gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

On saving the wrong money

2 Comments

The other day, at Home Affairs, a rather chatty gentleman got chatting to me. At one point, he told me that his cell phone battery is damaged and that he is waiting six months until his upgrade.

“No,” I said. “Just get a new one. It is life changing having a battery that actually works. I did it. You really must.”

“Must I go to the Indian shops in Pretoria?” he said, in a hushed voice like we were exchanging drug dealing details. (Or it may have been the Mexican shop at the Oriental Plaza, or the Pakistani Shop in Bloemfontein – but it was a very specific combination of nationality and place.)

“No,” I replied, shocked. “You must buy a real one at the proper shop.”

Because the world, you see, is divided into people who spend a lot of money upfront, once; and those who spend very little money, repeatedly. My parents were the latter so I know all about it.

My father came from working class, war torn, starving Amsterdam. He was thrilled by his upward mobility and our moderate middle class lifestyle and saw no reason to buy unnecessary things. My mother came from wealthy Pretoria and was appalled by her downward mobility and our moderate middle class lifestyle. She saw no money to buy unnecessary things. They met in the middle, and I was an adult before I discovered that quite ordinary, non- millionaire type people buy washing machines new from the shop, and have their car serviced by the actual dealership.

I am lucky enough to be married to a man who has no such scars from his childhood (although arguably, he should). This is a man who, if I say, “I have found us a 10 room house on the beachfront for R300 a night” will respond with “Well keep looking. I’m sure we can find something smaller and more expensive.” Because he knows that if you pay too little, you’ll be hurt in the end.

But it’s taken me some time to absorb this knowledge. The moderate middle class child in me fights to get out. I actually electrocuted myself on the second hand washing machine from my parents’ “guy” before I contemplated a brand new one. I sometimes buy the cheaper brand of tinned tomatoes because I save 30c a tin. I have an ongoing internal struggle about expensive versus cheap shampoo.

But I have learnt a few lessons along the way, and there are some places I now know you must not save money. So, in the interests of shared wisdom, here they are:

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Toilet paper
  • Washing machines
  • Education
  • Plumbers
  • Cell phone batteries
  • Bras

That last was a recent mistake. I bought a cheap white bra at Woolies (so it was only moderately cheap – I’d bought an expensive black bra so my thinking was that I would balance it out with the white one). I walked around for a day with my arms clamped to my side to disguise the fact that half my boob was overflowing from one side of the bra, and I ended up with a cut on my shoulder from the strap. Cheap bras, I discovered, are a lot like cheap dishwashing liquid. They simply don’t do the job.

But listen – I understand that I speak from a position of privilege. I am lucky that the 30c I save from the tomatoes doesn’t actually change my life, and the 10 bedroomed beach house is not our only option. So maybe I won’t convert you all to my way of thinking. And if that’s the case, you may be interested to know that I have a white Woolies bra, only worn once, slightly dangerous, to give away free to a good home. . . Perhaps the chap from Home Affairs would be interested.

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2 thoughts on “On saving the wrong money

  1. I absolutely 100% agree with this post. If only I could learn from my own mistakes. Bought a cheap Chinese cellphone battery in the quest to save money (never arrived), not realising I could’ve exchanged it for free.

    And sometimes it works out cheaper to replace an item than to have it repaired.

  2. Wonderful, entertaining writing, Gail! As you know, I don’t suffer from this problem but my husband wishes I did!

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