Friday, March 25, 2011

I Raised My Mother to be a Cheapskate

When I first met her, my mother liked to buy brand name products, like Wonder Bread and Scotch Tape.  There wasn’t much competition in those days. Stores didn’t have their own brand labels. And the lesser known brands were often inferior products.

She shopped at the stores that gave orange stamps or blue stamps or green stamps, rather than at the discount grocery which gave a few cents off on each item.  She actually pasted the stamps into booklets and traded her full books of stamps for folding chairs or plates.

She also gave me a teeny tiny allowance.  I quickly learned to supplement the allowance by picking up bottles from under bushes and taking them to the store where the cashier gave me the 3 cent deposit money. I picked up pennies from the sidewalk. (Still do.)

Little by little my habits began to wear off on her.  But my father was no help.  He insisted that store brand puffed rice sparkies were not as good as brand name.  He had temper tantrums, so she had to be more subtle.  He would never know if the canned peaches he was served for dessert came from a brand name label.  He could not detect if the staples in his stapler were brand name staples.

My mother learned to watch the newspaper for sales, and plan menus around the discounted foods.  But she never did catch on to shopping by catalog.  I thought shopping by internet was going to be a lost cause, until she developed a passion for used books, and I was able to get titles for her that her local used book store didn’t have.

This was her rosetta stone.  Suddenly, she saw that she could pay a wide variety of prices for exactly the same thing.  But she is still drawn to heavily advertised products, but frequently she asks me to do consumer research on them before she commits to buy.  

Last week was a watershed moment.  My mother got a virus in her computer. The truly nasty sort that pops up boxes offering to get rid of the virus for $49.95.  But of course they don’t get rid of it. They just use your charge card information to go buying things on your account.

When she called me and told me about it, I dreaded hearing the words, “so I bought it.”  But she said, “good thing I’m a cheapskate.”  I felt like all my patient tutoring of the last 50 years had paid off big time!

My mother has an excellent antivirus program.  All I had to do was talk her through running a full system scan, and I knew it would be gone.  She was patient. She willingly rebooted several times. She re-set paramaters.  She ran the full scan. There were 22 viruses.  The program said it removed them.  Then she did the kind of thing every teacher dreams of from her students.  She volunteered to run the full scan a 2nd time.    This time there were no viruses.  

Not only is my mom now a full-fledged cheapskate.  She’s a safe computer user.  I’m proud.

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