COLUMN: "My frugal valentine"

Here is my weekly column for the Sunday, Feb. 12, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Elements of this were used for a “Between You and Me” program some time ago on KAXE. Happy Valentine’s Day!

My Frugal Valentine
By Aaron J. Brown

I hereby dedicate this column to my Valentine. A lot of guys complain about how much money their wives spend. “Gotta’ work some OT,” they tell me. “Credit card bill weighs more than a dump truck fulla’ rebar.” Yeah. I don’t have that problem.

Maybe it’s not unusual for women to excel at running a family budget. That’s certainly true of my wife Christina who does a fine job of making sure the bills get paid on time. It is, however, a little unusual to have that family budgeting serve as the fodder for her blog and weekly radio segment. If you didn’t know, my wife is the “Northern Cheapskate,” ( who monitors bargains and dispenses financial advice to people all over northern Minnesota and beyond. If you read her blog a while back you’d know that I was eating free string cheese in my box lunch for a month and a half thanks to Christina’s creative use of coupons.

There’s a lot about being married to a self-described cheapskate that I accept freely and have even come to regard as normal. We’ve only bought about eight boxes of fabric softener sheets in our whole marriage because she always cuts them into twos or threes once they come home from the store. I’ve learned not to develop any sort of brand loyalty. One day my corn flakes may come from Kellogg’s, but the next day I might be pouring them from a giant yellow bag marked “Super Happy Clown Time Fun Flakes.” I’ve learned it’s best to just have faith in the FDA, eat the flakes and say nothing.

Though I don’t consider myself a big spender, I’ve been known to have trouble keeping track of my money. One time in high school I went on a school trip to the Twin Cities. I brought enough money for all my meals and a little shopping at the Mall of America. When I got to the big mall for my first time ever, I was amazed at all the unusual things I could buy. For instance, a boomerang. By the last day I was counting out my last dimes at McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. At that moment, I wished my money would come back instead of the boomerang.

So I’m pretty lucky that I fell for a cheapskate who has since kept me on a path of balanced financial strategy by plying me with free cheese. And I’m a pretty good match for a northern cheapskate. I don’t hunt, fish, buy snowmobiles or ATVs or race stock cars like most other Iron Range men. My favorite hobby is to work. My favorite work is to write. And writing is free. Not lucrative, but low overhead.

There are challenges. When I come home from work and say that I gassed up the car she asks, “Did you buy a pop?” (pause) No, I say. “Did you buy a coffee?” (pause) Yes. I did buy a coffee. It cost 89 cents. And 89 cents a day for a 30-year career equals $6,408 – and when you compound interest on that amount over the same period it roughly equals a year of college for 1.7 of our three sons.

Which is why it’s better to fill up your coffee mug at the car dealership like all the other cheapskates. Would I like to buy a truck? Maybe, but today I’m just looking. Say, is that coffee … free?

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog or in his latest book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Great column Aaron, enjoyed it!
    You have the makings of a closet conservative..

  2. Thanks! I’ve been told that I dress like a Republican. Maybe I’m bipolitical curious. 🙂

  3. My Valentine is more frugal than yours. At least she doesn’t spend any of my money. Although she does need special expensive cat food and litter, and I’m the one who has to collect coupons for these products. I suppose Christina beats Lyra then. Never mind.

  4. Yes, when your valentine requires litter I suppose you can automatically eliminate (no pun intended) “frugal.” 🙂

    But a happy household is most important, and I’m sure Lyra provides you less drama than other more humanoid mammals would. I would know.

  5. Having spent three years working in a local business in downtown Hibbing; I can honestly say most Rangers are the same when it coes to coffee. That’s just one of the idiosyncracies I miss most about both the people of the Range and the businesses there.

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