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Which State Is the Most Frugal?

Which State Is the Most Frugal?
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Welcome to the February 2009 edition of “Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

Which State Is the Most Frugal?

Opinions vary, but from strictly a tradition point of view, the Granite State wins hands down…

Although frugality and shrewdness in business dealings are traits characteristic of New Englanders as a whole, I personally think New Hampshirites, of whom I am one, are the most frugal of all. Possibly it has something to do with the overall conservative and business orientation so closely associated with the state for so many years.

A typical New Hampshire story, for instance, concerns two Berlin (remember — pronounced Berlin) men discussing the hard financial times. One asks the other how in the world he has managed to feed his large family on such a low income.

“I’ll tell you,” is the reply. “I find out what they don’t like and then I give ’em plenty of it.”

A neighbor of mine who deals in antiques points out how this frugality, coupled with a general regional stubbornness, can make negotiating with a New Hampshirite a pretty difficult process. Several years ago, he spotted a nice chest of drawers standing in the woodshed of an old farmhouse in Gilsum. He stopped and asked the owner whether he’d care to sell it for, say, $75. The man — an elderly, slow-moving gent who’d obviously enjoyed better days — said no, he guessed not. The next time my friend drove by, about a month later, the chest of drawers was still there, and he offered the old fellow $125, which is about what he felt its value was. Still no.

Almost a year later, he stopped again and, in a display of his own stubbornness, tried out a figure higher than he thought the chest was worth.

“Well, what do you say?” he asked. “Shall I take it away for $200 cash?” The old man reflected for several minutes and then said slowly, “I guess she can set there for a spell longer. She ain’t eatin’ nothin’.”

“She” was also increasing in value faster than most anything he could put money into.

Several years ago, Yankee writer Ned Comstock wrote me a letter, which I published, describing a New Hampshire church supper he’d attended. After enjoying one dish of fresh-baked, feather-light biscuits loaded with fresh strawberries, dripping with juice, smothered in whipped cream, he noticed a sign next to the woman guarding the cash box.

“Strawberry Shortcake,” it read. “First Plate: Fifty Cents. All You Want: One Dollar.”

As Ned prepared to pay his bill, the lady asked him whether he wanted more strawberry shortcake before he left. Ned said no, he’d enjoyed his piece very much but was full.

“That will be one dollar,” the lady said firmly.

I rest my case.

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Which State Is the Most Frugal?

Updated Sunday, February 1st, 2009

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