A few days ago, my husband and I looked up the origin of the word “skinflint,” just out of curiosity. We knew a Flint was a rock that people kept in a fire-starting kit before matches were invented. But what might it mean to skin a flint, and how did that relate to saving money?
The explanation turned out to be quite simple: after a flint had been used for some time, it lost its sharp edges and became too dull to make a spark. Usually, people would throw away a dull flint and pick up another; it was nothing but a common rock, after all. But in large cities, a flint couldn’t be found in nature, so it had to be bought.
Some city-dwellers didn’t want to pay the tiny amount it would cost them to buy a new flint. Instead, they would keep on sharpening the same old flint again and again, until there was nothing left of it. That was how an overly frugal person came to be called a skinflint.
I was thinking about that in relation to the vast amount of consumer items we have nowadays. Before the modern era, people often had to repair and make do with worn-out stuff because most of their household items weren’t as easy to replace as a flint. Clothing had to be made by hand, as did many other things. It made sense to fix whatever reasonably could be fixed.
In today’s world, though, we have a lot of cheap little things that can quickly be replaced. When something goes wrong with one of them, maybe it just needs a simple repair, but often it’s not worth the trouble of keeping it going. Whatever the best choice may be, there’s generally no good reason to waste a lot of time and energy—either on fixing it or on worrying about the replacement cost.
Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.