Advice for the frugal: Find an appealing spending option. Mine is car rental.

As New Year’s resolutions go, it was vague. I’d spend more freely in 2020. A lifetime of frugality has made me uncomfortable about dropping more than $20 in a restaurant or seeing a movie at full price.

Now a circumstance will challenge me to act on the idea: My dad’s car, which was at my disposal when I visited my parents in Joliet, was donated last weekend.

After I gave up my last car about a decade and a half ago, I would take a Metra train to Joliet and then have Dad’s car to visit friends, go to church, and grocery shop. Dad passed away five weeks ago, Mom doesn’t drive, and it doesn’t make sense to pay for insurance and upkeep on a car for my occasional use.

Most of the time when I visit my mother, I won’t need a car. The Plainfield assisted living residence where she now lives is only a half-mile from the last stop of a Pace bus I board on Michigan Avenue downtown. But the infrequent times I’ll need wheels — such as on weekends and holidays, when the bus doesn’t operate — will test whether I can waive my thrifty habits.

Frugality is common among retirees, financial advisers report. For some retirees, meager social security checks require it. But others, myself included, could afford to spend more and don’t.

A study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that 59 percent of retirees spend less than their incomes. EBRI theorized that retirees might not know how long their money will last or what a safe rate of spending is.

Financial advisers interviewed for a US News & World Report article said that many retirees are afraid to spend liberally. They worry about needing expensive health care. Those invested in stocks are spooked by fluctuations in the market.

Kiplinger's personal finance magazine offered another explanation: Some people simply have a hard time spending their money. Some are frugal by nature and others develop a preference by living below their means for a long time. They wire themselves to not spend. Thriftiness becomes a pastime.

I can’t exactly date when I became thrifty, but it was after I moved to Chicago three decades ago. When I lived in the far suburbs, I came into the city now and then for a musical or a night at a jazz club. I assumed that the cost was what you paid for entertainment in the big city. I bought clothes new.

Once I lived here, I discovered secondhand shops and low-cost entertainment. Why pay more for what could be had for much less? Bargain hunting became a challenging, fun game. If I could buy this for under $_, or do that for under $_, I won.

Giving the car up was a logical segue once I started working from home and the odometer tallied few miles.

As my political consciousness grew, I realized that my habits aligned with my politics: I’m living responsibly and consistent with anticonsumerist values.

I don’t feel self-denying. It’s not like I’m staying in. I prefer neighborhood ethnic restaurants to white-tablecloth establishments. There’s more low-cost entertainment in Chicago than anyone can take advantage of. Sure, I might miss a hot production — I may be the only Chicagoan I know who didn’t see Hamilton — but nothing is really a must-see. The important thing is to keep getting out.

It sounds like I don’t really want to change, but there is the need for a car now and then. I like the advice for penny-pinching retirees in a Kiplinger's article: Don’t try to splurge across the board; pick and choose where you want to spend more. “You may have no interest in fancy restaurants or luxury cruises,” the author wrote. “Find appealing spending options.”

Renting a car for holidays and weekends sounds like an appealing spending option for me. Sure, one of my siblings could pick me up at a Metra station for the next holiday weekend, Easter, but the half-hour drive from Mom’s to the station would be an inconvenience. Having a car would spare my sibling and allow me to attend church on a holy day and visit a friend if she’s available.

When I gave up car ownership, a friend suggested that I set aside an annual car rental fund using the average cost of what I’d been spending for auto insurance, maintenance, and gas in a year. I joined rent-by-the-hour I-Go and used Budget or Enterprise for road trips, but I never came close to spending the estimated $2,000 a year. There would be many thousands of dollars in that fund by now, a realization that should erase all second thoughts about renting.



“What if [Trump] were a high school vice principal who ensured that a police detective’s son would be accepted in advanced placement classes — and then added, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.” The favor would be an investigation of the vice principal’s ex-wife before their upcoming child custody hearing, in hopes of tilting the outcome in his favor. In that situation, the vice principal would be fired. We all recognize that no school official or other person in a government bureaucracy should use public power for private benefit. . . . Shouldn’t we have as high a standard for the president of the United States as for a school vice principal?”
— Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist

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