Frugal Fatigue

I heard a new term the other day on the radio. The announcer said it was born out of the frustration many Americans are feeling from constantly “robbing Peter to pay Paul” -- the inability of most of us to move past the day-to-day grind where every financial decision comes with a lot of forethought.

And I don’t mean where to invest or how to make the most of your 401K. I mean a decision like, “If I buy the family pizza for dinner tonight, will I have enough gas to get to work through Friday?”

They’re calling it “Frugal Fatigue” and it is weighing heavily on the minds of the inhabitants of this country.

It is sure to play a big part in the next presidential election, whether we are even conscious of it or not. When we cast our vote, it is likely to be in our minds that we want someone to make our lives just a little easier, a little more pleasant.

See, I don’t think most Americans drool for the “Lottery Winner” lifestyle. Sure, we all dream of getting to a place where all the bills are covered and there’s enough extra to get anything you want anytime.

But I don’t think the wistful dream of that disallows the ability to have a comfortable, happy life.

I know plenty of people who are truly happy if their year includes nothing more than a couple tickets to a Browns, Indians or Cavs game, some time on the lake beaches in the summer, a great fall festival with Ohio amenities like cider and hayrides, and a winter holiday season where the kids and Grandma can get a few nice tokens of love and appreciation from each other.

But these days, that very simple wish list seems a bit too lofty.

See, we can’t enjoy any of those things without a few bucks in our pocket, and those few bucks are being constantly designated for necessities anymore.

Despite the challenge, there are folks out there who are making sure their children, spouses and parents don’t feel the hit at full impact. People out there selflessly “cushioning the blow” for those they care about.

Today I want them to know they are appreciated.

They include:

• The laid-off parent who took a job far beneath his abilities to be sure the family could get by until better times arrived.

• The kids of that laid-off parent who know Mom and Dad are trying to find work anywhere to support them and who ask for very little and get by on a lot less than before without complaining.

• The child who is suddenly doing his part by pitching in and doing baby-sitting, mowing and shoveling jobs to cover her own lunch and after-care costs at school.

• The grandparents who are digging into savings they had reserved for themselves to help their children provide for their children.

• The almost retired worker who decides to stay a few more years to help his son or daughter get on their feet.

• The car salesman who cuts into his own profit a little more than he used to so a family that reminds him of his own family can get in a safe, clean car without spending their last nickel.

• The shopper who is folding their last buck to put in their pocket for tomorrow morning’s coffee who suddenly decides that buck does a lot more good in the Salvation Army bucket.

• The cafeteria worker who makes sure the biggest piece of school lunch meatloaf goes on the plate of that thin boy who looks like he could use more than a few good meals.

• The dad who is sitting behind the open back of the 10-year-old washing machine trying to put a new belt on the “old girl” as a new one is just not affordable right now.

• The mom who stays up late mending and patching the school uniform to make it last at least a month or two longer.

• The long-time employee who puts his family first and himself last. He is humble and proud and refuses to look desperate, so he parks his car in the back of the lot so his friends don’t see the ragged, rusty condition of his ride. The one that “still runs well.”

• The sentimental wife who has visited the gold and silver liquidator to sell off some of her treasured mementos to sneak some extra groceries into the house while keeping her husband’s pride alive.

• The parents who waited in lines and entered contests to get their children special holiday gifts they couldn’t afford to buy or reserve at full price.

• The pastors who have tried to instill confidence into their congregations that all of this sacrifice has purpose and meaning.

Truly, the list could go on all day.

The weariness from Frugal Fatigue does not appear to be waning as the days pass. Surely, there’s more of it ahead, and certainly more challenge to the human spirit awaits us in 2012.

But throughout the challenges of life, there has been nothing more encouraging than the support of our fellow brothers and sisters who have lent a hand, accepted a hand and stood beside us through the darkest of hours.

As we count our blessings, be sure to include their friendship at the top of the list. Without each other, there truly would be no sign of hope.

And without the challenges we have endured, how would we ever know how tough we really are?

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at