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Commentary: Quality versus thrift

Frugal? Thrifty? Cheap? A rose by any other name...
We spend a lot on some things; others, not so much. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Ensuring we get value for our hard-earned money isn’t a new concept. Since the time of ancient civilization, when a Roman citizen strode through the marketplace in his toga, jangling several silver denarii in his eager hand, his desire was to purchase something of excellence. We’re no different. (Apart from walking around wrapped in belted sheets). Speaking for myself, I tend to be thrifty, sometimes to a fault. I got it from my parents.

I recall one instance where they saved money on a new bed for their guest room. This was back in the old days, when mattresses sat on exposed wire coils rather than a box spring. A couple of coils had broken due to old age and a disagreeable phenomenon called rust. To prevent coils from jabbing through, my father painstakingly laid a thick layer of brown paper in between springs and mattress. In my room next door, I woke up every time our guests moved a muscle. The cracking was something terrible: even breathing created a nasty rustling that reverberated through the walls. And, heaven forbid when someone shifted position! The noise was deafening. They dragged into the kitchen next morning, hollow-eyed and listless from lack of sleep. There was thrift, but zero value to be had in that remedy.

Yet, my folks appreciated quality, and I do too. I spend good money to keep a bottle of excellent olive oil in the house. It makes such a difference. Olive oils in supermarkets are often cut with cheap vegetable oils, or are made to look and smell real with the addition of chlorophyll and beta-carotene. That’s why, when I buy a bottle of premium olive oil, costing over $35, I’m protective of it, and only use it for dressing a salad or drizzling on a slice of rustic bread. And that’s also why, when I caught husband Tom glugging a quarter cup of it into a skillet to prepare his breakfast, I assumed an air of quiet outrage. Okay—maybe I wasn’t all that quiet.

“Do you realize you’ve just dispensed $4.39 worth of hand-picked, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, flown at great expense to Canada from the sunny plains of Italy, into a pan—to FRY A FLIPPIN EGG?” I shrieked. Poor, uneducated slob. How was he to know all olives oils are not created equal?

In truth, I’ve wasted expensive foods too. Once, in Edmonton with my friend Cyndi, I was overcome with popcorn envy. I watched people stroll away from the concession, mindlessly stuffing their faces with fistfuls of quality, freshly popped corn. I couldn’t resist. Sidling up to the counter, I ordered my own and asked for extra butter. A bag of it was almost $10! I turned to follow Cyndi with my treat, stumbled over my own feet, and spilled at least $3.64 of it on the carpet. I stared at the mound of fluffy morsels in horror. What had I done?

Of course, this has less to do with quality or value and more to do with being a clumsy oaf, but still, you follow my drift. We get what we pay for.

Helen lives on the family farm near Marshall, Saskatchewan. She is a writer, columnist and works in education. To contact her, go to or write Box 55, Marshall, SK. S0M1R0