walking a very important line, which I finally find words to describe one day in Serbia.

I'm at the grocery store, buying cookies to take home to my family-- there are three different box sizes, but since I immediately eliminate the largest as an option, on the grounds that it's too big to fit in the little space I have left in my luggage, I'm left with two options-- the first, about the size of a standard Oreo box, costs about two dollars-- the other, single-serving-snack-sized, costs about fifty cents-- after a moment of staring at both options, I reach for my wallet and realize how little money I have left for my last two days in the country. I pick up the smaller box, reasoning that I really only need enough for my sister and parents to have a little taste of what Plazma cookies are like.

This is not a particularly rational decision, because I really like Plazma cookies, and I know that there's no way I'll be able to get them when I go home, unless I can find a Serbian grocery store (unlikely in the extreme). And the difference of a dollar fifty is not nearly enough, in terms of my budget for the trip, to really justify not getting the larger package.

But it's a decision I make anyway, and it's a decision I make mostly because there's a part of me that really hates to spend money.

And here comes the line I've been walking, and that I no doubt will continue walking for the rest of my life: When is saving money thrift, and when is it stinginess?

Because I value thrift. It's a virtue that comes from the knowledge that most of the best things in life are not material, and that material needs can be filled without getting things that are flashy or expensive. Thrift is the reason I stay with friends or in hostels rather than hotels. It's the reason I look for little local restaurants instead of eating in the first tourist trap I see. It's why, when I'm at home, I patch old clothes instead of buying new ones. And when I do need new clothes, my favorite way to get them is by 'thrifting'.

But there are times, like the one described above, when my penchant for saving drifts into the realm of stinginess, and I'm trying to find better ways of differentiating the two.

My simplest definition is that thrift raises quality of life, and stinginess lowers it. But since that's still a little murky to draw a clear line, I can also say that thrift is about spending money on the things that really matter, and stinginess is about spending no money at all. Or I could say that thrift comes from a sense of responsibility, and stinginess from a sense of greed.

But in the end, it's this that will guide me: Thrift is not caring too much for money, and stinginess is caring for nothing more.

Do I care too much for money? 'Cause money can't buy me love.

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