Frugality: the New Fanciness

I grew up in a pretty low-key family, financially speaking. We always had plenty of money for groceries and my parents never went into debt, but if you were one of the Joneses* living down the street from us, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any flashy spending.

This upbringing occurred in a pretty small town (we only got our second stoplight around the time I reached high school), and there wasn’t a lot of wealth to be flaunted around there. The closest thing to riches was a hot girl in my class named Kim who got to drive her parents’ brand new 1992 Mercury Cougar to high school every day.

This town was located in another country, the one called “Canada”, and we were known at the time for being less wealthy and flashy than our neighbours to the South. Hearty dudes with big beards and plaid shirts, you know the deal.

And finally, all of this happened over twenty years ago, at a time when all of us had simpler and less flashy lives. The very first cell phones – the ones that were tethered with a coiled cord to a base unit as big as a car battery – were only things to ogle curiously and were priced at $1999 on the last page of the Radio Shack catalog.

Even in university I was barely aware of wealth. We Engineers are notorious for our lack of cash-flaunting (and status-detecting) skills, so I thought of all of us as equals. There were a few rare kids that had expensive mountain bikes or laptop computers at the time, but for the most part, we all paid our own tuition and lived in cheap basement apartments.

So for most of my early life, I wasn’t even aware that money was something that could be flaunted to others. I thought it was a tool for buying your groceries, or if your parents really did well, a back yard swimming pool.

I think I experienced my first flaunting experience just after I had graduated and started working full-time in the software field. Some friends and I went on a summer trip to “Sherkston Beach”, a low-budget Canadian version of what they call “Spring Break” here in the US.

Beers in hand, we walked along the shore to join the party. I noticed that a long line of very clean and shiny cars had been parked along the strip, and each was playing some sort of boo-tss-boo-tsss dancy music from an upgraded stereo system. The owners of the cars, invariably tanned and bare chested dudes with expensive sunglasses, frosted hair tips and their little muscles carefully flexed, were busily walking around their cars, tending to this or that, setting up beer coolers or polishing volleyballs or otherwise keeping themselves busy.

“What is going on here?”, I wondered at first. “Why are their cars so clean? Why are they so well-groomed on a camping trip?.

“Oh… I think I get it … they are attempting to show off their wealth for the benefit of all the fine ladies around here.”

The whole scene seemed a bit amusing and evolution-driven, like the complex bird mating dances in Madagascar that David Attenborough likes to teach you about: