One Upmanship, Frugal Style

Last week some long lost relatives came to visit (well, not long lost but definitely not close relatives). Frankly, I wish they’d stayed lost. We let ourselves get talked into hosting these people by another relative who, knowing that these long lost people were coming to our town for a convention, so kindly recommended that they stay with us. (Note to self: Never agree to anything like this again. Learn the word “No” and use it more often.)

You have to understand: Part of the reason why these relatives have remained lost for so many years is that no one can stand them. They spend money like there is no tomorrow and then complain about the stress and financial trouble in their lives. They are uppity, whiny birds who generally refuse to take part in any family activity that they think is beneath them, which is pretty much everything. They remain lost because people have given up inviting them to things. They rarely want to come and, when they do show up, they spend the whole time complaining about how this isn’t right, or that isn’t they way they like it. Things cost too much (whine about the expense) or too little (whine about how can’t possibly be of good quality). This trip was no different.

The complaining started the minute they walked in the door. The guest bedroom was too small. The bathroom was down the hall. They didn’t like my cooking. (Meatless meals? How do you survive!) They were disappointed we didn’t have HBO and that there wasn’t a TV in the guest room. They refused to ride in my car because “That thing’s so old it might break down at any moment.” They were appalled when I pulled out the stuff to make a new batch of laundry detergent. And on and on it went. Nothing was up to their standards. Every time I turned around I was being made to feel like my life was “less than” and inferior. I didn’t care for it. I endured this with bitten lip and good grace for about two days before I discovered how to get some of my own back.

Normally I’m not a vindictive sort of person. I don’t like to get the best of other people and I don’t always have to “win.” But after two days of this, after two days of listening to them talk about how important they are, how stressed, how busy, and how much everything costs while dumping on my way of life, I sort of felt justified in finding not-so-subtle-ways to take little pieces out of their uppity hides. It started on Monday when I went into my office in sweatpants and a t-shirt.

“Don’t you have to go to work?” asked Ms. Uppity.

“Yep. I’m going now.”

“In that?” she asked taking in my attire.

“Yep. I work from home. In there,” I said pointing toward my office. “I don’t have to get all dressed up.”

“Hmph,” she sniffed. “It takes me an hour at least to get ready for work. And it’s so expensive to buy suits and makeup. I hate it, but what can you do?”

“I’m sorry,” I lied. “But I’m glad I don’t have to do all that stuff. It gives me more time and money to do other things.”

“Must be nice,” she said as she walked off, clearly miffed that I had a situation that I adore while she was stuck in dress-up hell.

Later that day Mr. and Ms. Uppity returned from the convention to find my husband and I in the living room going through brochures and guidebooks for a trip we’re planning in the spring.

“Where are you going?” they wanted to know.

We told them that we were planning to drive up to Maine and back just to sightsee and check out the cherry trees in DC, while hitting a lot of museums along the way.

“Must be nice,” Mr. Uppity sniffed. “We never have time to travel. We’re just so busy.”

“Everything is so overpriced,” Ms. Uppity chimed in. “There’s no way to do a decent trip like that for less than $10,000.”

I nearly choked on that number, but smiled sweetly when I said, “Well, we’re going to be able to do it for less than $3,000 in our RV, mostly eating food we cook, and getting discounts on everything along the way.”

“Humph,” she sniffed again. “You’ll never make it.”

“We will,” I said. “And then we’ll travel again in the summer. That’s the benefit of not having to work all the time to pay for expensive stuff. We can travel when we want.”

Two days later, when Ms. Uppity was yet again complaining about not having a TV in their room, I told her that there was only the one TV in the house.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “We have six TV’s. One in every bedroom, one in the den and one in the living room.”

“Do you spend much time together watching TV?” I asked.

“No. He watches in the den and I watch in the living room most of the time.”

“That’s the benefit of one TV. If we want to watch a movie or sporting event, we do it together. Gives us time to spend with each other and talk.”

“We hardly spend any time together,” she admitted.

When she asked me why our house was so small (because she just knew we could afford something larger), I told her that it met our needs and that it cost us very little to keep up with. That’s part of the reason we can travel so much. Our money isn’t sucked up by the house. She seemed shocked that anyone could be happy in what was, to her, such a small space but grudgingly agreed that less upkeep and smaller taxes would be nice.

The day I came in from turning the garden all dirty and sweaty she asked me why I would bother. I told her because through the summer and the fall I can eat for just the cost of dairy products and the occasional chicken. My fruits and vegetables are pretty much covered, and they are fresh and organic because I grow them that way. She had to admit that organic produce would be nice and that their grocery bills were far too high when paying for organic food.

We went on in this way for the rest of the week. Every time she would complain about something or belittle our frugal choices, I had the audacity to subtly point out that, while my way of life might not be her ideal, I was able to spend far less than she and have more free time and money for fun things in life. Pretty much I just kept modeling my usual lifestyle. I refused to get drawn into her petty dramas and her insistence that living an expensive life is the best and only worthwhile way to live.

Normally contests of one upmanship are about buying the bigger and better item, not touting the benefits of the smaller, less expensive item. But that’s what happened in my house. Every time the uppity people tried to drag me into feeling bad about my “poor” choices, I turned it around and basically rubbed their noses in their own overpriced choices and wallowed in the joy that my simple choices brings me. I’m sure it confused the heck out of them. I’m sure they were expecting me to agree with them that my lifestyle was inferior, not turn it around that I thought they were the ones with an inferior
lifestyle. Does this make me a bad person? Probably. Like I said, I hate to judge, to compete, and to accuse others of making bad choices. Generally I’m a live and let live kind of girl. But I was provoked. When you come in my house and criticize my life, don’t expect me to just take it.

I’m sure I didn’t change their minds one iota for the long term. I’m sure they forgot about me the minute they left. I’m sure that if they do recall me it will be as some anecdote about “this hillbilly couple we stayed with once” and they will ridicule our choices to all of their friends. But, I have to say, that for the week they were here, it sure felt good to be able to point out to them that there are costs and benefits to everything and that their way of life might not be the end all that they think it is. Maybe I didn’t bring them down a peg, but maybe I got their noses a little out of the air. And who knows? Maybe one day, long from now, they will find themselves in a situation where they need to be more frugal and they will think of me and remember some of the lesson I modeled for them. Not that I wish that on them, or anything. That would make me a bad person.

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20 Responses to One Upmanship, Frugal Style

  1. Paula says:

    I’ve heard it said that the best sermon is a good example. Seems to me that you presented a great sermon through your frugal actions to a “captive” audience! Good for you!

  2. Mark says:

    I always find that when challenged on things, no matter how stupid the source, it is a good exercise in clarifying what I believe and why I do some of the things I do.

    I understand the common sense behind the decisions, but a reminder of why the decision was right is good.

    This also reminds me of the SNL clip of “Two A-holes doing . . .” like this:

  3. Chris P. says:

    You are much nicer than I am. After day two, I would have probably given them a list of hotels in the area and a recommendation that they book ASAP. I would bet they probably didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel which is why they are mooching off relatives they barely know.

  4. Brent says:

    I have this same type of thing occur with my in laws. An example might include how they caught my son using a $30 baseball bat from play it again sports when they had spent summer after summer purchasing my brother in law two $300 bats each summer to make sure he had the best equipment. They insisted that he need the best equipment and wanted to push that on my son. the only comeback i could offer was that i regularly beat folks with brand new top of the line golf clubs on the clubs i owned 15 years ago when i was in 7th grade and that the equipment does not matter.

  5. Joan says:

    I wonder why that wanted to stay with you.

  6. yisve says:

    I had such a good laugh at your post because I could have written a similiar post. As a frugal person, I think that others feel very uncomfortable. They like to make you look like a cheap person and that you can’t be possibly enjoying your life, etc.

    You must have let out a sigh of relief when they left. One thing that you know now is why everyone stays away from them. I’m sure that you will plans in place the
    next time they want to visit.

    You said that they didn’t give you any thought when they left. I bet they gave alot of thought about you and probably how unhappy they really are. Good for you at standing your ground.

  7. sewingirl says:

    Good for you! Being polite doesn’t necessarily mean lying down and playing dead. Wonder if they will ever contact you again?

  8. Rick says:

    I’ll bet they went home and said “those lucky dogs have their freedom, we never will.”

  9. Debbie M says:

    I love this entry. You were no ruder than they, and people are most likely to learn from people telling them what they don’t want to hear. There is a little seed planted in their heads, which they may ignore. It was really unbelievable to them that anyone could be happy in your little house with only one TV and an old car, etc., and now they know it’s possible. Their minds may open to more possibilities than they expect in the future, perhaps when around people spending more and being even more stressed than they.

    Plus, you got to have a little more fun.

  10. teresa says:

    I found this post sooooo funny, so many people like to think their way of living is the “only” way. I have 5 kids and live in a small house and everyone always has something to say about it. I don’t have a payment and taxes are small plus I stay home with my kids while these people that are judging me are all at work. I would love to have a bigger house but I just figure I have indoor plumbing and 2 sets of washers and dryers so life is good. Our society needs to remember is wasn’t that many years ago that their was no modern convienences.

  11. Forest says:

    I don’t think you did anything wrong at all and in fact you did everything right…. If they moan about things then they are not happy…. if it’s money making them not happy then they need to spend less of it.

    I think you did a great job in showing the possible choices they have and hopefully it will make them think when times get even harder for them.

  12. Nichole says:

    You are way too nice! Don’t feel guilty for one minute. Just because someone is a guest in your home, doesn’t mean you have to be a door mat. You did the right thing. I just wish I could say I would have handled it in such a classy way. I’m quite sure I would have done something, but it would probably have involved their suitcases on the front porch. 🙂

  13. larabelle says:

    I would not have been able to hold my tongue…I would have had to tell them that they could find their own hotel…and politely opened my front door for them to leave.

  14. Bobbi says:

    You’re a saint. I would have asked them to leave also. 🙂 I am lucky that everyone in our family is very loving no matter what kind of ‘money’ they have or don’t have. I am thankful for my family and everything I have in life.

  15. Lee says:

    I wonder why you just didn’t tell them that you didn’t have the room for them since they thought that your house was so small in the first place?
    All they could have done was agreed and you would have avoided the whole uncomfortable situation!


  16. Melissa says:

    This is my life to a “T” with my brother -in-law and his wife. We love them, but they compete with EVERY aspect of life. Their kids the best, their home is best, their jobs are best… my husband and I are completely happy and content with our lives, much like the writer, and I completely understand how it feels to bask in the glory of coming out on top… especially when you aren’t the one competing!

  17. Rosemary Sanders says:

    One thing we all know,there will always be people who whine and complain. It’s a good thing when one can be frugal and economize in today’s society. This is something I’m teaching my children. There is an old saying about “You can lead the horse to the water trough, but you can’t make them drink.” As we all from time to time deal with similar situations, remember “This too shall pass.”

  18. Fran Marie says:

    I needed a new-to-me vehicle and refused to become part of the “Book 0f the Month Club’ car owner.

    I needed a 4×4 for the nasty New York winters but with good gas mileage for the rest of the year for $5000 or less. That’s what I had to spend-cash.

    Not only did I find a great truck,’97 Ford Explorer XLT, but it gets the same gas mileage as my ’99 Mirage, it is in pristine condition, 85k miles and FULLY loaded. Several people wanted it and I got it for $4995. Period. 6 month warranty to boot!

  19. Gail says:

    The minute those folks complained about the room and lack of TV i think I would have mentioned that they were welcome to go stay at the local hotel. People like that will never be happy as they are at their happiest complaining about life. I doubt if I could have put up with it more than a day tops. You deserve an award!

    I have visitors coming this weekend my son and his girlfriend. He sleeps on a air mattress in the living room and she sleep on one in my walk in closet so she has privacy. We love them to death but our ‘spare’ room is my sewing room, which is one way to keep any guest from staying too long even if they are relatives.

  20. Anita says:

    Way to go!
    I love your simplicity and style! Your relatives are probably related to my snooty relatives on the other side of family.

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