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Seniors, Romance, and Frugality


The notion of thrift comes to every senior, especially at retirement, when suddenly there is no salary and the only source of funds is the Tepid Trio — Savings, Social Security, and Stocks.

These days, when stock prices are wobbly and interest on bank savings is next to nothing, some people quietly adjust their spending patterns and make grateful use of whatever they have. Others cannot buy a roll of paper towels without trembling with fury, certain that Scott Paper Company has singled them out for humiliation and penury.

Publications for seniors seem to thrive on stirring the pot. Even the venerable AARP Magazine regularly runs stories like “Fed Up With Fees” in which they deliver this dour message to readers: “If it feels as if companies are picking your pockets — they are.”

I’ve got no quarrel with the careful use of financial resources in economically troubled times. What I’m against is the kind of economizing that is joyless, inflexible, and a way of life for some senior men (and women). Fierce Frugality, if you will.

When your man grumbles about the price of movie tickets, travels long miles for a cut-rate haircut, lets menu prices regulate his restaurant meal choices, and recycles tired garb from a fraying wardrobe, you may want to ask yourself if you really want to share your future with someone who will keep the winter thermostat at 64 degrees.


I’m a love junkie, and I believe in compromise. I try to do what it takes. Can I stumble about in unlit hallways, keep the house clean until a housekeeper makes a monthly visit? Can I find salvation in resisting a new pair of sandals, another little black dress? Can I live without a New York Times subscription, Saturday nights out, bi-weekly pedicures, and long, hot showers?

NO, no, no — to all of the above. Frugal (thrifty) is fine with me. Stingy is not. What’s the difference? Mary Hunt, author of  Live Your Life for Half the Price, quips, “if you use a teabag for more than one cup of tea, you’re frugal; if you offer a guest a cup of tea made from a used teabag, you’re stingy.” I want a relationship in which I can give generously to someone I care for, not one in which a man wraps himself in so-called thriftiness in a way that restricts my/our enjoyment of life.

As I grow inexorably into my dotage, I know I’ll have to watch my pennies more closely. But I want to make these changes subtly and slowly, voluntarily, without reprimand, and without retribution (such as his moratorium on restaurant dining because last time you ordered the Dover Sole).


We are living longer, and we are living larger. My grandma’s whole wardrobe was a half dozen dresses, and her biggest travel thrill was a 7-hour motor trip to Niagara Falls. In her day lipstick came in 5 shades (all of them red), and summer nights, unrelieved by air conditioning, were long and hot.

Today’s buying choices are infinite, and resisting temptation is hard. I must spend wisely and well, because I don’t have the means to do otherwise. I’m hoping my Old Mr. Right will not be judgemental about my purchases — or worse, that he’ll actually try to impose limits. I hope that instead he’ll be a guide, a mentor. With the right kind of persuasion — thrift happens.

Fiercely frugal gentlemen will have to look elsewhere, though. My thermostat stays at 71.


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'Seniors, Romance, and Frugality' have 15 comments

  1. January 11, 2012 @ 1:40 pm Penelope

    Although I can be frugal, there is a fine line between watching your money and being cheap. The older I get, the more I want to enjoy things as much as I can while I can. I’m not saying in excess. Sure, being mindful is very important. But sometimes it’s okay to just splurge and enjoy!

  2. January 10, 2012 @ 2:00 pm Lynne Schwabe

    Great responses…I think you’ve hit a nerve!

  3. January 9, 2012 @ 1:48 pm Sienna

    Great comment!, Renee! I”ve been reading Arielle Ford’s book “Wabi Sabi Love.” The basic idea is that we should not merely accept traits we don’t like in our partners, but embrace them, let them become a possitive dynamic in the relationship. That seems to fit here.

  4. January 9, 2012 @ 1:40 pm Renee Fisher

    It’s a good topic, well presented. Frugality is like any other trait: We are either compatible with another person over it, or not. I know that some men feel strongly that, because they are men, they “get stuck” footing the bill when dating. And I do believe that both people should share in the expenses of dating. That aside, like I said, I wouldn’t try to change a man’s excessive frugality. I would just treat it as something that doesn’t work for me.

  5. January 9, 2012 @ 1:39 pm Pollyanna

    Wow, is this ever a hot topic for us. I am dating a man who whips out his wallet every time his 20-something kids say they’re short of gas money, but he has yet to buy me flowers or take me to a show. He’s got all the good characteristics you talk about here (including the skill at sex!), but he’s stingy with me. I’ve been hoping that if I drop enough hints he’ll get the message, but so far he hasn’t.

  6. January 9, 2012 @ 1:25 pm Sienna

    Visla Mom — Aw, here you go, apologizing for being angry at your partner. You have a right to be angry about this issue. What’s to be grateful about when your guy won’t reach in his pocket ever? Being angry, even at people you love, isn’t a bad thing — and sometimes it goes with being grateful in spite of behavior you hate. You won’t be the first woman to be angry and grateful at the same time. They don’t cancel each other out the way you think they might.

  7. January 9, 2012 @ 11:59 am vizsla Mom

    An excellent topic – you’re getting some interesting feedback. I have the frugality problem in reverse. I’ve had to watch my pennies most of my life and at last have some money of my own. My significant other is retired and SHOULD be more frugal. But – guess what – happily waits for me I pick up the check. Every time. I guess I shouldn’t complain. Anyway, I agree, extreme frugality sucks.

  8. January 9, 2012 @ 7:46 am Sienna

    Walt, I agree that women should expect pay their fair share. I would argue, though, for a little romance. Not every luxury is costly, and unless a man truly has no funds beyond those needed for subsistance, I think most women in our stage of life would be reluctant to sign up for a life with no luxuries at all.

  9. January 8, 2012 @ 4:21 pm Walt

    Women like you think that men are required to support them with all kinds of luxuries and never question the fact that they have dozens of pairs of shoes and enough jewelry to ransom a boatload of Somalia pirates’ captives. I am a 65-yr-old widower on a pension and I don’t want to spend money on someone I may or may not choose to have a lasting relationship with. If a woman wants to be with me, let her open up her own pocketbook.

  10. January 8, 2012 @ 1:06 pm Alicia

    “Thrift happens” hahaha. But not on my watch. I want it all.

  11. January 8, 2012 @ 12:35 pm M. ROSE

    For someone who buys a T-shirt or a pair of pants every other season and jewelry in an Indian or Tibetan market, who is accustomed to share dishes in a restaurant – because that is how its done among all my friends – I can not relate to most of your examples.

    Well, I do – in the sense that I am willing to drive another mile to get better and more expensive vegetables for dinner – if that’s how I feel – –

    However, I can definitely understand the annoyance of having to deal with someone who seems to be frugal as an entire way of life.

    Still, on a second or third thought I imagine there are cultural differences in the matter of defining “spending” vs. “frugality”.

  12. January 8, 2012 @ 11:46 am sunshine

    What is this? None of you older men ever received the “memo” that has been around since the beginning of time?? Women want to be wined and dined, period. If you seriously expect a lady to pay her way on a date – please tell, why would that lady stick around? What is it that you bring to the table? “if a woman wants to be with me she should pay her own way” …??what??? NEWS FLASH… women want a man who knows how to treat a lady!

    I have certainly picked up the entire meal check from time to time to let my guy know I am not a “taker” but that is after some sort of relationship has been established. But for the love of God…please, in the beginning stages of romance, be a man!!!

  13. January 8, 2012 @ 8:50 am Rebalah

    I went out with a guy once who, after receiving the check for the modest lunch we had just ingested, called the waitress back with much flourish and grilled her about every item listed. Yikes, I was SO embarrassed. Up to that point I thought this relationship had some potential, but this was a huge red flag for me. I think living without the small conveniences, comforts and treats you mentioned above is very sad! Life is too short.

  14. January 7, 2012 @ 11:40 pm Alicia

    What is it about old men that makes them so crabby about spending money.I know a man who gave his girlfriend $20 to buy groceries for dinner and then thought she stole from him when she didn’t bring change. Either they’re living in the past or they’re scared of running out of money befor they die. I don’t have anyone right now and Idon’t mind buying my own groceries rather than putting up with that kind of thing.

  15. January 7, 2012 @ 8:14 pm molly campbell

    What I hate is the people who are “penny wise and pound foolish.” I have friends who have 3 BMW’s between them (empty nesters; just the two of them) but the wife refuses to go to the movies except on “senior nights.” They also chafe at getting a “real” dinner, instead dining on two appetizers and splitting one salad. I don’t get it. Great post!

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