When I opened the medicine cabinet at 5:07 in the morning, there were three tubes of toothpaste staring at me. (Actually, I was doing the staring, not the toothpaste.) One tube was full, and the others were squeezed clean.
At least that’s what I thought, but my wife, Sandy, had a different opinion. She was committed to getting toothpaste out of them even though I was ready to throw them in the trash. Have you ever heard of getting blood from a stone? The empty tubes were so twisted and gnarled they looked like they got run over by an 18-wheeler carrying a trailer of Jeep Cherokees.
After staring at the empty tubes for a week, I finally tossed them in the trash, but the next day they were back in the medicine cabinet, and my wife asked, “Why did you throw out that toothpaste?”
“There was nothing left.”
“There was at least five days of toothpaste left.”
Sometimes I think she’s a descendent of Benjamin Franklin, who famously said, “Waste not, want not,” along with other pearls of wisdom in Poor Richard’s Almanack — although he had no views on toothpaste.
Franklin also said, “Wealth depends chiefly on industry and frugality; that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.” Then, there’s his classic adage, “Time is money.” I don’t have enough time, and I don’t have enough money, probably because I’m not frugal.
In Ben’s day, you had to be frugal. You couldn’t be a compulsive spender prancing through Bloomingdale’s, running up credit card debt because it could land you in debters’ prison, which was the colonial equivalent of being a guest on the Jerry Springer show.
At one time, I actually was frugal, and I’d buy copies of the Wednesday newspaper to clip food coupons, back when newspapers had a food page. Then, I’d wait until “double coupon day” to go to the supermarket and stock up on processed food with lots of trans fats and sugar.
Now, I don’t wait for sales. I buy what I need and forget about it — like the expensive toothpaste my family insists on using because it’s guaranteed to get rid of 80 percent of the stains on your teeth, along with bad breath and clogged pores. Maybe that’s why Sandy is obsessed with squeezing the tube clean.
Unfortunately, my four daughters didn’t inherit the frugality gene from their mother. If they had, I’d be a one-percenter by now. They’re spendthrifts, especially when it involves someone else’s money, namely mine.
Two daughters are so wasteful that every time they have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a bottle of water, they NEVER EVER finish their drinks and leave half-filled containers all around the house. Easy come, easy go. Ben Franklin didn’t say that. My mother did.
Another daughter is obsessed with expiration dates and regularly rummages through the refrigerator and pantry, tossing food in the garbage even if it’s days from expiring. I don’t believe in expiration dates. Honey, for example, never goes bad, and there’s still honey from the time of the pharaohs that you can use in your tea. I read that in National Geographic … or maybe it was National Enquirer.
A few weeks ago, I went to the medicine cabinet for Clearasil because a zit was forming on my nose, and I wanted to take preventive measures. I also needed Tums because I ate pepperoni pizza for dinner, and it was drilling a hole in my stomach lining.
But there was no Clearasil and no Tums. My daughter had gone on a rampage and thrown out things that had passed the expiration date. To my thinking, Clearasil should be good for at least a century, and Tums should last a millennium or two.
So while my wife was trying to get another smidgen of toothpaste out of an empty tube, my daughter was going crazy tossing things out that were still good to use. I tried telling her that expiration dates are part of a government conspiracy — probably invented by the same CIA agents who are monitoring us through our microwave stoves. Now, they want to hack our toothpaste tubes.
Pretty soon, they’ll be doing surveillance of your pantry and refrigerator to see if you have products that should be discarded, thereby putting you in violation of some federal regulation punishable by prison or a hefty fine that will help cut the federal deficit. If anyone needs lessons in frugality, it’s the U.S. government. I’d bet most of our leaders never heard of Ben Franklin. Now, I have to run out and buy some Tums.
Contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.