Bargain Sales and the Man

The Catholic Press – 15 August 1929

Bargain Sales and the Man

There are few things pleasanter than spending money, and yet how difficult it is to do so without a guilty consciousness of extravagance! Nearly everything that we have been taught since childhood, whether in the copybooks or by uncles anxious about our future, has been on the side of saving. ”Look after the pence,” says the proverb, “and the pounds will look after themselves.” And the other proverbs relating to money say the same thing. I do not remember a single proverb that states the plain truth—that money is meant to be spent.
As a result of this one-sided training, most of us feel more virtuous if we have saved five pounds than if we have spent five pounds. I certainly do; at least, I am sure I should if so improbable a miracle were to happen. Even those of us who cannot help spending money are convinced of the superior virtue of saving it. Like other people, we believe that “economy”—a word which means “household management”—really means spending as little money as possible.

The Swing of the Pendulum

    Perhaps we are all born spendthrifts, and it is only by this rigorous education in the virtues of thrift that we can be dissuaded from spending more money than we earn. How easy it would be to take taxis that one could not afford every time one went out, if a still, small voice heard in childhood did not whisper: “A penny saved is a penny earned!” How easy it would be —on the assumption that postdated cheques were accepted at the hotels—to invite all one’s friends to a champagne supper, were it not that the old injunction, “Waste not, want not,” rings a perpetual and minatory bell in the memory!
On the other hand, there is a danger in saving money as well as in spending money. Each, carried too far, becomes a vice, and a world of misers is no more to be desired than a world of spendthrifts.
The ideal world, it seems to me, would be neither a world of spendthrifts nor a world of misers, but a world in which it was possible to spend money while saving it, and so to turn both spending and saving into agreeable virtues. You may deny that such a world is possible. If you do, you will be wrong. Such a world comes into existence at least twice a year in England—on the occasion of the summer sales and the winter sales at the shops.

The Glory of the Sale

    Owing, I suppose, to my sex, I have never been at a sale, but I understand that at a sale it is absolutely impossible to spend money without saving it at the same time. A parsimonious husband, on finding an unexpected Axminster carpet in the house, may cry in his anguish: “How much did you spend on this?” But the economical wife has the perfect answer ready: “You mean ‘How much did I save on it?’ Well, I saved three pounds.” And it is the same with everything she buys, from a seven-piece oak dining suite to a pair of court shoes in patent leather with smart toes arid Louis XV heels. Everywhere, while she has been spending the household money she has been laboriously saving the household money. I confess I look on her as a noble creature. Without even a hint of miserliness she does more in a week to save the joint money of the home than her husband will do in a year.
    What women understand much better than men is that it is possible to buy almost anything economically. You can save money by buying a motor car, or a pianola, or a house in the country. It is a form of thrift to buy a box of cigars, if you get it at a reduction. There are all sorts of ways of saving money besides saving money, and most of them are pleasanter and add more to the general happiness. Why, even the purchase of a pearl necklace may be a thrifty act if it happens to be a bargain.
And most human beings love a bargain. I know men who would buy a cow if it were a bargain, not because they want a cow, but for that curious thrill of triumph that one has when one has made a good bargain. I never enjoyed buying books quite so much as when a fire broke out in the principal bookshop in my native town, and the damaged stock was sold at bargain prices.
Day after day, the rest of the inhabitants of the town and myself fought our way in a melee through the door of the shop and found ourselves buying books passionately, voraciously, though most of us probably would not in the ordinary course of events have bought more than one book in a twelvemonth. I never bought so many books before or since, but they were bargains. They were also good books, and, if my friends were not such borrowers, I should have some valuable first editions of Stevenson and Kipling to-day. And not only was I saving money to an incredible extent, but I was incredibly happy at the same time.
Women at the sales, I am sure, are equally happy. I can enter into their feelings. For I, too, once lived in an Arcadia of saving.    
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