Pet Economies

What is your pet economy? Mine is collar buttons. You see, I take you into my confidence before you have a chance to deny that you have such a thing. All the same, I’ll wager you have. I. have yet to meet the individual, man or woman, who has not some pet economy which is cherished with the dogged unreason of early habit. Yes, I confess that mine — the principal one—is collar buttons. Think of it! Ten cents for a collar button! Or twenty-five for a better one; though that is only plated. I have a set, and one or two to spare; but the spare ones are a recent acquisition. One was a Christmas present — one of the most acceptable I ever had! It is a solid gold one. I always had wanted a solid gold collar button, and would like to have three or four more; but never have been able to bring myself to invest so much capital in that particular adjunct to the wardrobe. They are liable to be lost, and have a way of rolling under the bureau, when not observed, or being picked up by the servants. Several times I have been on the point of buying all the collar buttons I want; but the good resolution never happened to be coincident with the opportunity to purchase.

I find no such difficulty in regard to other incidents of apparel. I bought a flamboyant waistcoat the other day, the price of which would have stocked me in collar buttons for the rest of my natural life; and did not feel that it was an extravagance, either. But I shied at the collar-button tray in the haberdasher’s, and hurried out, clutching tightly the change from a ten-dollar bill, as if fleeing from some awful temptation.

I have reasoned it out, and know that I could lose six gold collar buttons a year, and not have to cut down on my cigar allowance. And yet, — well, here I am in the condition of destitution to which I stand confessed.

I inflict these personalities upon the reader merely by way of illustration. It is not that my experience is unique. You have your pet economy, too, and will confess, at once, that you have had experiences very like mine. And you know friends whose pet economies seem to you extremely absurd. In fact, it is easier to discover these economies in our friends and acquaintances than in ourselves. Wealth is no eradicator for them. Indeed, it is among the wealthy that the most delightful specimens are to be found. I am reliably informed that one of Mr. Rockefeller’s most cherished economies is golf balls. To lose a golf ball wrings his heart. Even an old hacked and dilapidated ball, gone in the tall grass, will weigh on his mind all through dinner, and his man will have orders to make a special search in the afternoon to see if it cannot be recovered. I have in mind a particular occasion, and a particular ball, and it is circumstantially related that, on the same afternoon, while still stewing about that little pellet of india rubber, he called his private secretary, and had him write a cheque subscribing five million dollars to a charitable purpose. Think of it! How many golf balls can be bought for a dollar? How many for a hundred dollars ? A thousand ? A million ? A hundred million? If all Mr. Rockefeller’s dollars were converted into golf balls, and he should spend the rest of his life knocking them into the tall grass, how old would he have to be before he became a pauper? If he lived the span of the Old Testament patriarchs, and worked hard, I fancy he would have quite a pile before him when the Man with the Scythe called time.

String is one of the commonest of the pet economies. Have n’t you a friend (I have) who insists, always and inevitably, upon stopping to untie the knots in order to save the string about the parcel ? No matter what haste or impatience attends the opening; no matter that there is a great wad of just such strings on the nail in the pantry. Untied it must be, and the string saved. It might come handy. Now I stand here and denounce that practice as an irrational, illogical absurdity. I am emancipated from the string habit, and I know. There is nothing, except matches, so cheap in this day and age, as string. The investment of fifteen cents will stock a household with string enough, of assorted sizes, to last a year. Yes, for that amount you may revel in string— string without knots or tangles, and of interminable length. No fifteen-cent investment that I know of gives such ample and satisfactory returns in a year as the string investment. And, on the other hand, I know of no more laborious way to save fifteen cents a year than by picking the knots and cherishing the twine that comes with every package. But I need not argue the case. The string economy is no more rational than my collar-button, or Mr. Rockefeller’s golf-ball, economy. It is just one of those pet economies of which I am speaking.

I know a lady of great wealth and fashion (or,to be more truthful, I know of her) whose pet economy is stationery. I had a note from her once written on that terribly cheap school-store paper folded and ruled in faint blue lines. I marveled, and made inquiries, and learned that, though in all other respects she lived as became her wealth and station, she never could bring herself to pay for anything better in note paper. Her house is beautiful and perfect in its appointments; she has her carriages, her gowns, and her box at the opera. But when it comes to note paper, she feels that she must economize.

Another lady (this one I know more intimately) balks at the payment of excess baggage charges; and, as she is a great traveler, and always carries more weight than the rules of the railroads allow, this economy costs her a deal of money. I have in mind one instance when she paid her man’s fare to New York, and gave him four dollars to bribe expressmen, not to mention the price of his dinner, and three dollars for an extra dray, in order to get out of paying excess charges which would not have exceeded two dollars and thirty cents. She is a generous woman, on the whole, and has an abundance of means; but excess baggage she deems the last straw in the burden of expense, and she will pay double the amount to get around it.

Other instances which occur to me are of the man who borrows his neighbor’s newspaper to save one or two cents; and the one who insists on wearing the same tie for a year, despite the protests of his family; and the other who labors, and compromises with his conscience, to “knock down” street car fares. These are all men who are so far removed from penury that the cost of the articles in question is really no consideration. And in other relations of life they are generous and open-handed. For I am not alluding, in any part of this discussion, to the constitutionally or habitually close-fisted or stingy. These are merely pet economies.

I have thought a bit about the matter, and have concluded that pet economies are evidences of a defective education. Not general education — mind you — but education in the grand art of spending money. The science of economics, —the every-day economics which you and I and all of us are compelled to master, and to practice on a larger or smaller scale, — this science is divided into two chapters; one on How to acquire money, and the other on How to spend money. In the United States more attention is given to the first chapter than to the second. There are nine people who are successful in making money, to one who is successful in spending it. I do not have to explain to this intelligent audience that the mere getting rid of money is not success in the art of spending. To spend money as it should be spent requires intelligence and thought. It requires study — study directed to this one end. I was reminded of this not long ago when I was a guest in the house of my hospitable friend, Senator — but perhaps we had best name no names. He had bought some exquisite taste for his million-dollar mansion, but the shelves of his library offered two subscription sets of the World’s Best Literature, and seventy-eight lineal feet of the official records of our late unpleasantness with the South. Poor man! I wanted to take some of his millions, and show him what to do with them. He knows much better than I do how to get them; but I could spend them — oh, ever so much better than he! I do not pretend to have mastered the art of spending, but I could give Mr. Rockefeller valuable pointers. I could show him how not to worry over a thirty-nine-cent golf ball. That’s where hereditary wealth gets its show of superiority; in the scramble to get money the art of spending has not been so shamefully neglected. It is a rare thing to see the two acquirements evenly balanced. A man devotes a lifetime to the first chapter, and then, after his brain processes have begun to harden, and new lessons are not easy to master, he starts in on the second half of the volume.

In the family the “women folks” are generally the ones to furnish whatever intelligence is directed to this chapter. Not being engrossed in money-getting, they have a little time and thought to devote to money-spending; and many a home has been made beautiful, and the seeming reflection of taste and culture, as the result of their efforts. But they are handicapped. If the Provider does not follow their enlightened researches, and approve and appreciate their discoveries, but judges only by the precepts of his chapter on acquisition, it is small wonder if they make but slow headway.

Pet economies are the unmastered details in the art of money-spending. The big things are obvious, and are taken in without much question. The big house, the rugs and furniture, the carriages and gowns, are the plain corollaries to a million. But in trifles, in the things which go to make up our less vigorous moments, the sway of the first chapter and its axioms is upon us, and we wrangle over the pennies, and deny ourselves, with the conscientiousness of a trust limiting the output.

Pet economies are limitations. They are telltales, tattling of a time when we were engrossed only in getting. They are sure evidences, also, of slovenly attention to the rudiments of the second chapter on finance.

I know; and some day I shall get a dozen solid gold ones.